Tuesday September 2nd 2014

The room owned the quiet of a waterhole before the lions chose their meal. These were the early risers, the cast off loners of the school. Star students bent over books with sheets of paper beside them, obsessed with a future free of the maiming of popularity and muscles. Tucked away in secluded tables, students lost themselves in the latest books escaping from a world theyd never fit. Others hid in the corners, eyeing the door for the demons that had them by the throat, each dreading another day of violation.

Cesares table filled with the discarded bits of trash the school didn want. Poor kids in hand-me-down uniforms. Socially awkward loners tripping over their words in desperate bids to make friends. The invisible kids with names no one cared to learn. They were a sea of the lost, each hunting through the digital world of phones and the mystical lands of books for a place that didn hurt.

They didn spare a look for him, and he didn offer a hello. If you made it to this table, you already knew you belonged here. No one wanted them, not the losers at the other tables or the smart kids in their islands of future dreams. These kids had no place, not even with each other, condemned for being misfitting pieces.

He set off early for the classroom, wanting to get a look before he had to face the stares of the others. The teacher looked up from her lesson plan as he stepped into the room. Her dark eyes swept over him from his duct taped shoes to raggedly cut hair. Without a word, she went back to her paperwork.

Hanging pots dotted the ceiling, trailing vines touching the ground, the whole creating a maze of green. Shelves were crammed with plants— flowers of purple, blue, and lavender bursting with life next to delicate ferns of vibrant emerald. Overflowing the bookshelves with living color, their wonder exploded from every nook and cranny. Small trees in planters stood silent sentinel in the four corners of the room, leafy branches spreading across the ceiling. Damp and hot, the room owned the sticky heat of an arboretum.

Ravens ruled the room, perched on bookshelves and any bit of high ledge they could claim. They slept, groomed, and argued as they eyed the kids that trickled in. Dark shadowy blades the birds were the size of large cats and twice as arrogant. Their soulless black eyes watched the world with the glory of deaths chosen, stygian beaks picking at feathers with the delicacy of scalpels.

Alexandra stepped into the room to the wide-eyed looks of the kids. The school uniforms blue skirt and dress jacket looked far better than it should on the dismembering monster. Students ducked their heads in submission under her eyes, unable to meet their howling savageness. There was a truth there, a carnivorous red thing born in an atavistic reality long dead, the world was food, nothing more than meat for the hungry. Her entourage surged in behind her, walls that penned the vampire as much as kept others out. Alexandra took a seat with her back to two walls while her friends evicted the kids around her in their possessive claiming of the vampires cast off glory.

All thoughts stopped as the Thagirion walked through the door. The black Thagirion jacket drifted around her strutting form like a tainted cloud of violence. Her long red hair fell in waves past her shoulders while dark eyes glinted wickedly. Full and sensuous, her lips curved in a teasing smile.

A raw sexuality roiled through the room, desire given free, wanton reign, dark arousal surged up from the soul in a tsunami of want. Boys quivered under its power, mouths open in naked lust, eyes wide with soul shredding need. Envy twisted the girls, eyes turning hot with hate, fingers gripping desks with white knuckles. The Thagirion owned every boy in the room, commanding them by the one thing they couldn fight. They were hers for the taking and everyone knew it. Lapping up the attention with the greed of a gold plated pimp, the girl posed in the doorway, hip stuck out in a way that pulled eyes to her full breasts and hips, a knowing smile stretching across her face.

Four boys followed her into the room, each a fortress wall of privilege caging their princess. Running the gambit from short to tall, they would never be handsome. Creases sharp enough to cut, their uniforms were freshly ironed. Nails of polished perfection shone as they brushed imaginary dust off the cufflinks of their jackets. Plucked eyebrows swept in graceful arcs over eyes as perfectly done hair framed moisturized faces. They were pretty in the way of whores looking for a John.

”Lets make sure everyones here, ” the teacher said, standing and calling out names. Cesare waited for the few that interested him.

”Anastasia Harab Serapel. ” Damn, that was a mouthful.

The Thagirion with the crimson hair raised her hand. ”Present. ”

”Alexandra Dracul. ” The class went still at the name as all eyes jumped to the vampire.

”Cesare Nietzsche. ” The looks he got were small potatoes compared to the ones that had come before it.

”Now that we have that out of the way, my name is Miss Raven. I will be your homeroom teacher … ”

A student in the back stood. Leaning forward on his desk, his knuckles ground into the scarred wood as the boys lips twisted with disgust. ”You
e a Chthonic? ”

”Yes, I am, ” Miss Raven said, brown eyes hardening.

Sneering, the boys voice gained volume and venom with each word. ”Who allowed a diseased dog in here? You
e not an Umbrae Lunae, you
e an abortion. Treacherous garbage we shouldve stamped out. ” His eyes took in her body slowly. ”Not even good enough to **. Just a fat bitch that should … ” The punch came from the side. The boy hit the ground with a thump of meat and the clatter of wood as his desk tangled around his legs. It was a short, pretty boy, one of Anastasias gang of four. Mr. Pretty pressed his foot on the kids face, grinding his head into the floor.

”Watch your words, or well tear the forked tongue from your mouth. ” Roughly, the harems pretty wiped his shoe off on the boys face, tearing flesh with his tread. Walking back to his seat, Mr. Pretty nuzzled into Anastasias caressing hand as she ran it down his ** pretty face.

Righting his desk with blood seeping from lips and face, the boys words were slurred by fat lips. ”Can I be excused to go to the infirmary, Miss Raven? ”

”No. There are paper towels in back, ” Elizabeth said.

”Yes, Miss Raven, ” the boy said. The students watched the bleeding boy with the greedy smiles of jackals watching a rogue put in its place.

Miss Raven didn dress like any teacher hed seen. Mid-thirties, shed gone pear-shaped sometime in the last decade. Lace, crocheted with ravens in flight, was layered over a shimmering red dress that lit the ravens eyes with scarlet when she moved.

A corset, in shades of sable with ties of black shining ribbon, cinched her into a wasp waist, highlighting her large ass and hips. The corset hid her breasts behind a barrier of silk and midnight velvet. Opera gloves of delicate black lace ran from elbow to fingertip in a spiderweb of intricate stitching. Long black hair flowed down her back in an unbroken river of shining ebony.

She had a corpse-pale face with brown eyes darkened in heavy eye liner, red eyeshadow adding a bloody accent to her art. Intelligence, sharp and honed through decades of study, glittered feyly from her eyes. This was a woman dedicated to the mind and its incandescent paths. Reality was a place she visited, a tattered place of diseased glory next to the pure realms of thought and knowing.

The class was the standard introduction of what theyd cover over the year. Lost in seconds, he knew in the first hour he wouldn graduate. His spotty schooling couldn make up for years of regular study. It was a fight he knew was coming, one he couldn win, but he had nothing else but the fight.

When the bell rang, he waited for the other kids to rush out of the room before stepping up to Miss Ravens desk. ”They told me there was a job opening for a groundskeeper. ” Looking him over, her eyes noted the duct taped duffel hidden partly by his body. Turning back to her lesson planner, she gestured to a stack of neon orange flyers at the end of her desk. Cesare slipped one into his pocket as a line quickly formed behind him.

According to the flyer, the job paid fifteen dollars an hour for weekend work. Requirements included being able to lift fifty pounds and a willingness to get dirty. The interview for the job was in front of the school on Saturday.

From the number of people taking flyers, it would be a fight to get the job. Whether they needed the job as badly as he did didn matter. His scholarship paid for his schooling, it didn cover paper, pens, pencils or any of the extra things hed need.

As a First Year, he had the option of five electives. Some of them were so far out there that he wrote them off out of hand. What the hell was Gladiatorial Combat, and why was it being taught in school? Hed taken the ones he thought would be useful: two hours of Physical Education for the easy credits and an hour each for Spanish and Computer Lab, leaving the last hour for study time. It would be a lot of work. But for the first time in his life, he was able to choose his own future.

It surprised Cesare to see only two other First Years waiting in the Physical Education Class. The girls looked around with doubtful expressions, noses wrinkling at the smell of sweat and body odor.

Well worn blue mats covered the stone floor, brown sweat stains claimed them like alien growths. Heavy with rust, circular weights hung from hooks in the lifting cage, bars wrapped in duct tape lined up beside them. Worn paper thin from years of abuse, torn padding clung to the lifting benches. Dumbbells marched along the far wall, the weight going beyond the absurd and into the monstrous. Nothing was new and everything was dented. Close to the door a row of tires, ropes, and medicine balls held court.

Working on a set of Military Presses, the teacher had his back to them. Muscles bunched and relaxed, valleys and dips forming, striations etching canyons across meat as the dumbbells were pushed up and down in controlled arcs. He dropped the dumbbells on the last rep, the crashing sound ricocheting off the stone walls.

As the man turned, Cesare took in his teacher for the first time. More transparent than white, the sweat soaked wife beater molded to the mans carved body like a second skin. Massive shoulders bulged out of the slim shirt, arms of dense muscle thick with engorged veins and scars showed a lifetime of work. Black sweats stretched over enormous thighs, draw strings tied tight along his sleek waist. A face of weathered lines complimented his mane of tawny, tangled hair, making him look more beast than man.

”Ill sign your release forms. ” Both girls promptly stepped forward with papers, this wasn what they signed up for and they knew it. Once theyd left without a word, the man turned and measured Cesare with pitying eyes. ”I don care why you
e here. ” He bared his teeth in what might be a smile as he glared at Cesare. ”Give me your all when you
e here because the minute I have to give up my workouts to baby-sit, is the day I throw your ass out. You got me? ” Cesare gave a nod of understanding.

”Answer like you got a pair. ” The snarled command sent a quiver of anger down Cesares back.

”I understand, ” Cesare said, holding his ground.

”My names Viktor and I don answer to anything else. The locker rooms through there. ” Viktor turned back to his weights without another word.

The man was racking a barbell onto rusty hooks when Cesare came out. ”Youll notice you
e the only one here. Usually, I don bother with just one student, but I guess in this case we both win. Most guys want to take the Gladiator class or the other combat electives. ” Viktor looked around with a smirk. ”When they come here, they see what I want them to see. Nothing heres shiny or new. I don do machines and couldn care less if I have rust on the weights. We sculpt flesh – using pain and hard work. Ill teach you how, but I can give you the drive. Whatever reason you got, hold on to it with both hands, because I won help you. ”

The next two hours were a crucible of pain as Viktor hurt him. The man moved through the room with a singular goal. Cesare was put through a full-body workout with Viktor. Free of support, each complex movement forced him to hold his balance and activated core muscle groups. Failure was birthed in any weakness of the whole, from small flexors in the ankle to quivering thighs. This wasn about isolation, it was about real power, the measure of how deeply weakness owned your flesh. Watching from the sidelines, the man recorded weights and reps in a little black book.

Viktor looked him over at the end, eyes ticking off points across his body. ”Eat all you can, whatever you want. Take in as much meat and complex grains as possible, fats are a must. Your body needs something to build on and right now all you got is skin and bones. ” Turning away, the man dismissed him.

Viktors answer to a shower was a standpipe dribbling a steady stream of cold water from the wall. Taking out his soap and towel from his bag, Cesare smiled slightly, remembering a bit of advice from an old book.

He had to run to his next class. The castle wasn small, and it didn help that the electives were in opposite wings of the school. He came through the door to his next class, still gasping from the run. The room went still as everyones eyes locked on him. The caramel skinned teacher waited for him to catch his breath. ”Cesare? ” Continuing before he could answer, she handed him a paper, ”Im sorry, but your electives been canceled. Please head to this room for an explanation. ”

Whispers broke out among the students.

”Bye bye shit bird, he going back to the hole that shat him out. Gods, did you smell him at lunch? ”.

”Yeah, don sit upwind. How did he even get in? ”.

”Lied. Its plain he doesn belong. ”

The teacher watched, noting the ones talking, but making no move to stop them. They weren saying anything that wasn true, this wasn his place. Wrong in a way that couldn be fixed, he stuck out, and it had nothing to do with being human in a school of monsters.

The paper gave him directions to a room on the far side of the school. Taking a deep, steadying breath, Cesare opened the door where his explanation waited. Was it only his Spanish class that was canceled or were all his electives gone?

The wolf eclipsed the room, filling the space with contemptuous ease. Black as malignant sin, it was curled up in a square of sunlight. The animal was its own shadow, the shining black fur dimming the light around it. Darkness was birthed from its being, a midnight of the soul more than seen. Sunlight was devoured photon by photon as it dared to touch the stygian glory of its midnight fur. It wasn the largest animal hed seen, but it was the largest one hed ever seen without bars between them.

”Don mind the wolf. ” The words whipped his eyes to the man coming up on Cesares side. Tall and angular, he wore black sweats and a loose black t-shirt. Heavily tanned with skin worn to leather, his skull was webbed with ropy scars, each a twisted lesson in pain.

The polished wood of the floor reflected the sunlight coming in from the windows. Worn thin from years of abuse, the single mat in the room was stained brown from sweat, rust red spots speaking of mistakes paid for in blood. Still and silent, the punching bag in the corner was newly wrapped around the middle with duct tape. Standing alone in its own section of the room, a wooden thing stood. Spars of wood jutted out from its base with an oak leg sticking out at an angle. Black spots the size of a fist or palm blended into the worn nut brown, thousands of punches and blocks staining the wood with sweat.

Sitting down cross-legged on the mat, the man motioned for Cesare to join him. ”You
e human. ” The words bound Cesare with tension before hed even sat, freezing him in mid step. ”Don worry, I won give you up. But you need to realize the danger you
e in. Those orcs you faced are birthed on the altar of agony. They grow by killing their brothers and sisters, taking their food as their kin starve next to them. Their scars are their lives – people theyve killed, raped, and maimed … born killers that only get better and tougher with age. ”

”You could take any man alive and set him against one solitary orc, and the orc would feast on his meat. They
e wedded to pain and blood with the instincts of a psychopath … stronger than any human and more enduring. Yet, they are the least of the Umbrae Lunae, nothing next to the creatures that rule the moon shadows. ”

”Are you telling me to leave? ” Cesare asked carefully.

”No. Im telling you that even if you
e trained to fight, youve no more chance than youd have naked against a tiger. It doesn matter how strong you get or how fast. Theyll always be stronger and faster. Thats why I brought you here, to give you a choice. I can let you go back to your electives and continue your way, or you can train with me. Ill teach you hand to hand … weapons and tactics that exploit the weakness of the Umbrae Lunae. ”

”And this will give me a chance? ” Cesare asked.

”No, but you won die easy, ” the man said.

His future was shit if he took the mans offer. Hed picked electives that would get him beyond a fast food job. Without those electives, hed be back to manual labor and begging for jobs that started with What can I get you?. But orc shit didn need to worry about working.

A reluctant nod was all the man needed. He flowed to his feet with a grace more animal than man. ”Im Tamlin. Shaolin Monks train three hours during the day and two hours at night. You will train for one hour in the morning with Ashtanga Yoga and one hour at night, that is beyond what I require here. Today, we will work on standing. ”

With a grimace of disgust, he changed into his already used workout clothes. Wet with sweat, they clung to his body with a clammy suctioning. Moving behind him, Tamlin adjusted his stance with taps along his body. ”Your body is one piece. The arm doesn throw a punch … the body throws a punch. The leg doesn kick … the body kicks. Meat is weak when cut into parts but strong when whole. You need to learn to coil your body into an engine of potential force. Draw power from your feet, multiply it with your legs, birth it in your core and release it into the world with explosive force. All of that comes from a proper stance. ”

”Before you think of complaining, remember, only the tiger decides when to kill, prey can only be ready, ” Tamlin said.

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