The Thorns of Lovecraft

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The Thorns of Lovecraft

Postby Avacyn » Thu Dec 25, 2014 5:03 pm

This was the title to a novel I wrote in 2013, for NaNoWriMo. This is the prologue to it.

It is Gothic Horror.

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She ran as hard and fast as her fear soaked legs would allow. Her chest heaved, lungs raw and screaming for more oxygen than they could steal from the air, heart pounding against her chest like a fist threatening to break through her ribcage. She tried to fight back the tears. What was it that tried to get her? It – it was nothing remotely human or natural. If only she had her bow. Running was something she was bad at, but if she could just stick an arrow into those chasing her...

She fought to see clearly. Maybe this was all a nightmare, and in a moment, she'd wake up, terrified, and it'll be all over? She fought back the tears, as much as she had fought back from from the tendrils and wide, gaping maw. No wonder the old admin block was abandoned... Of course there were the rumours, but they always are made up by the younger years, right?

Selina felt the streaming sweat dampen and slicken her mane of flowing brown hair. Her neck felt like it was being strangled by her collar, which was always too tight. The skirt of her uniform felt like a large rubber band wrapping round her legs. Was everything trying hard to stop her from getting away? She swallowed hard, her throat dry and raw from her frenzied attempts to go and get the air to fuel her aching, fear-taloned body. What got to her was they were still behind her, still chasing. And it was like they were just keeping back, just waiting for her to get too tired. A thought went back to the nature documentary she saw a couple of nights ago. Hot, stinging tears streaked away as she remembered how the wolves had chased and chased the deer, until it couldn't run any more. Then, when it was finally exhausted, they surrounded it.

Would that happen to her? Was that the plan? Wait until she couldn't run any more, then drag her back to be... eaten? Was that what it was doing? But why? Why her, why her, why her? She couldn't think of a reason. She couldn't think any more. All she wanted was to get away, to get to life her life from this hellish school, away from that evil bitch Felicia and her constant goadings and cruelty?
It's so unfair, so unfair! Why was all this happening to her? Her mind just started to break down and lose coherence. She felt the fear jab and stab its way throughout her brain, and the rest of her body. Round the corner, just get round the corner-
What the... they are the steps to the science block courtyard. The steps. Get to the steps! Get to them, get down them, maybe she could do it, get away, get help... her voice was too ragged, her lungs too raw with gasping for whatever breath they could manage... just a little more, just a little-

And then, when her foot hit the top step did she realise she hadn't judged her stride right. Arms flailed about, frantic to grip onto something. Anything. Fingers seemed to brush at her side as her right knee crumpled, and she felt the soft caress of gravity reach out and turn into a tightening grip. The ground, sky and buildings started to spin into one, as things went horribly slow motion. She saw the steps come up, an eternity in heartbeats, looming so much more worse than a nightmare could ever possibly manage.

Staring at the growing grey slabs, she saw herself in a hospital bed, bandaged up, unmoving, needing multiple machines to keep her breathing, keep her living. Her palms scraped and stung as they took first impact. Hot stinging registers as she spun and tumbled further, her momentum gaining. Joints smashing, bones cracking, and all that was really registering was the fact she had gotten distant from her family, not really writing to them, rarely calling them... she'd change that. She'd start mending fences after this, she would, she swore to herself – even with her kid brother – as another bone cracked in electric stabbing pain she-

She never heard that cracking noise. Like a wet, meaty branch snapping. After that, to the bottom of that flight of stairs, she no longer tried to save herself from the worst. She was beyond all that now. What would have shocked her was just how little blood seeped out of her when she finally lay at the bottom of the stairs. Or how calm the three large boys stood passively by her, wordlessly debating what to do next.

It didn't matter any more, not to Selina Isherwood. She was all very much beyond it all now.
Avacyn
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Re: The Thorns of Lovecraft

Postby Avacyn » Thu Dec 25, 2014 5:08 pm

The ground plan for Miskatonic is inspired by Randoplh College in Virginia, USA. The location is a little bit out to the east of Providence, Rhode Island. It is surrounded by woods, and there is a lake nearby. the school is fictional, but the lake and woods are real.

A mock-up of the cover...

Image
Avacyn
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Re: The Thorns of Lovecraft

Postby Avacyn » Thu Dec 25, 2014 5:08 pm

Chapter One

She frowned at the text message.

Leigh knew it was on the way, but today? Right now? Didn't Darius Usher get that they couldn't simply go and get supplies, just like that? It wasn't public school, you know. This was Miskatonic Academic Institute of Learning. Or Miskatonic Academy to the natives of Providence, and the students there. In any case, students not attending class got noticed. And investigated.
She gracefully stepped forwards, her body automatically knowing how to move. If she had been paying attention, she would have delighted at the straight, graceful way she entered her English class, like she had stepped out of a Jane Austen novel. Like she was Emma Woodhouse, or Elizabeth Bennet. Her poise, make-up and demeanour might have been Regency elegance, but her attire was something else, betraying her upbringing. It was the way she had her uniform; tight fitting to accentuate curves, an elegant silver necklace that was made from elaborately woven silver wires, patterned into a crucifix, hair held up with intricate pins, net, but no hairspray. In fact, her hair had a natural sheen, of a young lady who took particular care of her hair. Leigh's make-up was all designed to accentuate her features, more subtle than overt. The end result was a bizarre mixture of sophisticated courtesan, and Lolitaesque jail-bait. Not that Leigh had realised this. And no-one had told her, either.

Even so, it was still a far cry to what she had been like before, when she still was living in Florida...
Not that you would ever have her talk about those times. She refused to acknowledge what she had been. Not that it mattered to her friends. They didn't care, as long as the goods they sold to the others kept coming; why would it matter? She was one of them now. Moneyed. Elite. At least she made fair effort to fit in. She had even ditched her common Floridian accent, quickly learned not to be potty-mouthed, and abandon the attitude fostered from living in trailer parks, growing up with gang kids for company. Escape all that she hated. Then again, it had meant that her... skills were useful to the girls she nowadays associated with.

She looked about the class, at the boys and girls assembled for the lesson. Holly was there, gulping down expressos, her desk strewn with pieces of paper. Leigh rolled her eyes. Holly might be her friend, but at Miskatonic – like any private school – friends were useful people you knew, and not people you could really dare to confide in. Except Ginny. She was strange in that respect. She could be told things, and she would keep things secret. She also lacked any scheming ambition. Something, if Leigh – formally Kayleigh – liked and respected. It had certainly inspired her to try and be a normal person when she went to college or university. What was one more change? After all, she had been once Kayleigh Rudd, potty-mouthed trailer trash who had hung around gang types, and learned how to lockpick, and watched how to forge identification. Her fingers were very nimble, and that had been put to good use... nowadays, Leigh was looking to find better ways to use her fingers.

Her face screwed up into a wince as stinging pain came from the old wound to her neck. Why was that flaring up now? She self-consciously put a finger there, then lowered it. As long as the make-up still covered it, it should be okay. She needed to keep people from looking too much at her neck. Of course, she had her shirt and uniform in such a way to display it, but it was a small mark over a vast expanse of flesh.

She frowned as she realised that it flared up like that, when...

That was stupid. She had no proof of that being the case. None whatsoever. Although... if it were the case, would it be so bad? She was much older now... more mature. She put all thoughts out of her mind, getting ready to focus on what she needed to do. Which was learn. And gain knowledge. And make sure no-one realised she...

No, she wasn't going to allow herself to carry on with that line of thinking. Instead, do something more practical. Like see if her hair was still looking good. Which it should do, given how long it took in the morning to get it to look like a medieval noblewoman's. Which, in the mind of the girl now calling herself Leigh Bracknell, was a very respectable look indeed.

She sighed as she stared at the text again, getting the screen back up after blacking out from too much inactivity. Her thoughts went from her brownish-blonde hair to the shipment of Ritalin. Reflecting, it looked like a good deal... maybe she should talk with Ginny, get her to look at the numbers. If she was right, then this was a cheaper batch, even if it was a much larger amount they usually got. Bulk purchases, and all of that sort of thing.

She sighed again, suddenly wishing once more that she could leave all of it behind, and not have to do so many shady deals... Then again, it wasn't like when she was living in Marion County. God, Florida just sucked for her. Really had.

She put her phone away as soon as – in her eyes – dreamy Mister Landers entered the room, and the class went quiet. She decided resolutely that she definitely would talk with Ginny, and if the sums added up right, then she would need to talk Felicia into releasing more funds to get the Ritalin than planned.

Leigh put all thoughts out of her mind as she looked Mister Landers in the eye, and smiled warmly at him. A small curling of the corner of his mouth told her he'd seen it.

* * *

Final gulp, and... there. Cup two downed, and she now would be good to go for another five hours, at least. Putting her flask and cup away into her bag. She glanced about, seeing a couple of boys making comments about her drinking double expressos in class again, and one girl give her a dirty look. Holly's eyes narrowed at that. She'd get her later... just she wait. Spiteful revenge spiked through her heart. She'd gotten good at that over the past few years. Very good. The girl, realising she'd been spotted, nervously looked away, trying to hide the look she'd been giving. She knew incurring her wrath was a very bad idea...

Looking away, satisfied she had made her point, Holly stared back at the scruffy pile of papers that were her project diagrams. Okay, Mister Landers had entered the room, and it was going to be yet another long, boring class, but Holly didn't care. As long as she could keep going on her latest project, who cares? And it was such and brilliant project, too.

All because a few weeks back she and the gang – as she called her circle of friends – had watched Iron Man. And whilst Leigh's drooling over Robert Downey Junior had nauseated everyone – what was it with her and older men? – it had produced an interesting argument. As in was such an armour suit even possible. Holly did have to admit... reluctantly, of course... that flying around like that wasn't going to happen. But the rest... she was convinced it was all possible. And after looking at You Tube, they all agreed it might be possible. But Felicia dared her to make one that could be used in a fight.

Well, she would... wouldn't she? It was exactly what she was like, Fel.

Mind you, if it was possible, why not make a suit, and sell it? She knew there were bound to be people who would pay heaps for such a suit. Okay, she wasn't sure who exactly, but she was positive it was possible. And to kit it out with real weapons. For the military. Or law enforcement.

Holly Grainger looked up, brushed some of her straight, messy mousy brown hair out of her face, and saw Mister Landers smiling a little. Oh, great... in Leigh's direction. What was it with her and older guys, anyway? It was creepy, that's what it was. She noticed suddenly, that the smile was there, but the eyes were more in a grimace style of expression. Leigh wouldn't have noticed, of course. Holly didn't understand the obsession. She knew that someday – perhaps – she would have to settle down, have children. But not now. Definitely not now... she had too many cool projects to work on. Okay, so some of them ended badly, like the time she'd made fireworks, and her attempts to understand nuclear energy, but she had learnt from her mistakes, and that meant she had progressed. And that was the important thing... right?
She took a look at her diagrams, and decided to get out her English notepad. She had pen ready, to take down in shorthand all the notes for the lesson. Shorthand was excellent, since it meant more time to look at her projects.

In any case, no boy would be interested in her. She was certain, and glad of it. She wasn't pretty like the other girls. She was short and underweight, her face pale and angular, the result of irregular meals and not sleeping when she should. Not that it affected her; she had the sort of constitution that allowed her to eat things that might have long past expired, or maybe poisonous. It wasn't because she was unhygienic, it was down to the fact she was so absent minded, she lost track of time, not noticing if the coffee she was drinking was from a couple of days ago. The others had long since given up trying to change that about her, tolerating her scruffy uniform and appearance, daily checking her room for anything that needed removing. After all, she was excellent at hacking the school computer records, and a help with their science ant technology homework...

The biggest reason why no boy would be interested in her, however, she wasn't one of them. She was at the school by grace of scholarship. There was no way her family could afford the fees. And she was sent there, because she had been disruptive at her old school. It wasn't her fault... it was just that she was bored in those classes. She had worked out and learned what was being taught already. In the end, after a massive effort on the part of the school, and her parents, they had secured her a place at Miskatonic, shipping her out from the farming town she'd lived in all her live, moving from Kansas to Rhode Island. Something that had annoyed her at first.

That first year had been hell, with everyone picking on her, bullying her, not for intelligence, like before, but because she was a scholarship student. Ginny had stayed around her at meal times, thought Holly thought it was more to do with them sharing dorm space together. Then, Felicia and Leigh had arrived, and the dorm she lived in changed. Even Ginny had started to hang out in the common room, instead of staying in her room all the time. And she managed to get payback at all those who had tormented her. At Felicia, Leigh and Lily's guidance, she'd gotten good at inflicting retribution herself.

She glanced at Leigh, who was still swooning at Mister Landers, and Mister Landers trying his hardest to ignore her completely.

A groan escaped her throat. This was going to be a long, long lesson...

* * *

Okay, a final check can't hurt. Better to be certain it was right, than not at all, right?

Particularly if you were a Kinomitsu. You had it drummed into you from the earliest age about family honour and duty. And one thing Lily's father had been most insistent on, before she had returned from the week holiday with her family, at the airport, was that her studying was an embarrassment to her family, to herself. She had to fight back the tears something fierce. A warrior never showed such weakness. And being from an old Samurai family that had gone on to forge a powerful business empire, weakness was one of the worst sins she could display.

The last thing she wanted to be, though, was a warrior. Not in war, or business. Not any more.

Why did her father decide that she was the child best suited to be trained? It wasn't as if she could refuse, either. To defy her father's wishes would be shameful, meaning estrangement from her family at best. And she needed to be on good terms with her family, if only to keep having the generous allowances and her trust fund.

She hated the old Japanese customs, but still felt enslaved by them. On top of that, she would be having to fight centuries of tradition, tradition that everyone else in her family took seriously. Even her mother, who was completely American. That she didn't get. But then, there was so much about her family she didn't understand.

In any case, the essay looked about right. She knew it was a subject that annoyed her father, but she was good at Classics, so he couldn't say much. She knew, however, that the classics he wanted her to know were Japanese. Something Lily Kinomitsu, heiress of part of the fortunes of her family's estate and Kinomitsu Corporation, wanted desperately to escape from.

A hand subconsciously went to her temple, as she recalled a lucky escape of a different kind. She knew, because of her miracle recovery, that if anything, she should be a doctor; a healer, not a fighter. So much was placed into lucid clarity for her. She'd been crippled by that brain tumour in the end, and she should be dead. She knew that. But then, the... miracle happened, and she knew that she'd been saved for a more important purpose than being an heiress, or one of the worst school bullies. She felt deep burning shame over her past actions. Of encouraging Holly to become as vicious as she now was. She'd even affected Tina. She was a sweet girl really, and she'd been poisoning that. Just because – and it hurt her to admit it to herself – she was angry and spoiled. She wanted others to suffer, so they would be as miserable as she was. Which had pleased the leader of their little group.

She glanced about. Where was Felicia? It wasn't like her to miss Classics – point of fact, she was always the first one to get to the class. Where was she? Her heart sank into her stomach. She was probably torturing some younger student who had the misfortune of crossing her path. Or Selina. Again. Lily wanted to stop Felicia, intervene, but that would have her turn against her, and she was scared to be the target.
Lily closed her eyes, and for the umpteenth time in recent months, since her sudden recovery from the life-devouring brain tumour, Lily hated Felicia Denby-Ashe for what she was like to others... and what she make Lily do to others.

* * *

The smell was truly delicate, sweet and beautiful. Despite the way the day was going, she still had to smile at the delicate fragrance, and the vibrant colours of the flower it came from.

She had no idea what flower it was, but the smell as she passed the bush it was growing on... so divine. She needed to stop to smell it. Then again. And again. But it certainly wasn't the smartest move. Flowers in late October? Not a good idea for anything growing in Providence... not at this time of year, anyway... and the bush was covered in them. She opted to pick one, and take it with her. She moved along to class, trying to gaze at the strange October flower as she rushed forth.

Then again, it had been unusually warm. Really warm. Like today, where it felt more like September, with the heat and sun. Such a beautiful, lovely day. Tina-Louise Meyer – Tina to everyone – couldn't help herself. She had to skip into the classroom, even though it was Classics. The only reason why she did the class was because Felicia insisted. Well... it was more like pester and prod, manipulating and pushing her into making the choice. Still, she did help with the homework, and it did get her decent grades. Which pleased her parents who were monitoring closely her progress at the school. To her complete annoyance. And being honest with herself, being able to swear in Latin to others was cool... even some of the teachers were confused by it, unable to be certain if it was compliment or insult being uttered.
Still skipping, she entered the room, her petite frame made more so by the imposing mannequin wearing Roman armour. It made her nervous, standing next to it. She always felt like it would come to life, and attack her. With a small smirk, she put the flower into its armour. There, much better...

If only she could draw a big, happy grin on him, then it would be perfect.

It wasn't until she got to her seat that she realised that the desk in front of her was empty. Tina frowned in confusion. Where was Fel? It wasn't like her to not be here for Classics. She loved it. God knows why...

Maybe... it was one of those posho things? Liking Classics, that was. She didn't get any of that. Not at all. Then again, if things had been a little different, she'd not be here. All because her eldest brother had ended up a meth-head, ruining a promising sporting career and his whole future, just to steal and shoot up. She remembered seeing him after he'd left prison once. He looked like a living skeleton, scabby, face bony and with teeth missing and rotting. His eyes were protruding nastily. Staring at him, so unkempt, dirt under nails that hadn't been clipped in so long, begging for money... just so he could wrangle another high... in the end, she'd had enough, and cut him out of her life. Then she found herself in this Byzantine maze of social quandary...

Her parents had got her to be at the school by being on the board of Governors, and by making donations. Sure, they had money, but it wasn't like Felicia's family, or Lily's, for example. They were a reasonable business in Providence. Still, having local connections always looked good to the school, so they were more than happy to have a daughter of Board members at the school. She didn't hate her parents for what they did. They just wanted to make sure she didn't end up like Luke...

No fear there.

Then again, being super rich didn't really matter at Miskatonic Academy. No matter what Holly might say on the matter. The mind-set, however, was all about networking. Your friends now could be useful later on. It was all about the Network, not in having people to confide in.
Of course, her friends could keep secrets; they were the exception. Seriously. Honestly. They were friends for life.
Speaking of friends... where was Felicia? Her not being there was so truly weird. Felicia always loved to be early, so she could note who was late, and give them lectures about it. Which she loved taping. It was fun, seeing Felicia lay into those girls, using the truth of how petty and pathetic they were to life. At first, when she first was hanging with Fel and the others, she'd questioned it. But after a long explanation from her, backed up by Lily, she now understood that there were winners in life, and losers. And the ones who were losers needed to know that, so they didn't get any bright ideas.

And hearing some stories, and seeing how her brother had turned out, she understood why.

She'd recently heard that the reason why Sara Vale hadn't come back at the start of term was because she was checked into a clinic for slashing her arms up with a razor blade. Loser. Still, she was always late, and kept avoiding class. No-one really liked her; she had no friends, after all. No-one wanted to hang with a social maggot. No-one. Tina reflected over her thoughts on her for a moment. Yes, Sara Vale truly was a snivelling, pathetic little worm, something Tina desperately wanted to avoid being.

Yep, some people existed merely to remind the rest why being a zero in life meant being a door mat. And why not wipe your feet on them? They aren't up for much use... were they?

Speaking of friends, at least Lily was there. Tina smiled warmly at her, and her hand shook enthusiastically into a keen wave. Lily just gives a small, reserved nod back in acknowledgement. Tina's enthusiasm deflated quickly. What's her deal? She'd been so strange lately. Ever since that cancer scare she had a few months back, and that turned out to be a false alarm, right? Okay, she had deteriorated, and needed a walking stick for a while, but she got better. Simple virus... or something. The doctors couldn't find it when it was time to gear her up for chemotherapy. So what was her problem? She should be little Miss Sunshine, not Miss Sourpuss.

Hang on... what was that on Lily's desk? Oh! Crap! The essay! She did it. Yes... she had. She clearly remembered doing it. Her hands frantically shuffled papers about in her bag, her head almost inside it. A loud sigh of relief gushed and rushed out of her. Got it. Her heart stopped pounding so hard, the tempo slowing down steadily. A small, perky smile appeared on her face.

Crisis over.

* * *

The yawn was gaping and loud. Ginger Kurtwood – Ginny to her friends – looked about in embarrassment. That was definitely not the best idea to do in the library. Still she noted that she seemed to have gotten away with it. It was considered exceedingly discourteous to yawn so loudly. At least in her book. She would be the last to admit it, but her mother – despite all the friction and rebellion – had rubbed off a little on her daughter. Ginny certainly had her mother's inability to truly express her emotions, preferring to hide behind a mask of careful neutrality. She hadn't always been like that, of course. Her grandmother – beloved Nana – had worked hard to prevent it. But when the tragedy struck, Ginny had been all alone. It had been the most logical course of action for her to follow.

Hence her insistence on the pristine uniform, with collars very wide, to make sure what she was wearing was comfortable. It meant that they were long, affairs, that would join together at the base of her neck. She had given up buttoning it, always using her tie to keep it together. Too many mornings ruined by having Leigh trying to alter her appearance had seen to it. It served as a suitable compromise. She even tolerated the v-neck sleeveless black jumpers with two silver stripes in the collar. Leigh had gone and had a local clothes maker make them especially for Ginny. Along with her shirts, based on what Ginny used to have, and skirts... in fact, her uniform – and usually her general clothes – was regulated by Leigh. Once, she thought Leigh was some sort of control freak, then she realised that Leigh was trying to make her over like she was her sister.

Back then, when Leigh had first moved in, and was dragging her out of her room to join the others in the common room, she'd been the smallest of all the girls. When she'd hit her thirteenth birthday, she had ended up with a stark growth spurt that had made her somewhat clumsy for a while, adjusting to her new, lengthening body. Now, her body had settled down – for the moment, at least – and she was five foot ten or so. She ignored the fiddly extra that Holly had insisted on adding to her height, due to it being irrelevant. Like most of her projects. Either that, or insanely dangerous... she'd always been like that, though, even when she had first moved into the dorm.
She hated the somewhat form-fitting nature of her uniform, showing off breasts she found annoying, revealing legs she wished covered up, shirts with sleeves that didn't fully cover her arms, and in any case, Leigh insisted on rolling them up to the elbows... she always felt horribly exposed wearing her uniform. She didn't like the fact she wasn't a girl any more. With a start, she briefly saw the realisation flicker within her that she didn't really want to grow up. Not when growing up meant loneliness and pain...

She took off her glasses – gold rimmed frames that grandmothers were expected to wear – and rubbed her eyes. With that gesture, the realisation flitted away. She couldn't allow herself to fall asleep. Not when it had taken so much effort to... persuade her teachers to give her time out of their classes. She needed the day to work out what next to do. She wished she could have someone to talk to about it, someone to share her journey. But at Miskatonic, she was the only one. And she had to keep it hidden.

She sighed, concentrating on her problem. Magic was something tricky, at least at the level she was now at. Then again... a staff crafted and imbued! She could hardly contain her excitement. Not that she could share her victory with anyone; she was the only Wiccan at Miskatonic. As far as she knew, at any rate. And she couldn't exactly advertise what she was, to see if there were others like her.
Four years ago, that would be a different matter; back then there was the group that had recruited her. But someone – or something – had taken out the group. Not in blood, but something far, far worse. She saw the entire group have all their memories and knowledge of magic stripped away. She'd only escaped, because... because...

She didn't want to think about it. She couldn't allow herself to cry. Because crying was wrong. Because crying meant she wasn't strong. And she was, she was. She put her glasses carefully on the table as her eyes pinched shut. It wasn't the fact she'd been up almost all the night. She could handle that. The problem was her having placed into her new staff the entirety of her magical reserves. The result was certainly not pleasant. She felt like her insides had been drained out by sucking herself hollow through holes in her feet. It really was the worst feeling.

She had to fight the urge to use magic, any magic. The price for exhausting her reserves and performing intense, high powered magics. Some stuff she could still do, so long as it wasn't intensive. Because it wouldn't need any real magic to perform it with. And she could still use her wand to cast spells... if she wanted. She thought about her wand. How could a piece of wood – or in her case a piece of English holly wood and deer antler – could store, channel and release magic was still beyond her. Okay, Ginny knew the ideas and concepts. All scientifically sound, as strange as that might seem to the casual observer.

But how different woods have differing vibrations, and properties, that was something she found hard to grasp. How did this knowledge get discovered? Why did someone wave pieces of wood about in the first place? Or was it all gifts of the gods and goddesses? She still wasn't sure on that one. And after the Purge... she struggled to believe that any divinity could stand by and let those who followed them just get...
Don't think about it. Just don't, She thought.

Instead, another yawn escaped her. This time, it was silent, and less obtrusive to the other students. She was glad of it. She put on her glasses, and tried to make sense of the photocopies in front of her. She paused to look at them nostalgically. They – along with her and a USB stick full of files – were all that was left of the Thorns Of Lovecraft. She never did get to find out why they were called that. Well, the Lovecraft part she knew; he was meant to have founded the secret society. Her mind cast back, remembering the way each member would reverently refer to him as “The Founder.” She knew he had teamed up with Abraham Van Helsing, which made her suspicious of the whole story. Except that it was too... big for it to be a con.

And the idea had been so, so simple. Create a network of people who could fight the cosmic horrors that threatened humanity. She hadn't believed it at the time – she was ten when they recruited her, for goodness sakes – but the sight of making blue fire was what had made her want to join.

And now, she was there, trying not to collapse with sleep, staring at a pile of photocopies that refused to make sense to her...

She yawned again. Have to stay awake... have to stay awake...

* * *

Felicia was experiencing a world of conflict.

She wanted to stay with Troy, she really, really did... but there was class – Classics! – and she was going to be late as it was. Again his hand drifted downwards, and again she carefully guided it back up. She wasn't ready for all of that. She struggled to make herself kiss him. It all felt so... weird. She wanted him; after all, he was one of the – no, the most – popular and wanted boys in the school. It was just that... he was so... insistent. She wanted to have it just at holding each other, snuggling up... but he always wanted more. She just wasn't feeling it, though. She wondered for the umpteenth time what was wrong with her. But all she wanted was to go and hold him, to be physically close to him.
Troy nuzzled her neck, making her moan softly in pleasure. That felt nice... really nice. She stared her boyfriend in the eyes, and soaked in their deep, brownish-grey hue, the intense wanting of her-
She suddenly couldn't resist him any more. She just wanted to be close to him. Really, really close. Her fingers raked his blonde-tipped hair, his own hands caressed her butt and breasts... and for the first time in her life, it felt good to be touched by a boy. She let him touch her more and more intimately, something awakening inside her for the first time. She felt glad; she'd been scared he'd get bored of her, and find someone more, well, responsive.
But it wasn't her fault. It really wasn't.

She'd been brought up not to show feelings. Her mother had been expressly clear on that fact... she fleetingly remembered all the times as a child she'd been scolded and punished for crying, or throwing a tantrum... severe punishments that she had, over time, come to suspect were harsher than they should have been. But... it hadn't harmed her... right?
She felt him respond to her letting him touch her, and her body responded back, making her feel ashamed with herself.
Okay, so... maybe... there was. There was something wrong with her, but it was sorting itself out now, right? Except she could feel a voice, more like an alarm bell in her mind. She tried to ignore it, but it just got louder and louder.
She was going to be late for class.

Eventually, reluctantly, she broke away from her kissing, and stepped away, hating herself in the process. He looked disappointed, though he was trying to hide it behind a mask of neutral understanding. She fought back the tears. For once, it was hard, really hard.

“Sorry... it's just that, class...” she mumbled out, biting her lower lip as she tried to quickly smooth her long brunette hair with her hands. She wanted so badly to carry on, but it was clear that the mood was broken. Broken by her... he was sorting out his hair and clothes, looking a little to the side of her.

“It's okay,” he said, though the tone hinted that he was disappointed about it. She hated herself even more.

“Look... we'll meet up later, and we can carry on.” She swallowed hard. “I mean, want to carry on. Seriously carry on,” Felicia croaked out. She cleared her throat. He gave her a small smile that seemed sad in Felicia's eyes.

“I'll be busy... practice, remember? But... Fel, there is always tonight, you know, after lights out.” he paused. “What about I arrange something special?” he suggested. She smiled slightly at that. She gave out a small nod, before running off. Her nerves, dammit! How could that have happened? It wasn't like her. She sped up, eager to get to her class. There was one thing in her advantage. She knew the school well enough to pick out all the short-cuts, and it was really useful that she was competitive in Parkour. Because right now, it might be the only thing that could get her to class on time...

She started looking at her route, her mind calculating the route to take. With a near Zen flow, she cleared her mind, and was leaping about, jumping and falling in a controlled manner, getting to the class in as straight a line as she could. Which was cutting time, for sure.
This had been a stipulation in the choosing of Miskatonic Academy. Well, part of a bundle of interconnected stipulations. She needed a place she could practice, and the setting was great for it. She was also allowed time from school to compete. A generous donation to the building fund to restore some of the oldest buildings on campus has magical effects, Fel noted smugly. And the place, being in existence since the mid nineteenth century, had a number of older buildings in various states of disrepair. She couldn't understand the reasons behind some of the structures, like the Cloisters, or the Old Admin Building, but it was certainly atmospheric. And a large sprawling campus that housed thousands of students, lots needing to board full time. It was tempting to think that it was the whole world, that there wasn't anything away from Miskatonic. Although, for Fel, there were lots of social events and parties for her to attend during weekends and holidays; if not in neighbouring Providence, then in Boston or New York. As a result, she hardly ever saw her family. Not that she complained; she understood the situation well. She had grown up with it. In a family of privilege, there were expectations. When there were expectations placed upon you, you ended up being busy...
She ran round the corner, past some bushes that marked the edge of the science block courtyard, and she-

The stinging to her palms and left knee registered. What- how? There wasn't any uneven paving stones there; she'd been around this area hundreds of times! What could possibly-

Her eyes widened, and her jaw started to slacken. She swallowed hard, all thoughts of class gone from her head. She knew what had tripped her up.

A leg was was sticking out of the bush. Two, in fact. Felicia absently brushed her deeply brown, shoulder-blade length hair out of her face. She should have tied it back for running, but that would have ruined her hair, and that wasn't acceptable. She blinked, staring at the legs. Her mind barely registered that her hands were shaking viciously. She took a quick look at her blazer and her knees, to see if she could still make herself presentable. She could here her mother's voice in her head: appearances.

Her deep brown eyes squinted, corners creasing as she tried to see under the bush. She wasn't an idiot; she knew that it wasn't an accident. Every instinct was screaming at her to get out now. To run, run hard and fast, and not look back. She glanced nervously about. There wasn't anyone there. Not that she could see. Fel hesitated. Did she dare go under to see if the person – judging from the shoes and lack of trousers, has to be a girl – was alive, or she just go, get help? She swallowed hard again, then jumped as she heard a noise. A small whimper escaped her throat before she realised it. That was her phone ringing. Somewhere under the bush...

Deep breath. Fel took a second deep breath, and got courage together to crawl under the bush. If only to get her phone... she couldn't be connected with anything bad, could she? She tried not to cry, the fear threatening to push out tears as it tingled electrically through her body. If her mother and father were to see her now... they'd be exceedingly angry at her connection with the event, and her weak resolve. She could hear their voices now, reminding her there were expectations for her to fulfil, and she couldn't jolly well do them inside a prison cell... prison cell. If her family was American, not English, they'd use jail cell, instead. Such strange and random thoughts... she decided.

As she crawled under the bush, Fel realise with sinking dread that the body is wrong – very wrong. It was an older girl, a student – obviously – and she's so still, like a doll carelessly tossed aside. She gingerly placed her hand on her chest. Nothing. Maybe she was doing it wrong? Yuck- disgusting! There were a couple of purple coloured snails on her. Felicia's eyes bulged out, as she blinked at what she was seeing. One of the snails had seven stalk antennae things. All of them sticking out, and pointing at her. Her head swayed from side to side, and make a weird little noise in panic as she saw the antennae follow her. Fel couldn't help but feel that the snail was, was... watching her. She shuffled up, her eyes refusing to look away from the snail. It had turned, and was still watching her. Her breathing was coming in and out quickly through her mouth. The fear was still electric, gripping her into some form of paralysis.

With great effort, she turned away, to look at the head. She swallowed hard, as her quaking hand turned the other girl's head to face her. The neck. It moved too easily, like... oh God. The neck was clearly wrong. Was... it broken? How would you know if it's broken? Fel thought to herself. Her mind started switching on again, thoughts starting to pour out. I need to get an ambulance, right? Right? I touched her. They'll know. I need to get help. Because I need to make sure that-
Fel gasped loudly.

Holy... that-that's Selina! Selina Isherwood! Her mind screamed out to itself. She licked her lips, suddenly realising they were very dry. Selina, the senior she just loved to put in her grubby little place whenever she could. The girl she so absolutely loved to make her life a living hell, to set an example for others not to mess with her...
And her eyes were glassy wide open, staring emptily at Fel. It took a moment to stop the retching she felt. Even after it was in control, her stomach still felt like heaving. Her whole body shook, her teeth chattering for no logical reason. She had to find her phone, and get out of there. She absolutely could not be connected with Selina. Especially dead. To her deep disgust with herself, she barely fought back the tears. She was weak, stupidly weak. But... she was there, staring at death itself. Or rather, dead. A ringtone make her shriek, jumping vividly, then she swore wildly as a branch bashed her ribs. She hastily scrambled for her phone, and scurried out of there, shuddering in sheer shock.

She blinked repeatedly when she saw the daylight, the sun streaming into her dark-adjusted eyes. Her phone beeped again, making her jump and shriek again, the phone clattering to the floor as she suddenly, and effusively, broke town into a flood of tears. Mind-numbing shock dug itself into her, and she felt her nose run badly. She couldn't process all she'd seen. Her mind could only flash to the sight of Selina, staring at her. She felt warm, and like she was alive, but she... but she...

Felicia's legs felt weak suddenly, and she collapsed to the floor, her raw palms burning in pain as she winced involuntarily at her now bruising knee stabbing pain to her brain. Her mouth opened, and before she knew it, she was ejecting the contents of her stomach out to the path. Fel realised too late that her school tie has fallen into the pool of puke. She spat out the foul lumps still in her mouth, feeling a little dribble slide down her chin. Ugh, gross... she felt deep, unbidden humiliation at her failure to keep composure. If Mater and Pater were to see this, they would never permit me to live this down, she thought with a depressed dread.

“Hey, you okay?”

She shrieked again, spinning round to sit on the floor. She looked up, her neck craning to look at the face her eyes ere straining to make out. Oh... she blinked a few timed to work out... stuff. Ben. Ben Howell. Very good buyer of cigarettes, though the past week he hadn't bought any off her, or her friends. And he's grown. She looked up. Big. She realised that now he was taller than her. He reached down, and pulled her up to her feet. Yep, taller than her... a few inches- no, more. He was clearly scraping into six foot category now. And he had a strange, sticky, slick sheen to his skin. His green eyes peered out from a dark mop of slightly greasy hair.

“Er, uh...” Fel stammered out. Her hand shakily pointed to the bush. Nothing in her life could help her handle the discovery.

All of the social functions, the academic tutoring sessions after school, to boost her grades to exceptional levels, her being made to be a competitive winner in Parkour and free-running competitions, so her parents could boast about the latest success their darling trophy daughter had accomplished... all that melted away now.

All she could think about was Selina's face, blank and empty. And the snails, staring grimly and silently at her. She realised to her shame she was still crying. Ben handed her a tissue, which she silently accepted, wiping her chin and face as best she could.

“Who's that under there? What's happening?” Ben asked. Her brain noted the strange concern. Normally, he would have delighted at the sight of her in this state, and would have taunted her. But her brain didn't really register the fact properly; nor the careful eyeing he was giving her.

“S-Selina... she... her neck...” It wasn't after a few sobs she realised how croaky her voice had been. She stared at Ben, suddenly realising how much older than his fourteen years he had suddenly become. All that in a week? She swallowed, mouth puckering at the acid taste still in her mouth. Ben put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

“We'd better get a teacher,” he said quietly. Fel just nodded, not paying attention to Ben. If she had, she might have seen the subtle look on his face...

“What happened to her?” he asked, making Fel whimper some more. “Why Selina? She was okay? Okay, stuck-up bitch, but... why her? Why harm her? It makes no sense...” he continued. Fel heard his words, and started sobbing and shuddering again. Her mind was transfixed to the point where she could hear Ben carrying on, but the words were a garble, senseful words reaching senseless ears.
With rapid blinking, like the enchanted snapping out of a spell, she looked about her. Where was she? Where was this?

“What... Where?” she murmured as she looked about the dark, dank... cellar? Was this a cellar? She took a step back, her heart starting to pound harder and faster, harder and faster, as she realised with greater dread and sinking horror that whatever had happened to Selina, she was about to find out about.
With a sudden burst of adrenaline that stunned even her, she twisted away from Ben's grip, now vice-like, and turned to run out the door, and as far and fast as she could. She had accelerated, years of practice and training suddenly kicking in, her fear-addled mind detached from her instinctively responsive body.

She stopped when she collided into Liam and Gary. Oh God... Ben's two closest friends. She whimpered as she tried to twist away, but they were somehow knew what she was going to do. As she spun and lowered her body, she connected with a strong, well placed punch to her stomach. She sank to the floor, the air leaking and gasping out of her.
Fel swallow hard, because she had a horrible, horrible feeling that these boys... they would... hurt her. They might have done nothing – yet – to her, but Fel knew. She knew what was going to happen, and she already felt dirty by it...

As strong arms gripped and dragged her back into the cellar, Fel lashed out wildly, desperate for her legs to connect with someone. An explosion of stars greeted her as she sank into black numbing oblivion...
Avacyn
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