Welcome to Circlet School ~Chapter Seven, Part One

The next day, I awoke to a riot of alarms going off. Obviously everyone had set their alarms for six am sharp, and hadn’t the previous days. Well, now they were all ringing like it was the apocalypse and we were a day late.

Sticking with that metaphor, I told myself to get on the horse and ride forth! Wield the scythe and … I lost my metaphor. But I was awake, the alarms were one by one being turned off, and nothing bad had happened yet, had it?

Congratulating myself on a good night’s sleep (my witch’s ladder seemed to be working!), I got up to take my shower and get ready.

That went smoothly. Fast forward to breakfast, and I was met with a wave of suits and ties. Uh. I was the only one wearing just a shirt – and one bearing cartoon dinosaur bones printed on it, by the way.

“What are you wearing?” asked Amanda, who was wearing a crisp suit worthy of Sapphire.

“Evolution?” I asked hopefully, thinking that, yeah, maybe the jeans were sinking me too.

“Uh, hhhhuh,” she said, looking me up and down.

“Lose the shirt,” said Sapphire, appearing out of nowhere to march past me.

“I’m the science teacher!” I protested. I get to wear funky shirts! I can be the button-down teacher, right? Science needs a makeover –

“Put on a jacket,” said Sapphire flatly, turning around with her breakfast tray in hand. She took a coffee from Cheryl without even looking, like a ninja.

I held an awful silence, stomach opening up into a pit of doom. Sapphire eyed me. “You own a suit jacket, don’t you?”

“No?” I said carefully. I was a public school teacher! I’d never even walking into a private school! We had just been told to ‘dress suitably’ in our contract. I thought that meant no medieval clothing.

Sapphire downed half her coffee in a go. Then, pressing her lips together, she looked at me with a fresh caffeinated glint to her eyes. “Put on a shirt without prints. You’re forbidden from prints for the rest of the school year.”

I felt half my wardrobe wave a solemn good bye. I’d even bought ones with molecules on them, for crying out loud. “Okay,” I muttered.

But first breakfast. Then, stuffed full of cereal, I was ordered with a glare from Sapphire to go ‘lose the shirt’.

When I returned, Sapphire was handing out pamphlets and had stacks of papers and fold-outs at the ready. “So we are doing a very small greeting this year,” she said as soon as I slipped into the hall.

I slithered over and was handed a pamphlet by a smiling Paulette. I thanked her with a smile and sat down with everyone else.

Sapphire glared us all down. “I want you all on your best behavior. Professional. No stories of ghosts, possession, or crystal healing. We want to seem reasonable and grounded in reality.”

Then, in a grueling rush, we were given a run-down on everything that had been in the emails. We were to greet the parents in waves throughout the days. The lowest level students arrived first, the higher levels later on. There was to be a break for lunch, which was offered to the parents for a price. Aurora, Crystal, Amethyst and Kayla the detention teacher, were to supervise the students as they settled into their dorms. Bjorn, Ivy, and Maria were to give guided tours. Paulette, Amanda, Sapphire and I were greeting at the gates, so to speak. The nurse was to be in her office, in case anyone got hurt or dehydrated.

“Oh, I’m sure no one will get sick,” said Amethyst with a beaming smile. “It’s such a lovely day.”

Sapphire glared Amethyst down. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ something will go wrong. It’s a matter of ‘when’ and ‘who’. Be prepared for everything.” Under her breath she added “these are parents.”

Well that… just made me feel completely unprepared.

Once more, Sapphire told us what to say, pointed to what to point to on the pamphlets, then with a deep breath, looked us over again. She did not seem particularly pleased with what she saw.

“Next year, you all have to have suits that fit better than this,” she said sharply. “I expect more from you. All of you.”

I felt like a weed withering before her no-weed spray. Or maybe boiling hot water. That’d kill any plant. But, as if to add fire to her weed-killer, she glared at just me. “I expect you to have a suit jacket after your first paycheck. Is that clear?”

“Oh, uh, hnh,” I said most verbosely, nodding. “Yeah.”

“Good,” and she gestured to the way out of here. “Let’s go.”

Or, in parent language, she might as well have said ‘ready, set, arrive!’. Because, yeah, the minute we got out there, near the driveway and ready to point to cars where to park, a car eeked up the road.

I put on a broad grin. “Parents are here!” I said, looking around.

Amanda checked her watch. “A full hour early. They are probably overachievers who expect their kids to be on the honor roll, but don’t know how to cook a casserole so to speak.”

“Hmm,” Sapphire said, neutral expression firmly in place. “Enough of that.”

To which Amanda hmphed and crossed her arms, sure of her superiority to these common folk who… couldn’t cook a casserole? Was I the only one excited to meet the parents? Yeah? Or was that a sign of being a new teacher? Or maybe, as I later realized, they had a better grip on the ‘pagan’ part of ‘pagan parents’.

“Hey!” a beer-bellied man stepped out of the driveway, pale like a computer tech and dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. He had long, thin, brown hair that was pulled back into a long ponytail. His beard was too long for the care he obviously didn’t put into it. “We made it!”

“Oh, this place is lovely!” the wife squealed, stepping out of her side of the car. She was twice as wide as he, had a bob of frazzled hair, swishing purple skirts, and bulging eyes.

Then, there was the kid. She stepped out of the back of the car like she was being dragged to her own funeral. Humiliated. Dejected. I felt for her.

She was a scrawny thing with her mother’s large eyes, her father’s ponytail, and what I took to be the school’s uniform. It was a navy blue jacket, white shirt, and navy blue pants. Pretty plain, but as the family came closer the insigna on the jacket became visible. It was a white logo of a pentacle with a dragon around it. Funky, I thought, wondering what the dragon represented

“Heya!” said the father, holding out a hand to… Sapphire stepped forward to accept it with a tight smile and a firm handshake.

“Welcome,” she said “So glad you could make it.”

“Well, we were afraid of getting lost!” chuckled the dad, and the wife beamed and nodded. The daughter looked dejected and looked away.

One by one, Sapphire introduced the lot of us and what we taught. Of course, it was Aurora who got all the attention once it came out that she was the religion teacher.

“Oh, so you’re the priestess!” squealed the wife. “You know, I’m so glad that you will be overseeing this project!”

“Actually,” Aurora said, glancing to Sapphire for permission.

“She has a doctorate in new religious movements, specifically in Wicca and neopaganism,” said Sapphire curtly.

The parents’ eyes widened, and the dad nodded like ‘yeah, well done’. The mom, however, said “But you are a priestess, right?”

“No,” said Aurora firmly. “I am not. However, I am experienced in-”

“I’m a high priestess!” squeaked Amethyst, shimmying over through the group of teachers and bolstering me out of the way. Breathless and beaming (and also starting to sweat in this sun), she declared “And I can tell you that this place is going to be amazing for your child!”

“Oh, good!” said the mother, obviously relieved. Sapphire’s eyes narrowed, making her smile turn menacing. The mother, however, had eyes only for Amethyst now “I was so worried. You don’t want a bunch of muggles running this place, so to speak!”

“Oh, no!” Amethyst laughed, tilting her whole body to the side as she did so. “No muggles here!”

The family laughed. Except not the daughter. She clearly was not a harry potter fan, or a fan of this situation at all.

Amethyst, however, was about to bust out of her teacher role and promote herself straight up the channel. She was rattling on about how we were going to be having daily prayers, meditations before every class, how she was going to incorporate feminist theory into the readings (cool!) and – another car pulled into the driveway.

“More witches!” cheered the mother.

Indeed. More witches. These ones parked crooked, their expensive car shining waxily in the sunlight. When they got out of the car, they were bedecked in sandals, crisp pale clothing (skirts in the mothers’ case) that probably cost nearly as much as the car, and they were pointedly tanned. The dad lifted his sunglasses off his face, squinting around as if to say ‘that’s it?’. The daughter swung out of the back seat, lanky and graceful, her blonde hair sweeping around her like she was a videogame character or something. I sensed trouble in her. She looked way too popular for her own good.

The mother ambled over, a tight smile on her face, husband and daughter in tow. They were greeted with a “howdy!” by the previous dad and his wife. The first kid (who had still not been introduced) looked like she wanted to hide.

“Hi,” said the wife starchily, as if the words had a hard time coming out. She had a wealthy person’s accent, which I couldn’t describe. She looked down her nose at everyone, frowning. Probably the place had seemed bigger in the brochures.

“Greetings,” said Sapphire, stepping forward with a tight smile. As if recognizing her, the parents went ‘ah’ and shook her hands.

“So glad you could make it,” said Sapphire politely.

“Ah, yes, we are too,” said the father, looking around again.

Again, the teachers were introduced, but this time Sapphire mentioned the parents by name. Mr and Mrs Engeldorf. I took a wild guess that they were investors, and wealthy ones at that.

If people gave off a vibe, which I’m sure they do, these ones gave off icky vibes. I just did not like them. They also did not seem to like me, either, barely shaking my hand. Was it the pink shirt? Maybe.

They also seemed keen on ignoring the other parents, who were equally keen on not being ignored.

“So, witches eh?” said the first dad, prodding at the second dad.

“No,” said Mrs Engeldorf tartly, like, lemon tart kind of tart, with no sugar added.

“Oh?” the first mom said peppily, poking over. “What are you?”

The parents smiled acidly. “We are atheists,” the father said haughtily. “But our daughter,”

The perfect daughter looked wholly embarrassed and not so perfect anymore beside her parents.

“Has taken a shine for Wicca. She insisted on coming here, of all the places.”

“Well, what a good choice,” I said to the kid. She smiled at me. The parents scowled.

Mr Engeldorf put his sunglasses back on. “She’s allergic to gluten, by the way. We trust you’ll be taking good care of her,” he said, wholly expecting the opposite for sure.

Then, they unloaded their daughters’ luggage and left, tires crunching in the gravel. I hoped a bird pooped on them.

The daughter stood miserably there with her pile of luggage, looking every bit the abandoned teen she was.

“So what’s your name?” asked Amethyst happily, breaking the silence.

The teen lifted her chin proudly. “Raven,” she declared.

“Good choice,” said Sapphire. As a group, we teachers nodded. The remaining parents beamed. Their daughter finally spoke.

“I’m Greta,” she announced.

And that, really, was how the day began.

“Attack of the White Clouds” Chapter Five, Part Two

D- stepped to her side. Her arm passed around the seer’s trembling shoulders and drew her in for a tight embrace. In a low murmur she spoke of how it was the season of the marsh’s red colouring. That in the desert, it was the season for travelling and crossing. How in the plains, it was the season for the first growth. “And it has been nine months since the White Clouds arrival,” she added softly. Her hands now rubbed up and down the seers’ shaking arms. “When do you last remember?”

“Nothing,” the seer said in a hollow voice. “Nothing.”

“You remember something,” CH- said sharply.

“Nothing, nothing. Nothing! No-”

D- shushed her, leaning back to hold eye contact. “We are the season of the marsh now. That is all that matters.”

The seer shook like a leaf in the wind. “Nine months,” she whispered brokenly.

I began stepped back from the seer. In a sidelong glance I gestured to Ch- to come with me. D- stayed, comforting her and keeping her mind in the moment. Ch- followed me, grumpy as she stamped over twigs and underbrush. Her hackles were raised, her fangs bared.

“That seer knows something!” she hissed as we drew to a halt in the clearing of the White cloud. “She must!”

“But what?” the words slipped from me. It took me by surprise. It had seemed so effortless. Now, of a sudden, it felt impossible to speak a sound more. I wrung my hands. I gulped and tried to form the stories, the words to frame every picture and thought. It was hopeless. I shrugged and lifted my hands in the gesture of not knowing.

Ch- scowled. “If I knew, I would tell you! She would have told us! But all we know is that something is not right! She has been missing- how could she not know that the tribes have united? Has she been in league with the White Clouds?”

Or she was one who was taken and now she’d returned. A shiver of excitement ran through me. COuld it be that we had met our first survivor? Wondering this I stared away from Ch-. I took in the trees with their red trunks. Took in the whisperings of the wind and H- stalkign towards us. “Here they come,” he murmured under his breath. we stiffened and turned. Indeed, D- was approaching. Their arm was around the seer, walking her as one would walk a frail or sickly person. As they approached D- beamed with pride and the order for us to echo their happiness. I put on a large grin in hopes that I would be right. Let this be our first revenant. Let this be a surivivor with some clues.

“Welcome the new member of our party, Ale,” D- said proudly, patting the seer on the shoulder.

“Welcome,” Ch- said most unwelcomingly.

“We-w-w-w-,” I nodded and gestured wildly in greeting. H- chuckled and greeted her.

“Welcome. As you can tell, our bravest and best can not talk very well.”

“Hm! I speak just fine,” Ch- muttered savagely under her breath. Somehow, that made me smile. Ch-‘s comment, albeit insulting, felt harmless and boisterous. Charming, even.

“Ale will be travelling with us,” D- said cheerily. “I wish us all to get along.”

“We will,” H- said solemly.

I nodded, once again stuttering through the words. My sweaty palms wrung over my trident as if squeezing the words out for me. “W-w-wwe will!”

“Hnh,” was all that Ch- said. “We shall see.”

D- drew in an exasperated breath at this breach of politeness, but what was to be done? The seer turned pale beneath her scales, but did nothing. if anything she drew closer against D- for comfort.

And so, Ale was added to our group. Little was known of her. She walked huddled in her robes as if cold or frightened. That first day, we left the tracks of the White Cloud and continued onwards into the forest. Our pace was much slower than the frenzied rush our tribe had fled with. Now, we’d not even left the reaches of the mountains and trees by nightfall. As before during the day, we drew camp hastily but not in the marks of the Clouds. This time we nestled the tent in shadowy safety and made sure to light no fire.

The seer was put in the tent to rest wholly through the night. Us others took turns in watches of two to dwell awake. It would have been a relaxing time if somehow it hadn’t been so fearful. The air seemed tinged with danger. The birds refused to sing, and the crickets wouldn’t play. H- was crouching a few feet from me while I stood and looked around for any signs.

“I can’t sleep,” Ch- said as she threw her blankets off her and rose ingratefully. Beside her, d- was sleepign fitfully. With a scowl and huff Ch- rose and walked soundlessly to H-‘s side. There she crouched next to his hulking form. “What’s the matter with this place? THere is no sounds, no breeze, no bugs.”

Indeed, I realized with alarm, even the bugs seemed to have fled in fear. Whatever was wrong?

“We are walking into a trap.” Ch- said. Then, pointing to the tent, she lowered her voice. “It is all since she has arrived. The birds flee our arrival. The animals of four legs turn away at the sight of her. Even the trees don’t want to touch her. Something is wrong, and it is her.”

I tilted my head to the side, but did not know what to think.

“The Attack of the White Clouds”; Chapter One, Part One

The forest rose around us, the red trunks tall and thick but widely spaced apart. We had chosen an easy part of the forest to cross. Here there were many rocks but little underbrush. The bright green canopy above us let plenty of light filter through their waving branches.

“We will rest there,” the oracle said. Her grey and black hued skin glimmered with sweat, the metal inserts in her face shining with green reflections of the trees. Dirt rose up her thin skirt to her knees. I nodded, tired as well but making sure not to let it show. I was the highest ranking warrior still alive. The burden of leading with hope was now placed squarely on my shoulders. A difficult thing since my own hope had gone missing in the dark, taking it’s brightly burning lamp with it.

We struggled up the final rock. It was perfect. Our oracle had led us true. It was maybe ten paces across and rising fifteen high out of the ground but it bore many crevices and cracks. There were even tiny holes that burrowed deep within its structure. “In here!” the oracle called, and the tribe that followed me began scurrying.

At first sight our people were tall, slim and hued by the colors of where we had lived. My people were blue skinned, with gills and fluted ears. Our bodies shimmered with scale-like patterns. We were clad in bits of leather and soft fabrics. Others, of the drier climates, were in reds with black skin and metal decorations pierced through them. yet others had delicate dragonflies wings and slanted eyes that shimmered with no pupils or whites. Their cheekbones jutted out like horns, pointed and menacing. Yet beneath their rough exterior their hearts were soft and perhaps the most wounded by these recent events. We were all the same, I’d come to realize. Once at war, now we were shunted together by a newly reared enemy.

And so we all took solace in this rock. Scrambling up its slope, our people turned ephemereal, their bodies dissolving into their most vulnerable state of pure soul. In this state every one of us was a small orb of light, shrinking and shrinking to find the smallest and safest nook within the rock. As I stood back and watched they were like fireflies swirling and nesting until the rock seemed to glow.

At my side, the oracle sighed. One more feat of magic was required from her. She held up her hands, and cloaked the rock. A blanket of darkness swept over the rock, covering all the lights. It settled into the rock, making it appear just a hue darker than it actually was. Yet no more lights could be seen. Our people were hidden.

With a groan her arms fell. They shook, and she seemed ready to collapse. Yet she held my gaze bravely. “I am going to rest. You will watch over us?” I nodded, and her gaze swept to the others who had also not gone into resting form. We were three, each from a different clan. Now, having realized out joint responsibilities in these times of trouble, we were working together.

We stood watch, each of us a different and from a different clan, each facing a different direction. I faced east, hoping to see some sign of the spirits we’d been forced to abandon. H- with his black cloaked robe wrapped tight around him, faced north, desperately wishing to see some sign of his family that had gone missing. Ch- face west and south, stonily keeping her thoughts to herself. I hated her so much more than any other. She’d had the nerve to continue blaming us despite our continuous plight. She led her people still in the ways of hate, a thing few of us could still afford.

She, as it turned out, was the last to turn to my cry of surprise.

“What is that?” she said, and I saw it coming with a swell of dread within my breast. A white cloud. The white cloud. The emmissary, the one with the eye within it that would see us. Lifting my trident into defensive stance, I hissed.

“We need protection! Cover of some sort!” Ch- shouted. But we could not be hidden any better than we were. If we left the rock our people would be left vulnerable to be scented out. If we moved to hide even the slightest amongst the trees, our movement could be detected. In a brief flutter of cowardice I hoped the eye would look over us and away. Please, just this once, I begged to our ancestors. Yet they were far away and helpless. The eye latched onto us. I felt its cursed pupil, white like the frothy death it summoned, spear through me.

With a cry or power I lifted my trident and swung downwards. The end of my trident planted into the soft earth before the rock as I crouched, bracing myself for what was to come. To my left, the forbidden cry of H-‘s tribe rose, shrieking out for protection as well as he too planted his sword in the earth to brace.

The white wave billowed out from the cloud of the eye. A cresting rush, formless yet consuming all. It swept down like it was on wings, soaring soundless but for the crunching of the red trees bursting to shards and smashing down.

A final cry sounded to my right. One of fire and vengeance- and a red form planted itself proudly in defense at my side.

The white wave crushed over us. It was a blistering wind, scraping over us like sandpaper. It burnt like sandpaper scraping over my whole body, threatening to tear me to pieces. Even the air burnt, filled with the white curse that scraped my lungs and stole my air. Ducking my head to shield my eyes, I gritted my teeth and refused to give way. The wind bit, turning my knuckles raw and bloody but I refused to let go of my trident. If I did, I would be swept away into the whirling white. I would be destroyed- and the triad undone. The rock too would be eaten up then.

The wind must have lasted only a moment. It felt like an eternity, a white burst in which nothing existed and all was tearing up around us. But in a rush of warmth it it was gone. Good clean light basked over us and the magic in my trident hummed to a rest. It was done deflecting the attack.

First I lifted my head, then I straightened out of my crouch and looked around, blinking my sore eyelids.

The trees were gone in a wide berth around us. Rocks had been gouged up from the earth, and even the dust they ought to have left behind was gone. It was as if a great monster had come churning through, smashing all into little bits, only to have all that sucked up by a hungry ghost. A sharp line cut off the devastation from the rest of the forest, which was in pristine condition.

“We did it,” the red one at my side said, breathless in wonder. “We’ve turned it away.”

I nodded warily. It had happened before that the emissaries had been deflected. Always the white returned in more powerful ways. Sometimes there were enough clouds to blot out the sky. Our only hope was to run now, faster than the winds could come.

Pulling my trident up and turning away- I was stopped by a chinking sound as my trident’s end struck something. Something that was not a rock. Whirling, expecting some white devilry, I saw a clay jug sitting at my feet. It was propped against the rock, as if it had been dropped between my trident and it.

I pointed my trident at it fearfully. The red one stepped closer, her sword and shield at the ready. “What is that?”

“It was not there before,” H- said in awe.

I nudged it with the tip of my trident. It moved, toppling to land softly in the ripped earth. It was a deep blue, glazed in artful swirls with words painted over it in gold. My heart turned to stone and my jaw fell.

It was the jug of our chieftain! Her hut was one of the first to be torn away, and so I knelt down without a care now. If it had been a trap I would have been damned. Luckily there was none and all that happened was my tears as I lifted the precious jug up. It was in the same impeccable condition our beloved leader had kept all her affairs. Untarnished, solid, and well formed. I clutched it to my chest in wonder, almost dropping my trident to hug it.

How could this be? I wondered, but in my heart I knew what it must mean. It was a sign from beyond the white mist. Was I designated as the new chieftain? Was our beloved one telling of her survival in the beyond? That there was some abyss we could rescue them all from, safe and unharmed as this fragile jug?

Rising, I held it out before me. What could this mean? As I looked around me, I saw the possible truths mirrored there. To my right, fury and anger.

“This is a trap,” she hissed. “put it down.”

To my other side, joy and hope. “They’re alive! They must be!” and he wanted to take it from me. I held it away, stuttering as I tried to talk.

“J-j-ju-j-j-,” then, finally, “jug!” But it was pitifully little to what I meant to say.

The red one rolled her eyes. “We got that. Give it here, it needs to be destroyed.”

I turned my back to her, determined to show it to the seer when she rose with the rest of our people. She would know what to make of it.

Mercifully, the others left me alone with it. The red one hissing in discontent, the other sighing and muttering that the seer would know what to do – with both the jug and me. I put my back to them and kept my watch bitterly.cloudwitheye.jpg