Spirit Splinters, part 7

"Hanna?" Minoka's concerned voice sounded behind me. "Is something wrong?"

I barely paid attention to her. My whole body was tensed in primal fear, prepared to lash out at the slightest movement. The door slammed open, and I lunged out, my sickles slashing blindly.

I had half a second to catch the scene of a scared girl with blonde pigtails, a rapier clutched in one trembling hand, before my sickle came down in a slash of iron and blood.

A geyser of crimson spurted out of her chest, spraying us with warm blood. She screamed shrilly, her voice high and wavering, before falling to her knees, clutching her chest.

I stood there, frozen in shock, feeling warm liquid soak through my dress. My brain had stopped functioning, my ears only filled with a dull buzzing.

I was yanked out of my stupor when Minoka grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me. Her pale skin was flecked with red; I had been the one who had got the brunt of the dowsing, but she was the one on which the blood stood out jarringly.

"HELP!" she screamed, her voice high-pitched with fright as she shook me. "The blood... it'll attract... SOMEBODY! HEL--"

Her voice was cut off in fear as the girl gave a strangled squeak and fell over. Blood was pooling around the body, a spreading puddle that reached the tips of my shoes. I stepped back instinctively, my mind still stalling, and stopped completely when I saw a long, pale hand thrust out of the darkness, grabbing her ankle and yanking her away.

The haze cleared; I knew what was happening.

I jolted into action, holding my sickles in front of me. "The vampire!" cried Minoka, readying her axe. "It must been attracted by the--"

I took off in the direction the girl had disappeared, slipping on the spilled blood and nearly losing my balance. The vampire couldn't get away. I wouldn't let it. I had to catch it before it--

I heard Minoka take off behind me, managing remarkably well on the slippery floor.
"I'm coming too!" she hissed. "If it's just you, the vampire will kill you!"

She surpassed me running, following the trail of blood that gradually led towards the door to the outside.

The door was slightly open. The vampire must be trying to leave the school; getting out for good. I increased my spped, feeling my heart thumping painfully loud. If he left, he would still be at large. He could kill more people.

Minoka burst through the doors me following close behind. The night was cold and dark, chilling me to the bone. The moon was out, thankfully, so I could still see the dark trail leading over the grass.

Minoka caught my hand, pulling me back. "Go slowly," she whispered. "Or it'll hear you."

If it's even still here, I thought miserably. I felt guilt and horror weigh upon me as I recalled what had led the vampire to us in the first place, but forced myself to concentrate at the situation at hand.

I prayed that it was still here. As I moved across the lawn, I wondered what I would tell the teachers when I came calling on them shaking and dripping with blood. Would I lie and say that the vampire had attacked without blood being spilled first? Or would I tell the truth and say that I struck first? I was afraid of being expelled, so I was leaning towards the "lie" route.

I was about to give myself an uncaring bitch-slap when a dark shape detached from the shadows of the trees, slipping quietly towards the gate. "Distract it," I whsipered to Minoka, edging into the shadows of the school building. She nodded and walked slowly towards the figure her pale skin bright and visible in the moonlight. The shape paused and looked over towards her, hood drawn across its features.

My dark skin and outfit disguised me as I crept towards the shape. Minoka held up her axe, the metal blade glimmering in the silvery light, and the figure made a sudden burst of speed towards her.

I leapt out, running towards it as fast and quietly as I could. I suppose I wasn't that quiet, though, as it immediately made a directional change and charged towards me.

I slashed wildly with my sickles as the person in the dark hood paused in front of me. It deftly avoided all my hits, grabbing towards me with a sickly, pale hand.

Minoka gave a cry and charged it from behind, her axe held diagonally as she sliced expertly with the blade. The vampire whipped around, catching me by the arm and hurling me towards Minoka.

I stumbled, narrowly avoiding her weapon as we collided, knocking each other to the ground. I rolled off of her, wrenching my head up as I anticipated a killing blow to be delivered on me.

I just had time to catch sight of the vampire's silhouette against the full moon, a hand extended to choke to life out of one of us, before the ground underneath me began to shake.

I had a split second to realize it was footsteps before an ear-piercing screech sliced the air, the vampire bowling over as a large, feathery body slammed into it.

A beak sliced down, showering us with gore as it ripped through flesh. The vampire gave a high-pitched scream, which died to a gurgle as the animal snapped its neck.

The bird-lion swung its head back and forth, shaking the last vestiges of life from the body, then dropped it, laying a clawed hand on its head and crushing it to a bloody pulp.

Then it paused, looking over at us. Its feathers shone ghostly white in the moonlight, its eyes a sharp green. Its beak and feathers were splattered with red, its posture upright and tense.

I looked up in terror at the winged beast, my arms unconsciously winding around Minoka. The griffin blinked, its sharp gaze softening.

The feathers shrunk into its body, the beak vanishing and its head changing shape. It's form became smaller, the wings folding and disappearing, until what stood before us was not a griffin, but a naked woman.

Her skin was as dark as mine, her eyes still the intense green of her griffin form. She stood up slowly, regaining her human posture, and extended a hand.

"I'm sorry for that inconvenience," said Erica. "Are you girls all right?"

***

The blood on my face and dress was drying into a crust, the previous dark crimson color turning crumbling rust. My hair, too, was stiff with drying blood, and I made a dazed mental to take a shower when I had the chance.

The nurse's office was warm and cozy, and Minoka and I both sat on opposite beds, our minds still trying to comprehend what had happened. It had been so quick, barely ten minutes, but I was sure it would be branded into my mind for the rest of my life.

The door opened, and I looked up. Mr. Owrie stepped through the door, his normally cheerful face solemn. "We found the body," he said softly "Tragic... terrible..."

I nodded hazily, not paying much attention. His next question, though, made me sit up with shock.

"Can you tell me everything that happened?" he asked quietly.

Minoka caught my gaze, her lips pressed tightly shut. I could see in her eyes that she was afraid, perhaps of me telling the truth.

I looked down at the ground, not able to face her gaze. I wanted to lie to him, say something that would get us out of trouble. I could just say we were on out way to the bathroom when we saw the vampire attack the girl. It would be so easy...

But if they found out we were lying...

Besides, if we said I did it by accident, that she provoked me, then maybe Mr. Owrie would understand.

Stiffening my resolve, I lifted my head to look him in the eye. "Minoka Viamui and I-- we were heading out to go to the bathroom, and when I opened the door the girl must have been startled, because she swung at me with her weapon and I--" I choked on my words, feeling nervous terror start to build up within me. I took a deep breath and continued, "I lashed out; it was an accident. She startled me. I slashed her chest and the v-vampire must have smelled it or something..."

I squeezed my eyes shut, the memory making me nauseous. All the hot, crimson fluid, spraying all over me, dripping down my face, my hair...

I wrapped my arms around myself, shivering uncontrollably. A strangled whimper escaped from my throat, and Mr. Owrie stepped closer. "It must be hard," he said, his tone not gentle but still understanding.

I swallowed. "The vampire dragged her away, and we followed them and fought it outside. That's when Erica saved us. I'm sorry, Mr. Owrie, I didn't mean to hurt her, she startled me and it was an accident--"

Mr. Owrie patted me on the shoulder. "I'll talk to the Headmistress," he said, the gentleness entering his voice once more. "I'll try to convince her to let you stay."

***

We stayed in the infirmary that night. The male nurse told me we didn't have to go to class, and for that I was thankful. I just wanted a place to stay and collect my thoughts.

I prayed to the spirits of my ancestors that I wouldn't get expelled. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I might have ruined it. I was just from a small Vetayoran village; I couldn't return to them and say that I'd bungled it on my first few days.

Ha-ha. I'd been expelled on my first week. That had to be a record of some sort.

I heard Minoka turn around in the bed beside me. I wonder what was she thinking? Was she as traumatized as I was? I felt like sitting up and talking to her, but I was afraid of waking her if she was dozing.

All I could do at this point was try to sleep, and come to terms with what had happened. It was a tragedy, certainly, but one I had to get over. I had to be strong, and move past it.

I prayed for her, as well. The girl whom I'd injured, maybe even killed. I prayed that she would meet her own ancestors in the afterlife, and pass on in peace.

***

"Hanna..."

I cracked an eye open. The pale-faced, dark-haired head of Minoka swam into view, and I sat up blearily.

"Hanna, we need to talk!"

"What?" I asked, then flinched as memories of last night flooded into my mind. "Oh, gods..." I whispered, burying my face in my hands.

"I know we didn't speak to each other much last night," she started. She was sitting on the bed next to me, her face red from crying. "But we need to speak now. What if we get expelled?"

"We?" I took my hands away from my face, looking her in the eye. "You have no chance of getting expelled. I was the one who attacked that girl."

"B-but I was there! And what if they don't believe me if I say I didn't attack?"

"Mino," I said, using her pet name to calm her down. "Relax. I'll take the blame. You didn't do anything."

"But..." she whispered, her shoulders heaving with sobs. I hesitated, then pulled her into an embrace. "It's okay. You didn't do anything wrong."

The door creaked. I looked over the row of beds to catch sight of Mr. Owrie standing in the doorway, his hands clasped behind his back.

"Miss Hannele?" he asked quietly, but the expression on his face was set and grim. "The Headmistress has decided. You are to come with me."

"What about Minoka?" I asked, detaching myself from her and standing up.

"You didn't mention her attacking the girl when you talked to me, did you?" was his response. He seemed more cool to me now, in contast to his normal, cheerful demeanor.

I shook my head vehemently. "Minoka didn't do anything. I was the one who struck the girl."

"We assumed she was innocent. Minoka's behavior report of her time at this school showed she was a shy, gentle and nonviolent girl, and as I know her, I'm inclined to agree. Follow me, please, Hannele."

I waved half-heartedly to Minoka and followed Mr. Owrie out of the infirmary, my fists clenched and my heart beating painfully fast.

**

The Headmistress's office was sunny and warm, light streaming in through windows on the ceiling and walls. Vases of flowers decorated every surface, the floral scent and colors making me dizzy.

The floor was carpeted green, and the desk where the Headmistress sat was small and pink.

I halted in shock when I saw her. The few things I'd heard about her were vague and mysterious, so I was expecting her to be an older woman, perhaps-- serious and dressed in black, with the room decorated similiarly.

The Headmistress looked up, papers stacked neatly in front of her. "Miss Hannele?" she smiled.

She was young girl, about eight or nine years old. Her hair was chestnut brown, a few strands escaping from the hood of her bonnet, and she was dressed in a frilly pink dress. Her cheeks were rosy, her eyes a light, sparkling blue, and there was a calm and happy smile on her face.

She looked just like a normal little girl. I wouldn't have been surprised if we had walked in on her playing tea party with her teddies.
Instead, she was scribbling on the stack of papers, but stopped as soon as we walked in.

"I... Yes, that's me..." I stuttered.

"Expecting someone different?" she asked.

I nodded weakly, still dumbfounded. She muffled a giggle with her lace-gloved hand. "People usually have that reaction when they see me. They're expecting someone older, more formidable." Then she smirked. "But I am very old, the oldest person in the school, except perhaps for Mr. Penilepso."

This shocked me even more. But thinking about it... didn't Mr. Owrie mention that the Headmistres was the only one in the world who had the means to bring out Splace Weapons? She must be a very powerful sorceress to be able to do that; and if she was that powerful, who was to say she couldn't de-age or immortalize herself?

"I'd prefer to keep my existence concealed," she continued. "That's why Antian stands in for me in public. If people knew I looked like a little girl, they wouldn't take me as seriously as they do when--"

"And also," broke in Owrie, "Because you would give away all our secrets at your first opportunity. Please keep your mouth shut, and don't call me Antian."

I looked at him in surprise. His face was still grim and serious, and his usually cheerful tone was cold. The way he glared at the Headmistress was hateful and irritated, and that shocked me more than when I'd first seen the Headmistress herself.

She smiled sweetly, although devilish amusement danced in her sky-blue eyes. "That would be the pot calling the kettle black, wouldn't it? From what I've heard, you 'accidentally' let out the origin of the Splace weapons to the newer students. Tsk, tsk... maybe I should replace you."

I cleared my throat. The girl jumped, then focused on me. "Oh, oh! I'm sorry, Miss Hannele. Where were we? Ah, yes..."

Her facial expression hardened, as much as a young child's can. "I'm so sorry. From what I know about you, you're just a hopeful girl from a small, out-of-the way village. Not much of a future ahead of you. And then being given this wonderful chance, and now..."

My throat suddenly felt dry. I was still wishing, with the desperate hope of someone walking to the gallows, that it wasn't true. That someone was going to burst in and declare me innocent, and I could go back to class and pretend it never happened.

"I'm sorry," she repeated. "But you've been expelled."

Not Sure Which Way...

...this is going. But some factors worth considering:

- Thanks to the incident and then the office trip, our heroine has information now that may be worth something to someone, if not quite in the "if I tell you I'll have to kill you" category. Expelling her, unless they can guarantee that her next stop will be home and obscurity, may not be in their best interests.

- Perhaps more ominously, it's not clear that they can render her splace weapons harmless or unusable, having shown her what they are and how to use them (if not how to control them). If they can't or if they choose not to, it's likely to change her future, probably for the better. (It does leave the question, though, of what the graduates do with theirs.)

Is she going to become a pawn in a Headmistress-Owrie power battle? (Is she one already? Since it appears that the head's decision had been made in advance, was the only reason for the office visit because Owrie refused to dismiss her himself?)

The way the headmistress described the situation seemed more awkward to me than it ought to have been if all she was going to do was expel Hanna. So I'm wondering if she had some alternative role for Hanna in mind.

One that occurs to me would be to turn her over to Erica as an apprentice. That's certainly a different direction for the story. It also makes it likely that none of the students we've met have much of a future in the story. I'm not quite sure whether or not that'd be a welcome development -- it probably depends on what we'd encounter in their place.

Anyway, it'll be good to see what our author has in store.

Eric

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