It seemed nightmares were happening all around. Rune herself turned up to breakfast with a darkness growing in her eyes, and her face was considerably pale, hair a wild and tangled mess like a lion's mane.
She tapped her fingers on the table, the sound like a thousand drummers echoing in Laelia's ears. She groaned. "Can you stop that, Rune?" Laelia whined, picking at her toast. "It's too early in the morning for that loudness."
"Hmm?" Rune looked at Laelia through dark lashes, eyes distracted as they darted around like flower petals being shoved around by the wind. Laelia nodded sharply at Rune's still drumming hands, and she pulled them back to fall into her lap. "Sorry."
She felt Suzanne's hand slide into hers, as she leant closer to her. "What's wrong?" she whispered, as their shoulders brushed. "You seem quite... Odd."
"Nah," Laelia said, brushing her off. "I'm fine. Just a bit tired, is all."
She could tell by her girlfriend's eyes that Suzanne didn't believe her for one second. She huffed out a breath of annoyance, and slid a glass of orange juice over to Laelia. "Just keep eating, okay?"
"So," Avery said in a loud voice, which caused Rune to jump. He seemed to be unaware of the mood at their end of the table. "What's everyone got in their classes today?"
Rune glared at him. "Ah, shut up, Avery. We're all knackered."
"You were just drumming, like - "
He was cut off with another sharp glare from Rune, who, judging by Avery's high pitched yelp, had also just kicked him under the table. "Sorry," he squeaked. "Well, um, what does everyone have?"
The three girls all shrugged. Out the corner of her eye, Laelia spotted Giselle and Henry hanging by the fringes of the dining hall, looking around with identical frowns. She shuddered as their eyes locked on hers, a black hole of dread opening inside of her, pulling on her, tugging on the strings of her mind, leeching her strength with their poison.
No more strings. No more strings.
The Baker twins began to make their way towards the group of four, and Laelia felt a shiver dance along her arms, crawling like a spider up her neck. "Hey!" Giselle squeaked. "How are you guys?"
She watched in a mix of horror and hilarity as Giselle bent down towards Avery, looping her pale arms loosely around his neck. He squirmed, pushing her off, as Rune bit her lip. "Giselle," he barked. "I've already broken up with you. Please, leave me alone - leave us alone."
Giselle pouted. "Fine." She rolled her eyes. "Whatever you say. Come on, Henry, I'm not hungry anyway."
"But I - "
He scrambled over himself to follow her, sweeping from the hall. Laelia wondered for a brief moment how they intended on hearing the morning announcements, then decided that she was far more interested in where they were actually planning to go. All the classrooms would be locked, since everyone was on the dining hall for breakfast.
"I'm not hungry, either. I've got to go." Before Suzanne could try to stop her, she herself ran from the room. Her friends would tell her anything important, she knew. But something was compulsing her to follow the Baker twins, and her feet seemed to move of their own accord as she flew along the corridors of the school. Stumbling, she noticed a bump in the wood, as though all the demons of hell were trying to punch their way through the ground. She stopped.
Thee was a shout from a nearby classroom, and Laelia twisted around, hurrying to the door. "Hunter!" hissed a snakelike voice. "Don't talk to me like that!"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, but -" The familiar voice was cut off.
"Shut up!" snarled a deeper voice "You're a hunter, not a snarker. And as for you, girl!" Laelia heard a girl squeak.
"Yes?" This voice was unmistakeable - nobody could have such an annoying voice but Giselle.
"I told you to get close. Did you get close?"
"Yes - yes I did, but - "
"Not anymore, no?"
"N - no. But I'm sorry, it wasn't my fault. It was my brother, he's always making an arse of things, and -"
"We don't care about your brother," the snake voice hissed. "For all we know, he doesn't exist. Now, since you have ruined our chances of taking the ice boy, what do you propose we do now?"
"If I may - " the boy's voice interjected, and Laelia heard a quick, sharp sound like a slap.
"Shut up! This is not a question for you!"
The snake voice spoke again. "So, what should we do? Which one can you get close to? Any of them?"
"The new one. Fire child. I - I think she likes me. I'll get her, I'm sure she's just as powerful. I promise, I can do this!"
"You had better, girl. Or there will be consequences."
Laelia felt the tugging in her stomach again, urging her, forcing her to move, to run, to fly back around the corridors, to tell someone, whether it be Jesse or Rune or Suzanne or Avery or anyone. In the end, it was Jesse she was brought to, as she tumbling down and into the catacombs, head spinning as she landed on the cold, grey stones, legs almost crumpling beneath her. She shouldn't be here, she knew - her first class would start in a few minutes, and Avery would be missing her in Chemistry with no one to offer him some fun.
If only anyone could be missing her.
"Jesse!" she shouted, voice echoing around the great stone, surrounding her with harsh, grating whispers. "Jesse, it's Laelia!"
She groaned. Jesse liked to do this sometimes, just hide in one of the hidden crevices of the catacombs and draw in dust that had gathered over time, strange symbols and letters that no one buy him seemed to be able to understand. When she'd first met him, she though it was kind of weird, and her opinion hadn't really changed over the years. But usually it didn't happen so early on in the morning.
She decided to go looking for him - she'd be late for Chemistry no matter what she did - traipsing through the cold halls, skin crawling. The strings had stopped pulling her down here, and it felt like a weight had gone from her, she was free to do what she wanted to. She breathed out a sigh of relief.
"Jesse!" she called again, running now, heart beating fast. Normally she would have found him by now.
"Whoa!" A voice shouted, as she slammed into a body. "Calm the hell down, Laelia, you just about knocked me over!"
"Sorry," she muttered. "I was looking for you, Jesse."
"Aren't you supposed to be in school?"
"Yes. Look, I need to talk to you."
Jesse sighed a long sigh, but sank down onto the ground where they were standing already, and fixed Laelia with a stare. "Sit down, Laelia," he huffed. She complied, sighing with relief as she realised he didn't seem mad, that his face had been painted the colours of another emotion. "What's wrong, Laelia?" he asked, deep frown lines on his forehead.
"I just - well, you see, Avery had a girlfriend." Jesse raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, don't be mean. Well, this girlfriend, her brother's a bit of a - not a nice person, and brothers she, she was being pretty mean about Suzanne and I, which was pretty bloody annoying actually, and then she got dumped because Avery is, you know, an actual decent person, and then she and her brother left this morning after he was like um, no, don't like you, and then I followed them and I don't know where her brother is - Henry's his name - but I saw, well, heard really, I heard her, and she - she's trying to take our powers or something and I think it's a group effort but oh god, they started with Avery now they're starting on Rune - my new friend, 'member - and oh god oh god oh god, they - " she let out a strangled, raw sob. "Can you do anything?"
A shadow swept over Jesse's features, a breeze ruffling his hair. Laelia's heart pounded in her chest, begging, fighting to be free. "I'll try, Laelia," he said. "But I mean - I can't promise anything. All I can say is don't let Rune get to close to Giselle, don't let her be manipulated. From what I saw of her she wouldn't be easily tricked anyway, but just... Be careful." His eyes scoured her body, deep and dark with concern. "But that isn't the only thing you're worried about, is it?"
"Well, I mean, it is. There's only little things, school and that, obviously - "
Jesse cut her off. "Laelia, cut the crap, what's wrong?"
Laelia groaned. Damn Jesse and his stupidly accurate instincts. "I had a nightmare."
He raised a quizzical eyebrow. "About what?"
"Well..." She searched for the words dancing in her mind, trying to both reimagine her nightmare and to push it away like she wished, keep it far, far away. "It was this... Figure. It was controlling me, I guess." The strings, the invisible strings. A puppet. A figure lurking in the shadows, smiling menacingly. "And it said - god, what did it say? - it was all like, it said that I was going to be killed, they would get someone to kill me, that I was already dying. That I wasn't protected, that I - that I'm going to die. And honestly, it didn't scare me as much as it should, really, Jesse, and not as much as - as the figure itself. As me being controlled. I - I'm still kind of scared, Jesse, and I'm sorry I'm bringing all this on you, God, I couldn't even tell Suzanne but I can't just not say, and I'm - I'm scared."
Jesse managed a weak smile for her. "I know, Laelia. But don't worry - I won't let anyone kill you. You're like a sister to me - I won't let them take you away."
He wrapped his arms around her as she began to cry, trying not to let a sob rip from her soul again, trying not to get his shoulder all wet, though she didn't think he'd really mind so much. "I'm sorry," she said, pulling herself away from him and drying her eyes. "I - I'll go now. You're right, I do have to go back to class, Avery'll go mad if I miss out on any more Chemistry notes." She forced out a giggle.
"Laelia," Jesse called after her as she made to stand up. He wore a half smirk on his face. "You don't have to go if you don't want to - I don't want you to get too upset. And besides, I um.." He looked away, embarrassed.
"I picked up some nerf guns, to while away the time. I was planning on creating something to play with me, but I guess you'd be as good a player as anyone."
Laelia roared with laughter. "Damn right I will. Where are they?"