"...soon...him and the other..."
"look, there he goes...will he still be there tomorrow?"
Whispers surrounded Percy and he hunched into himself, letting the fabric he was covered in hide his face. It was true that the School Master was coming in a day or two. It was also true that he was one of the leading suspects for being taken this year, and not for the School for Good.
The suspect for the School for Good was currently across the road. Octavian, a stringy blond noodle of a boy who spent all his free time sucking up to adults, kissing babies, helping old crones (honestly, the old crones didn't need help, but why pass up a free servant for the day?) and basically being a goody two shoes.
And Percy, on the other hand...
Well, he just simply wasn't the 'Poster Child of Gavaldon.' More of the 'Evil, mysterious son of the fisherman wh never talks.' He didn't mind, really, it's not like any of the muttering kids were his friends. Or people he knew. Half of their names were mysteries to him. He ducked into the food shop, the bell jingling, and did his best to ignore the piercing stares cutting into him.
He plopped down two loaves of bread and a package of pork down on the counter, along with a few silver coins. The owner of the shop, a burly barrel-chested man with a full black beard, frowned down at him before counting the coins, the products, making him put his hands up on the counter to make sure Percy wasn't stealing anything, and then finally let him be on his way.
Percy darted through the crowded streets, towards his father's house by the lake. Everyone scooped out of his way like he carried some sort of infectious disease (he had had a fever once, when he was barely born), because nobody wanted their kids to be taken, and if they touched the boy who was definitely going to the School for Evil, well, then their children would be off as well.
The window opened with a creak and Percy dropped the bread and pork on the counter. His father was probably our doing whatever his father did, and he wasn't about to interrupt. Rustling and thumping came from upstairs, and Percy knew that his father was probably busy with some sort of unnameable task that he didn't want his son to know.
Really, though, it wasn't like Percy could tell anyone beside someone his father and Hazel.
A hand tapped him on the shoulder and Percy spun around, closing the window. Hazel grinned up at him, holding up a picnic basket and pointing at the lake. "Picnic? Celebrate your birthday and then tomorrow mine? Like a special half-birthday thing?"
Percy nodded enthusiastically and grinned back, signing, Did you hear the rumors? People have been saying it's me or you for Evil.
"Oh, don't worry so much," Hazel shrugged. "I'm not Evil 'cause I'm black, and you're not Evil either. If anything, you're going to the School for Good. You're awesome."
You'd be a great princess, Percy argued. I'd rather just stay here.
"Oh no no no. That is not acceptable, Percy Jackson!" Hazel flicked his shoulder, sitting down on the grassy slopes surrounding the clear lake and spread the blanket around her. "If I get plucked up and thrown into some mythical school, you are coming with me young man!"
I'm older than you! Percy protested. I'd love it if Octavian got picked for Evil. Imagine his mom's face!
"Imagine his dad's!" Hazel giggled. "But how would the people -" she gestured towards the village - "even know? No one ever knows if they're Good or Evil until Mr. Deauville gets the new books, and what if Octavian never even gets in a story?"
What if Octavian doesn't go? Percy countered.
"You suggested him going to Evil!" Hazel cried, whipping around to face him. Her curls smacked her in the face and she spat out a few. "Yuck."
How about we don't worry about this stupid taking for the Schools thing and just enjoy my birthday? And tomorrow we'll still be peaceful and enjoy your birthday. Percy grinned. I'm genius.
"Oh, be quiet," Hazel teased. "Like you always are."
Percy stuck out his tongue. At least I can be quiet, unlike some people I could mention.
"Like your dad?" Hazel asked sympathetically. Percy glared at her. Didn't I say earlier that if we talk about him, we don't talk?
"Right right right," Hazel nodded. "So, how's Pelta? She doing good?"
Percy scowled. I swear to god he - Percy quickly corrected his sign, even though no one except his father or Hazel would understand - she hates me! Probably for the rumors.
"Totally. Is she being a brat about her boyfriend?" Hazel pinched her lips together, trying not to laugh. Percy smirked at her and then glanced around quickly, making sure they were alone, before imitating his father, wagging a finger in the air, mouth open as if about to reprimand someone, squinting and pursing his lips every now and then.
Hazel giggled and whacked his arm. "Stop that!"
"Am I interrupting something?" Percy whirled and Hazel turned a second later. Of course, Percy knew who it was. It was his dad.
"I wouldn't want to interrupt, of course, unless you're not planning about what you'll do when the School Master takes you two? I really hope you'll send a few letters home, Percy," Poseidon said. "After all, it's not like we Ordinary citizens will be seeing you again."
Annabeth clutched her FlowerGround ticket to her chest and grinned. Finally! She, out of the thousands of eligible princesses and girls, was chosen! She knew that her mother and father had both gone to the School for Good, and she was determined not to disappoint them.
She had everything planned out. The second she saw the brightly colored ticket in their postman's hands, she'd dashed outside, lifting her heavy skirts up, plucked it out of his hands, and read it with a smile spreading over her face.
There were papers littered all over her desk. Some of them were her mother's old essays on Animal Communication and one was her mother's schedule. Annabeth had spent her whole life listening to her parents reminisce about their old teachers. Professor Dovey, Professor Anemone, Pollux, Professor Espada, Yuba.
The names hadn't had meanings for her until now. She fell back on her bed, smiling manically at the ceiling, and then stopped. Princesses smiled with a ladylike, feminine touch. Her crazy grin was nothing like that.
She got up and smoothed down her curls, running her fingers through some tangled spots. Cold silk met her palms when she fluffed her skirts and padded over to her mirror, carefully wiping away a small smudge of mascara in the corner of her eye and taking out her lipstick, applying it with her face as close to the mirror as it could be.
She was going soon. Tomorrow morning, she'd go through the FlowerGround and finally be able to walk on the hallowed halls of the School for Good.
Cold hands wrapped around his mouth. Percy jolted up, about to scream, but no sound came out, like always. He frowned, confused. Why were there no arms around his mouth?
And then he was dragged painfully out of his window. The shadow lurched downwards and dipped towards the house across from his.
Percy flailed wildly, biting down on the shadow around his mouth, but the shadow didn't react. The window to Hazel's bedroom slid open silently and the shadow swooped down.
His leg lashed out and broke Hazel's desk lamp with a loud crash.
The shadow recoiled from the glass shards. One pierced Percy's arm and he tripped over his own feet trying to get to Hazel. The curly-haired girl blinked blearily, rubbing her eyes, and then the gold eyes darted to Percy, doing his best to sign a warning with a piece of glass lodged in his finger, and the shadow, looming threateningly over both of them.
Hazel screamed, loud and piercing. Adrenaline shot through Percy's blood and he wrenched Hazel's desk chair off the ground, staggering to his feet and swinging it at the shadow, which screeched and flitted back.
"Percy!" Hazel cried. "What's going on?"
It was at times like these that Percy desperately wished he could speak. Trying to sign some sort of crappy explanation one-handed while smashing a chair at a shadow demon wasn't an ideal setup.
While he was occupied with Shadow #1, an identical one clamped it's hands around his mouth and jerked him backward. The chair flew out of his grip, in the hands of the shadow, and one of the chair legs broke off, falling painfully on Percy's forehead. Stars exploded in his vision, eclipsing his view of the dark bedroom.
The door slammed open and Hazel's mother, a thin dark-skinned, curly-haired woman that was almost an exact copy of her daughter burst in, shouting something.
Torches flared from the street below. Percy thrashed, squirming in the shadow's grip. Hazel screamed again and then her scream abruptly cut off, like she had a shadow gripping her.
Together, the shadows swooped out of the window. Arrows rocketed up towards them. Percy slammed his eyes shut, feeling an arrowtip graze his elbow. The shadows skillfully maneuvered out of the way of the projectiles. A flaming torch arced through the sky, thrown by -
"Percy!" he bellowed, sprinting after him. Percy felt a strange warm thrill pulse through him, because his father loved him and he was chasing after him -
The shadow's grip slackened and Percy fell, branches scraping at his face and arms and legs. He fell against a particularly thick one and scrabbled uselessly for it, his mouth opening. He heard Hazel's terrified shriek and then he crashed against the ground, groaning.
A second later, Hazel joined him, her dress torn and scratched and bloody. One of her eyes was swelling up, and she had a few pieces of glass in her leg.
That looks bad, Percy signed without thinking. Hazel laughed weakly. "You should see your face."
His hands moved up and he plucked out some glass from his cheek. Hazel did the same with her leg, wincing and discarding the scarlet-stained glass to the side.
"Well...now what?" she asked, carefully getting to her feet.
A squawk answered her question and Percy slowly turned to see a giant bird made of bones, looking down at him like he was it's next meal.
Annabeth glided through the FlowerGround. Chattering girls and laughing, teasing, wrestling boys surrounded her. Some of the girls were princesses like her, with silky hair and flawless skin and poofy, sparkly gowns. Some were middle-class, with less beautiful dresses and shorter hair that didn't have quite as much luster. Some even had a few pimples.
The boys were mostly princes, dressed sharply in suits. All of them had regal faces, large eyes, perfectly styled hair. Annabeth found herself smiling and winking at some of them. All of them winked back.
A hummingbird fluttered up to her, offering a cookie twice it's size. Annabeth smiled graciously and accepted it, biting into it and enjoying the sweet, tangy taste. A swallow swooped towards her with a glass of water. Annabeth smiled again and said, "Thank you!" She made sure to accentuate it with a few rapid blinks.
The swallow tweeted cheerfully and flew off. Annabeth smiled again, this time to herself. She was going to the School for Good, where she would become a Leader, marry a handsome prince, have 3 children (she had decided on this number far before even thinking about School, as 3 seemed like the perfect number), and live out her Happily Ever After, and she would make her parents proud of her.
The FlowerGround harness stopped suddenly and Annabeth perfected her smile, letting her lips curve gracefully and her eyes appear wide and helpless.
She was at School.
Percy was struggling not to look down. Below him, spiky tree branches reached out. Owls hooted, ravens cawed. Mist wreathed and twisted around the woods, and then they turned blue.
Not a garish, fancy blue, but an elegant, quiet blue that Percy liked. Hazel murmured in approval and then the bone-bird (Percy had decided to call it that) inclined steeply upward. Wind blasted Percy's face and then the fog cleared, revealing two castles with spires reaching for the sky.
One was crystalline blue with two light pink towers. It's spires curved to a graceful tip, while the other's seemed to cut into the sky. Black and grey and red covered the second castle, setting it starkly apart from the peaceful blue sky.
Thunderclouds and lightning pierced the sky near the darker castle. The moat surrounding the two was a dark, sludgy slime on one side and a clear, perfect blue on the other. And there was a bridge, stretched between the two, that looked so fragile it was ready to crumble.
"We're here," Hazel breathed.
The bone-bird angled itself towards the crystal castle. As it swooped around one of the towers, it's claws loosened on Hazel and she plummeted, crying out in fear. Percy reached for her unconsciously, fighting against the bird's talons, and then the bone-bird swept off, a gust of air blowing Percy's hair into his eyes.
When he looked down, Hazel was gone.
The bird flapped across the moat. Percy barely caught a glimpse of a few faces in the towers of the Good castle before he was deposited unceremoniousl from the bird's talons. He dropped, and then he was in the black sludge, treading water to keep himself alive.
He gasped for air, floundering over to the banks. As he progressed, he noticed several other interesting characters. A boy with dark hair and shadows under his equally dark eyes; a girl with choppy brown hair and kaleidoscope eyes; a pair of boys who were definitely twins.
They didn't look that Evil. Sure, the twins had a mischievous glint and the girl had her arms crossed and a scowl on her lips, and the dark-haired boy frankly looked scary, but none of them looked Evil. None of them looked to have a completely dark heart.
Another bony bird swooped down and another child fell into the moat. She gasped, waving her arms uselessly, and she sank slowly into the sludge.
Her arms reached out desperately and she grasped the carcass of a dead lion. Recoiling, she shrieked and paddled backwards, her movements hampered by the goop.
Ominous howls floated through the misty air and Percy did his best to swim towards them. There was no way his head was going under the slime, and it was even less possible for him to somehow move into a horizontal position. A few kids were grasping bags, like they knew they were coming.
Chills fluttered through Percy and he continued moving until his feet touched shore. Quickly, he scrambled up the shore and collapsed, panting onto the banks.
"Get up!" a wolf barked. Percy shot to his feet and a whip curled around his forearm. Blood dropped from the wound and Percy hurried into the line of dismal children. Black slime marked a trail from the shore to...
A pair of wrought-iron gates. Rust coated the bars and barbed wire slanted across the bars. On second thought, the barbed wire wasn't wire.
A sea of black vipers hissed menacingly at Percy and he drew back, pulling his hands close to his chest. The brown-haired girl from before snorted and marched through the gates, batting away the vipers that tried to bite her.
Percy glanced up. Huge metal letters glowered down at him. Other students, when they saw the letters, either smirked devilishly in joy or inhaled sharply with poorly disguised fear.
SCHOOL FOR EVIL EDIFICATION AND PROPAGATION OF SIN
A wolf shoved him through the gates and Percy stumbled, his toe catching on a rock. A viper wrapped around his arm, cold scales grating against his skin, and without thinking, Percy yanked it off his arm and snapped it like a whip.
It crumpled to the ground, spine snapped.
The girl from the moat looked at him with a newfound respect. Percy hurried through the gates and found himself in a rocky, narrow tunnel, the choppy-haired girl marching along in front of him with her head held high. Percy scurried after her, feeling awfully out of place.
There was an 'N' there, on the wall, with a snarling gargoyle's stone statue beside it, wings high and teeth bared. Percy shuddered and moved to the other side of the tunnel, his shoulder scraping on the stone.
Around twenty seconds later, Percy spotted another letter, an 'E', with a humpbacked, one-eyed stone witch cackling beside it, her head raised to the sky and one of her hands up as well.
Slowly, the tunnel widened and then the walls disappeared. The School for Evil loomed ahead like a great winged demon, it's main tower jutting up through the dark fog and the two smaller spires rising out from the main tower. Veiny red lines crisscrossed the pockmarked black stone.
The girl beside Percy exhaled in awe. "Beautiful."
A small part of Percy agreed. It was beautiful, in a horrifyingly twisted, grotesque, sharp way. It was beautiful the way a rose was beautiful: one part was majestic, the other jagged and imposing and evil.
Was he Evil?
The wolves shepherded the raggedy group towards the mouth of the main tower, anothe long tunnel, but this one's walls were hewn slightly better. Even more gargoyles glowered down at the motley groups of teens. Torches were in some of the gargoyle's claws; others had fire spurting from their mouths. A statue of a bald, toothless hag offering an apple glistened and flamed in the firelight. Crumbling columns 'held up' the tunnel's ceiling. Rock carvings of snarling giants and cruelly grinning goblins decorated the walls.
Percy shrank into himself, but everyone else seemed to grow empowered, grinning more arrogantly, strutting instead of walking, as if they found villainy something to be proud of.
Hazel screamed and landed softly on a patch of moss. Dusting her dress off, Hazel finger-combed her hair and inhaled deeply. She had been separated from Percy after her desk lamp shattered because Percy was trying to warn her about a shadow/demon/thing flying towards her to kidnap her, take her to a mythical school, and now she was at said mythical School with princesses sprouting out of the ground around her.
A maniacal laugh bubbled out of her. She was losing it.
A blonde, grey-eyed princess with flawless tan skin bloomed out of the ground, stretching her arms towards the sun. Hazel instinctively adopted a defensive stance, as most girls in Gavaldon were white and proud of it. The few blacks, like Hazel and her mother, had endured as many insults in five minutes as most people endured in their lifetime.
Annabeth saw the dark-skinned girl fold her arms, scowl, and turn away. A twinge of sympathy pinged in her heart and Annabeth said gently, "I'm Princess Annabeth of Athens. Who are you?"
"Hazel," the girl muttered, her arms loosening and then tensing again. "Levesque."
"Are you a Reader?" Annabeth asked, doing her best to keep the eager, thirsty curiosity out of her voice and forcing a sweet, slightly disinterested tone, the same one her mother used whenever scientists came to talk to her.
"Uh..." Hazel didn't know what to say. What was a Reader? Someone who read? But this girl looked well-educated, and if she couldn't read then Hazel didn't know how to talk. "Maybe?"
Bells tolled from across the shimmering blue lake and delicate, winged fairies fluttered up to the two, seizing their shoulders and grunting slightly as they hoisted the two girls across the lake.
Annabeth beamed, feeling the sun warm her face and the wind gently brush her hair. Hazel spat out a few locks of her wildly curly hair and blinked her eyes against the harsh breeze. Her toes dipped slightly into the lake and Hazel jerked her legs up, her knees against her chest. When Annabeth's feet brushed the lake, her grin increased and she closed her eyes, tilting her head up to face the sun.
Other perfect girls with smooth, glossy waterfalls of hair and creamy skin (or dark skin, Hazel noted, and some were tan and some had caramel skin) and glittery skirts were being flown across the lake, and all of them had the same blissful expression as Annabeth.
Hazel felt like an outsider.
Finally, the girls touched down gently in front of thin golden gates. Elegant, scripted letters wrought from gold and inlaid with a reflective material rested gently on top of the gates.
SCHOOL FOR GOOD ENLIGHTMENT AND ENCHANTMENT
Hazel blinked. She was Good? And Percy was Evil?
No. She shook that thought off immediately. Percy was the sweetest boy she knew, and she lived in a town full of men swaggering around while high on testosterone. He couldn't be Evil. There must've been a mistake.
The fairies detached from Hazel's shoulder and flitted away. Hazel fell into step with the Perfect Princesses as they delicately stepped towards the crystal castle ahead.
Suddenly the fairies returned, swooping around gaily in the bright blue sky. All the princesses smiled, but Hazel was focused on the lake. Across the moat, there was black sludge, and wreathing black fog obscured any view of the School for Evil.
Her gaze switched back to what was in front of her. Frosted doors, emblazoned with two prim, graceful white swans. The girls all daintily stepped into the marble hall. The ceiling arched above Hazel's head, fifty feet tall. Most of the empty space was filled with a glistening crystal chandelier. Candles glimmered in the corners, their light refracted thousands of times by the clear crystals.
Brightly colored murals of Cinderella smiling at her prince, Snow White being awoken by her prince, The Little Mermaid kissing her prince decorated the walls. Paintings of other, less known princesses hung on the glossy crystal walls. The floor beneath Hazel's feet was marble, veined with light gray.
Mist entered the room, a white, rose-smelling mist. Hazel coughed, fanning it away from her face, and to her surprise, Annabeth did the same. When it cleared, a seven-foot nymph stood before the girls. Annabeth leaned forward, almost bouncing on her heels with excitement, and Hazel cocked an eyebrow.
"Welcome, girls," the nymph said, smiling beautifully. "This is the School for Good."
A hag, leering wickedly, shoved a piece of parchment into Percy's hands.
Percy stared at the piece of wrinkled, slightly burnt paper. Uglification? History of Villainy? Curses and Death Traps?
He had to be a student who wasn't supposed to be here. He was supposed to be back in Gavaldon, with his father and Hazel and sitting by the lake talking. He wasn't supposed to be in a mythical School for Evil.
At the top, Percy saw something.
PERCY OF WOODS BEYOND
EVIL, 1st YEAR
MALICE TOWER 45
He was supposed to be here.
Percy had a room here. Roommates too, probably. A schedule. His own father had told him he would be coming here. But Percy didn't feel evil. He felt confused and angry and kind of wanted to kick something. A training dummy, maybe. A bush.
The hag dropped a pile of books on the floor in front of him and said in a low, raspy voice, "See you in class, Percy of Woods Beyond."
Woods Beyond? He was from Gavaldon, not some loony village called 'Woods Beyond!'
He walked forward a bit until he saw a dwarf with a picture frame, nailing it to the wall. He'd seen these on the walls before. Percy glanced to his side and saw a picture of a wickedly smirking boy with dark curls. There was another picture too, beside the boy. Percy recognized the man immediately.
The dwarf finished nailing the picture frame to the wall all and Percy looked at it.
His own face smiled back at him.
Of course, his was the only picture that was actually smiling. Others were leering or smirking or frowning or scowling or sneering or growling.
"What tower, what room?" the dark-haired boy from earlier asked, slouching against the wall.
Percy hesitated, and then just showed him the paper. The dark-haired boy raised an eyebrow and replied, "Me too. Guess I'll be seeing you around."
Honestly, Percy didn't want to be seeing anyone around. He wanted to get out of this School and back to his life. Back to Gavaldon, where everyone glared at him and laughed at him and whispered about him going to the School for Evil.
Maybe he liked it here better. He could gain respect quickly and just pretend he didn't talk because he was so evil. Would that work?
Percy leaned down to pick up his books. The slimy ribbon brushed his arm and an eel lashed out with its tail. Inhaling sharply, Percy jerked back and his hand reached out, clamping firmly around the tail. Percy ripped the eel off of his books and threw it against the wall, cracking open the first book and doing his best not to get the slime from the eel on the book.
A few students goggled at him and Percy glared at them, picking up the stack of books and stalking off.
Being Evil was, surprisingly, funner than he would've thought.
A fairy flitted towards Hazel and gave her a pristine white sheet of paper. Hazel wrinkled her nose, studying it. It was a schedule of some sort, probably for this School. With classes like Beautification and Animal Communication and Good Deeds, this had to be for the School for Good.
But as Hazel watched the princesses chattering softly amongst themselves and comparing schedules and asking about tower and room number, Hazel didn't feel like she belonged there at all.