Chapter 17:

Clustered Alone

Tetraprisma: Chromatic

“Up! To yer right!” I heard Aubrey shout. The blindfold was heavy on my eyes as I flew up and slashed at air with a faux dagger. I felt my vest begin to vibrate.

“That felt like forever,” I said, floating to the ground. I untied the blindfold and tossed it to the side. “How long did I last?”

Aubrey looked over at a computer screen, connected to my vest via Bluetooth. “Looks like ya made it a good three minutes. That’s a record.”

“That felt like way more than three minutes.”

“Y’know what they say,” Aubrey laughed. “Time flies when yer havin’ fun.”

“I wasn’t having fun.”


Her beaming smile made me laugh more than the joke itself. Did she really think it was that funny? She often wore that smile, so often it’d become a part of her. Last I caught her with contempt on her face, we were getting shot at.

I unbuckled my vest and set it on the ground. “Hey, what time is it?”

Aubrey pulled a pink-cased phone out of her pocket. “2:13.”

“I have war history at half-past.”

“Getchyerself goin’, then.”

“I can get there in less than fifteen minutes. I don’t have to leave yet.”

“Ms. Copper teaches that class. Everyone makes sure ta get there three before the bell.”

I stopped walking and tilted my head at her. “I thought you said Ms. Copper worked somewhere else.”

“When did I say that?” Aubrey asked. Her ears flattened against her blonde hair, confused.

I thought back to it. “Oh, that was Marissa.”

“Oh, did she say she works as the military director?” Her ears perked up again.


Aubrey adjusted her green wristbands, sliding them up and down. Were they magic tools, or just fashion? “She interns here sometimes. Ya picked a bad year ta come to Atlas.”

“Damn,” I groaned, opening the door. “Guess I gotta go, then.”

Aubrey panicked. “Go where?”

“War history, dumbass.”

She sighed with relief, putting her hands on her knees. “I thought you meant you gotta leave Atlas.”

“Yeah, that comes later.” I closed the door before Aubrey could get confused again. Alright, war history. Where’s the classroom?

I pulled my phone out and flipped to the map Atlas provided its students. My war history class was in room 2123, and the arenas were the 1200s. I’d have to go up the stairs and take a right, then a left. Hey, that’s right next to Milliheim’s office.

By the time I’d made it to the class, only a few other students had taken their seats. There was a seating arrangement chart on the board, displaying only last names. It was in alphabetical order— I envied the kid whose last name started with a Z. I didn’t want to sit up front.

I took my seat next to seats labeled Arctin and DeAndrick. Neither of them were here yet. I also noticed that Ms. Copper herself wasn’t in the classroom yet. Maybe she was trying to catch students who were running late.

A few minutes later, the seats were filled, and Ms. Copper was closing the door. “Usually, teachers spend the first day meeting their students and doing introductions. Syllabus, too,” she said, walking to the front of the class. She still had her yellow-grey uniform on. “Not here.”

A few of the kids groaned. “If you don’t like it, you can leave.” They shut up. “We’re in the middle of a war. The point of this class was to ‘make sure the past doesn’t repeat itself by educating students on the past’. But the past is repeating itself already, so start taking notes on how we won, because we’d better do it again.”

She turned on the projector and clicked on a remote, starting a PowerPoint presentation. “Very quickly, let’s run through how the Atlas War started. Does anyone have an answer?”

Arctin, to my left, answered. “Spirits invaded the long-standing home of our ancestors.”

“Maybe your ancestors. Not mine. Anyone else?”

Someone from the back of the class put their hand up. “Didn’t clones break out from a factory?”

“Wrong war. That was 9000 years prior.”

DeAndrick spoke without raising his hand. “A human rebellion succeeded in pushing out the spirits in control of Atlas and in establishing their own territory.” He pushed his dirty-blonde hair to the side impatiently. Of course Aaron’s the history nerd.

“Very good, DeAndrick. But speak without raising your hand again and you’re out of the class,” Ms. Copper shot.

He raised his hand. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Quick learner.” She walked over to the light switch and turned it off— the only light in the once-beige room now came from the projector. Its bluish light reflected off the class’s faces. It reminded me of my highschool.

She clicked the button again, flipping the slide to a map of Atlas and its immediate surroundings. It was surprising to see a satellite map; I’d been expecting a hand-drawn one. “After the clones’ rebellion, the spirits of the clones who had died fighting for the West Empire rose and attacked the land 1076 had guided the humans to, Atlas. They stayed in control of it for quite some time, abusing the humans who remained.”

I raised my hand. “Why did they attack Atlas?”

“There are some things we don’t know. Spirits don’t seem to exhibit the same logical thinking as humans. All they know is to conquer and retreat.”

My hand was still up, so I decided to respond again. “How can they make battle strategies, then?”

“Beta, I advise you to put your hand down. Your interest in spirits shows promise, but we really do not know much.” She clicked a different button on her controller to make use of a laser pointer on its end. “Right around here is where the human rebellion began.” She pointed to a spot right inside the main wall of Atlas.

Someone else raised their hand. “But that’s here!”

“Yes.” She flashed the pointer at the kid’s face and made her flinch. “The Institute of Magic used to be a bunker. It was where most of the rebellion’s planning happened.”

“Why does the bunker have a cathedral?” Arctin asked. She realized her hand wasn’t up and quickly remedied it.

“Nice catch,” Ms. Copper said. “And the cathedral was added after the war. For Nordell. But we’re getting off-topic.” Nordell? “Any more dying-to-know questions before we get into the war strategies?”

I considered asking what Nordell was, but considering how no one else had asked, it was most likely common knowledge. I’d do better to keep my mouth shut and not embarrass myself.

“No? Good.” She reached into her pocket and grabbed a pack of gum, from which she plucked a piece. I couldn’t read the language on the package, but it looked more like medication than chewing gum.

She put it back and clicked the remote again. The screen showed a more zoomed-in map of the school’s immediate surroundings, including the Atlas Flatlands just past the wall. “The initial battle of the Atlas War was the Battle for the Flatlands. Wall Phasma didn’t exist during the war, so we were the only force holding the spirits back.”

Click. A set of red X’s appeared on the screen, surrounding the edge of the wall. Assuming that it was Wall Phasma, the spirits actually had a straight shot to Atlas. “These are the general locations the enemy legions took. Notice anything familiar?”

I raised my hand, but so did Aaron. We glared at each other. “Beta.” Aaron put his hand back down and crossed his arms begrudgingly.

“It looks like the formation they were in at our battle on the 18th.”

“That’s exactly right. They used the same opening tactic as they did two thousand years ago. Now let’s look at how we responded then,” Ms. Copper said.

Click. Blue O’s appeared in a peculiar pattern— they formed three layers, staggered to give clear sights. “Here, they balanced their formation. Look at how they’re positioned themselves in alignment with each other, so that they can all attack the enemy legions three-to-one. There would be defense casters–” she pointed to the outermost layer– “setting up a massive shield to maintain the safety of the others. This is good. This won us that battle.”

Click. “Now look at this.” It was the same satellite image, and the X’s remained in about the same locations. The O’s, though, were remarkably different. Instead of staggering and covering each other, they were unevenly distributed towards the center of the attack, with nearly lone sectors placed along the far bearings.

“This is what our formation looked like on the 18th. Notice the clustering. Notice the unprotected sectors. The only reason they weren’t all killed off was because of a certain coincidence.” She looked at me. “This is an awful strategy. People you know could die because of this,” she spat.

“So, if any of you ask why we need history class ever again, know that you might be next, got that?” She sat down at her desk and took a sip of coffee. “Milliheim needs to step up his game.”

By the time class had ended, I was admittedly bored out of my mind. I knew the information was important, but Ms. Copper stated it so dryly I nearly fell asleep. I could see now why Kori always snoozed through the day.

Kori… I walked out of the classroom and pulled out my schedule again. Counseling, room 1400. I swiped to the map.

1400 is the cathedral…? Weird place to hold counseling. I thought, shoving my phone back in my pocket. Whatever. This block only lasts for half as long, anyway.

I walked through the halls and down the stairs. As I walked down, someone tapped my shoulder. “Cheers, Shiera.”

I hated that British accent. “What now?” I asked, turning my head to face Sydney.

“I see you’ll be having a fun time in counseling,” she said, twirling that damned orange hair.

I furrowed my eyebrows. “How would you know?”

“You’ll come tell me how wild it was afterwards,” she said.

“Sure I will.”

“Then we’re in agreement. Have fun, spirit-killer.” She walked up and away. As I resumed my path, I contemplated. I haven’t killed any spirits.

I finally arrived at the cathedral, only to find it nearly completely empty. I took a seat and waited for the rest to fill in, but they never did. My mind raced to come up with an explanation.

Maybe there are different counseling locations for different students, and since the cathedral isn’t used for classes, they use it for counseling one-on-one. But this seems big for a counseling room. And the Mirror Hall’s entrance is sitting right there, unsupervised. Do they seriously expect me not to go in?

And what about that strategy I suggested to Aaron? Did Milliheim ever go through with it? And Ms. Copper said Milliheim was bad at strategy. What happens if someone does die next time? And what’ll happen to Kori? What is Sakira doing to Kori? And what happens if I never see Kori again? Or my school? Or my dad? Does he know what’s happening to me? Does anyone? Am I all alone?

The bell rang, snapping me out of my spiraling thoughts. I looked around again, hoping to find some seats filled in. No one. Screw it, I’m going into the Hall. I stood up, grabbed my bag, and stepped up onto the stage.

That ornate entrance looked significantly less so up close. Some of the glowing jewels were missing— the center stone of one of the metal decorations looked like it’d been ripped out. I felt the charm in my pocket weigh heavy. Huh?

I pulled it out and looked at it. It was glowing as always, but stronger. I held it closer to the entrance— brighter and brighter it shone. I pushed it against the wall in place of the missing center stone, and it locked into place against it. It fit in perfectly with the other gems.

I quickly snatched it off the wall and pocketed it again. How did dad get this? I wondered, walking through the gates. What I found was a tall staircase leading up to the highest floor— the Mirror Hall. I took the steps two at a time at first, then slowed down, not wanting to waste all my stamina.

By the time I made it to the top, I was panting. That was a long-ass staircase. I looked ahead, and there it was. Mirrors shining and reflecting in all manners lined the walls, and crystalline chandeliers lit up the corridor. There was a hallway on either side leading to it.

I walked in, bewildered. I could see all angles of myself in this strange realm, reflected in cyan, magenta, and yellow. It was surreal until I noticed a reflection unlike mine. I locked eyes with it.

Why is the Queen in my reflection?

I looked up. She was right there, silver robes dragging across the floor. That made sense of the reflection, but…

Why was she here?

She hmphed. “I’d planned to come to you, but this should do just as well.”

Slashed Ink.
Steward McOy