A/N: Every time there's an email/message, I italicized it. The original manuscript has it in different fonts, but oh well. Please leave comments!


My phone went off, and I didn't want to get up. Eventually it stopped ringing, but just half a minute after that, it rang again. It was like a snooze button that I couldn't control.

"Argh…"I groaned, rolling over to see who it was.

Endei!

I jumped out of the covers at the next ring and picked it up. "Hello?"

"About time, silly," came the affectionate reply. "Come over when you've gotten dressed and everything."

It took me a bit longer than usual to get ready, but that was just because it was cold and I didn't move as fast as usual. And the amount of time I spent staring at the clothes in my dresser? It was spacing out. It definitely wasn't because I couldn't decide what to wear, or because I was wondering why Endei would call me to his room in the morning.

"So thanks to a little help from a friend," Endei winked at Hawk, "I found out what the message was! We were just waiting for everyone to show up first."

I'd been wondering why Hawk went into Endei's room last night, and it must've been to discuss the clue.

The entire group had gathered there, minus Jade, Jae, and Ivan. I was finally not last, but I was a little disappointed to know everyone was invited.

"And now that Lia has finally dragged herself out of bed…" Endei laughed, "I figured something out!"

What? Ivan wasn't joining? "So I was still last," I grumbled, and Hawk elbowed me.

Kana sat up straighter. "What is it?"

"'& why', as Lia pointed out, would be read as "And" and "y", which, put together, would be Andy. Of us, my name is most similar to that- in fact, at school sometimes it was just easier to go by that name. Anyway, the second part of the clue, the recorder, pointed me- well, us- in the direction of the recording thingamabob that Jae gave me. And I went over it last night with a friend. First letter of each word spells code!"

We must have looked confused, because he smiled and pulled out his SpyEar recorder from the museum.

"…Mary Ann's not yellow…Katie, I detest stuffing…nope, open…doctor's rental already going out now…"

I looked at my notepad that I wrote the letters on.

M-A-N-Y

K-I-D-S

N-O

D-R-A-G-O-N

"Many kids, no dragon? What?" Traci was leaning over my shoulder.

I stared back. "They were looking for Jae?"

"Duh, smarty." I turned to Ki, who was on my computer. "It says so on your computer."

"What?" All of us ran over to him.

He looked at me sheepishly. "Sorry, I hacked into your email. But I'm surprised you didn't find out, considering you're the smart one."

"Will you just tell me?"

"Okay. First, the answers to your test? Sent by our friend stalker?"

"Um, go under laRandum…okay, they're 'a…b…a…a…c…c…a…a…a…b…a…a…a'. So?"

"Now look at your brother's article about the pyramids. Delete every other line."

Message Found in Pyramids, 2 Decoded

Hidden messages were discovered at the tomb

spies will not be able to locate the location

attack for them. These spies are trained assassins.

find one, turn it into the

and make sure you push * exactly

you won't stay at any area near that, make sure that you keep the

alive in this world. So many wonders and

Watch for friends that might also hold these strange

out and tell them; hopefully together you will

They want no money, they just want their job to be done.

her, "these ninjas are strange. They dress in all

not at night. At night they wear white.

you will keep it close at hand and hidden.

"So…And…?"

Ki sighed. "Use the answer key to find out how many words per line you should read.

Message Found in Pyramids, 2 Decoded

Hidden messages were discovered at the tomb

spies will not be able to locate the location

attack for them. These spies are trained assassins.

find one, turn it into the

and make sure you push * exactly

you won't stay at any area near that, make sure that you keep the

alive in this world. So many wonders and

Watch for friends that might also hold these strange

out and tell them; hopefully together you will

They want no money, they just want their job to be done.

her, "these ninjas are strange. They dress in all

not at night. At night they wear white.

you will keep it close at hand and hidden.

I stared, openmouthed. "Hidden spies will attack, find, and make sure you won't stay alive. Watch out, they want her, not you…?" I faced Ki. "How did you…?"

"I've read the love letter before, plus the laRandum character gave you more than enough hints. 'Second lines are more worthwhile than the first'? I mean really. 'Elementary, my dear Watson.'" He laughed. "I've always wanted to say that."

I felt degraded, but refreshed. "So, we should watch Jae more carefully?"

A thought occurred to me at the same time as it hit everyone else. "Oh no. It's already too late, isn't it?"

"Jae… Halloween!"

"But they didn't need Jade, and aren't they together?"

"How would you know? What if Jade went somewhere and Jae was captured?"

Ivan broke into the room, breathing hard. "I'm sorry. I… I'm sorry, but…" We waited for him to catch his breath. "Xiao Jae…was taken…by some…I tried…I tried…to grab her…but…" He started falling over. Traci and Kana caught him, and Kana felt his forehead. "He's burning up really badly! Get some cool water on him now!" I grabbed a towel, ran to the sink and shoved the cloth in, squeezing out excess water. She snatched it. Gently lying him down on Endei's bed, Kana placed the towel on his forehead, watching him. "Someone get some water to drink!"

"I've got some." Brian took out a water bottle. Kana took it and made Ivan drink some water.

"Thanks," she sighed. "He'll be fine."

Meanwhile, the clamor ensued. There was argument about ditching school to find them, even though we had no trace and no clues.

No clues?

going to catch a movie

out with xiao long – eureka

you know how it is

"Oh my god," I whispered to myself. "How did I not notice?"

Hawk leaned closer. "Not notice what?"

"The post-it note! That doesn't make sense! There's no reason for her to 'catch a movie' outside!"

"Yeah…" He narrowed his eyes. "Did you seriously just figure it out? I wasn't sure, but if you didn't notice, I assumed it was okay. I mean, you live with her."

Hawk noticed something about my roommate before I did. What a fail.

"Not to mention that Jade wouldn't call her 'Xiao Long'."

Also true, and I didn't even notice that one. That, and that I couldn't figure out the riddle that would've been warning…

…except that I'd been warned several times before the actual date, hadn't I? I ignored them all, not even bothering sharing the multiple concerns with my friends.

If the lights go out on the day of ghouls, something ghastly is going to happen.

Don't let it turn to night inside.

That wasn't even much of a code. It was simply a warning, and I hadn't even prevented the lights from going out on Halloween.

So it was pretty much my fault that Jae and Jade were both missing, in the sense that I felt I should've been able to prevent it, especially with so much forewarning. I was almost omniscient with laRandum's help, and I didn't do anything but sit back and hoped nothing bad ever happened.

"Ah… yes, mother. Oh… I guess so. You're r- yes, you're right." Kana sighed, turning off her cell phone.

Ivan took her phone, and she blushed. "What were you doing?"

"My mom says I can't just skip classes for this. Finals are in just a few weeks, and…" she trailed off.

"I'm not so sure I want to travel aimlessly either…" I should care, but it seemed pointless.

Hawk was the only one who heard. "Are you sure you're actually friends with these people? You're always ignoring them and don't even want to help look for a lead?"

"Yeah, sure. I mean, if it were Hawk missing, I'd definitely go." I wiggled my eyebrows suggestively.

"Oh," he said, picking up the jest, "well, I'd help either way. But if it were you," he cooed, trailing his finger down the side of my jaw, "I wouldn't stop 'til I'd turned over every stone in the world."

"You're… so… clichéd!" I slapped his hand away, feeling my face burn. He smiled triumphantly, and I had to look away.

He looked…

It didn't matter. I could not like him. He flirts with everyone, and he's in love with someone else. I couldn't do this to myself again.

Hawk turned back towards the group. "C'mon guys. If we don't find Jade, we won't be able to get free rides around the world or tickets to movies anymore!"

Right. That momentary thought was merely due to his proximity, I told myself unconvincingly.

Unbidden, thoughts of him popping up as I was about to fall down stairs, or tripping along a hallway, or bringing me back to the dorm that one evening with the beautiful night sky flashed through my mind.

Just a hero-complex kind of guy, I told myself. I wasn't anyone special. He'd save anyone who was his friend.

It made me sad, but at least it halted the flashbacks.

"More importantly," he said louder, directly in my face, knowing somehow that I wasn't listening, "Jade and Jae. We could probably notify Jade's parents and get some kind of intense search team. Besides, she's rich, her last name's fairly well known, and her face probably isn't just a random either."

"Don't you sound shallow?"

"I meant," he gritted his teeth, glaring at me, "that Jade would be much easier to find than Jae. No one knows who Jae is, but a lot of people know the Seika group. We should focus on looking for Jade; there's a pretty good chance that they're in the same place."

"Oh."

A makeshift plan evolved to search for Jade, including notifying her parents of her absence. We called her father, and he completely flipped out. We were going to ask about her mother, but we found out she had divorced her father early in her life.

"She regrets it now, since he's become so filthy rich," informed Brian.

"I guess that explains her father's reaction and her unlimited cash usage."

Brian frowned at my assumption. "Well, yes, to some extent, but Jade's actually incredibly talented herself. I remember before we were very good friends- we were probably six or seven- and she was already helping her father with his business."

Endei whistled, wide-eyed. "Wow."

"She was really quiet then, too. I think I was the first person to not be overly impressed by her work." Brian laughed softly, reminiscing. "I'd always helped my parents as well, but they'd always been well off, for as long as I could remember."

"What about Xiao Long?" asked Ki.

"Jae," corrected Endei.

"We can't do much about her." said Ki, ignoring his roommate.

Traci shook her head. "I'll look into it. Don't worry about her at all."

"Well, there's a good chance they're together, actually," I said.

"There you go. If you find Jade, we'll most likely find Jae as well, and Jade, as Hawk pointed out, is much easier to track."

Kana asked something quietly, and at first I thought Traci didn't hear her, but they both got up five minutes later and returned to their room. The rest of us slowly retired as well, perhaps just slightly more optimistic about finding our friends.

A phone went off.

It rang again, impatient.

I sat up, bleary-eyed. The clock said 2:37 AM, and someone was calling at this time? I checked my cell phone, but it wasn't that. It was the desk phone- and it was blinking emergency through the crack of the door. The only line that could reach that particular phone was Jade's cell.

I flung back the covers and grabbed the phone. "Jade? Where are you?"

Jade was frantic, and it sounded like she was crying. Her words came out so quickly it was almost one word. "-don't know where… it's dark, and I saw something red; red eyes or something, watching me, coming for me. I'm scared, Lia, I don't know what to do, and I can't see anything and I just now found th- I gotta go."

A crunch or crack ended the call, and I sat there, phone to my ear, listening to the dial tone. It didn't sound like her at all. I'd never heard her come remotely close to fear, and that was full scale panic.

Was there anything I could do? It was the middle of the night on a random November second; it wasn't as if it were normal for people to be about at three in the morning.

The following day was exhausting; I kept nodding off in class. After the call, I hadn't been able to sleep, tossing and worrying for probably an hour or so. No one else had gotten any calls or messages from Jade, and she never called me back. Right after class, I dashed back to the dorm room, afraid she called again, but there were no messages. Hawk tried to follow me in, but I shut him out, explaining that she didn't want anyone in the room unless she had given explicit permission to allow them in the room without her supervision. I wasn't entirely sure why it was such a big deal to her, but it didn't matter.

The thing about this particular speakerphone was that the only way it could be accessed was from an emergency calls button on the corner of her cell phone, and the only reason she'd use that button was if she couldn't actually dial a number. But it also meant that our greatest chance of reaching her would be if she could SOS again.

Unfortunately, the afternoon and evening passed without much luck. And I fell asleep at her desk, one finger resting on the "accept calls" button.

I was glad that I only had one class on Wednesday and was able to study psychology while doing the most I could for Jade- which was to be available at all media, especially her desk phone. The text was long and for the first time this summer, boring. I supposed it was due to the fact that I had much less interest in the biological reasoning behind human interaction. That, or the fact that every two minutes I'd glance at the desk phone and check my cell phone for a possible missed call, despite having it on the highest volume possible. Two hours later, the power had dropped to half.

If I kept checking my phone, it might actually run out just by being constantly active. That would be a stupid reason to miss a call.

As soon as I'd gotten to the bedroom to get my charger, there was a loud knock on the door.

I continued untangling wires at the outlet. "Who is it?"

"Open up! My arms are full!"

I literally jumped up at the sound of Jade's voice, yanked open the door. "Jade! Where have you been?"

Jade just smiled, stepped back, and let me look at her. She was wearing new clothes- large jacket, leggings, expensive looking boots, carrying her Halloween costume and purse in one hand, a new magazine in the other- which she proudly displayed to me. She was standing there on the front page, in her costume, posing.

"What… where did you get all this?"

In a characteristically dramatic fashion, she tossed the magazine to me. There were dozens of photos of Jade, in several outfits and many poses, a few that actually looked impossible, not just painful. "Whatcha think?" She beamed.

"It's…" I flipped a few more pages, seeing a very cool and collected Jade. Her eyes looked slightly bloodshot, but it might've been the excessive work. "It's impressive. How…?"

"I'm awesome. That's how." She flung herself onto her bed. "But it is so nice to be home. This whole affair had to be kept somewhat secret, so I couldn't call Daddy and have him let me rent out a really nice hotel. The one they had was the size of my stair closet back home."

"The closet under the stairs… is the same size as a hotel room? How tall and long are your stairs?"

She giggled. "It was wonderful though. It was a contest for costumes, and I made it to the quarterfinals, and I was allowed a magazine photo shoot, and it was wonderful. I wish you could've been there! But I guess the secrecy in itself was pretty exciting! And-"

"You're chipper." I smirked. "What was all that panic in the phone call about the other day?"

She looked utterly confused. "What phone call?"

"The…" I was pretty sure she called me. "Could I see your cell phone? I'm positive you... called..." It was definitely her phone though- with the same photo booth sticker picture stuck squarely on the cover, lined up right against the ridges, with a sliver of the next silver photo in the bottom left corner. "Do you know where Jae is? I remember you said something about that too."

Jade twirled her hair around her finger. "Actually, I don't know where she is. I do know that she was also asked to pose for another magazine. Don't worry," she reassured, "it's not some inappropriate cover girl thing. She was actually asked to continue to the semifinals because Kana just made such a kick-butt outfit." Jade pouted, like the Jade that I knew.

Her calls didn't display the one in question. Something still felt off, but I was terrifically glad that she'd returned, so I just hugged her without thinking. "Everyone's been so worried about you and Jae!"

"Whoa! You? Hugging me?" She giggled, her voice squeaking in odd places. "But I'm sure glad to see you again!"

"Everyone's been so worried! The least you could've done was told somebody that you were out on a shopping trip or something!"

She sighed. "I guess so, but our phones were confiscated for awhile so that we wouldn't call or text anyone, you know? It was practically a kidnapping, what they did to the two of us. All of us."

"Is that legal?"

"I dunno. Who cares? I'm on a fashion magazine!" she sang gleefully. "Also, this chip has the fashion show on it. You should get everyone to come over! We can watch it in the theater!"

"I thought you didn't like people coming in here…"

"Well…" Her eyes unfocused for a second. "It doesn't matter. I want to show everyone what I was doing so they don't need to be worried anymore."

The friends piled in with my phone call (because, of course, Jade wanted to surprise everyone as usual). As she spoke to everyone, there were a few times that it made me think of a Jade-glitch: something being just slightly off, but it wasn't a consistent oddity, and I couldn't name what it was. Traci frowned, seemingly unhappy at her return for whatever reason.

When Brian entered, Jade flung herself into his arms, and he hugged her. "Bri!"

"Glad to see you back. I- We missed you."

They let go, and Hawk walked in. The shock that crossed his face was immense.

Jade smiled. "Boo?"

He strode up quickly and hugged Jade too, tightly, with enough force to knock her back a step. "…so glad you're back," he whispered, holding on awkwardly long.

Jade coughed, laughing. "I'm glad you missed me so much. Let go before someone gets jealous."

"It's alright if they're jealous." He laughed too. "They can't touch our love."

"Yes, yes, but we were going to keep it on the down-low, weren't we, darling?"

Soon, they couldn't hold on anymore, they were laughing so hard.

"But anyway," said Jade, "here's my super awesome fashion show debut. Let's watch it in the theatre."

I grinned, knowing which theatre she was referring to. The others didn't know.

"In Al Hall?"

"No, silly." She walked up to the bookshelf, and the door opened. She had been so subtle about the switch that not even I'd seen it, despite knowing what it was. Everyone else gaped in shock. "Right this way."

There weren't actually enough seats in the theater for everyone to sit in a chair, so a few of us sat on the ground in front. It was a ten minute clip and included the capture, with the piano and chandeliers and fake moon on the ceiling displayed above. Explanation of the capture and contest, and Jade's elated surprise. The other contestants were also revealed, and they were likewise as confused.

Most of the people in the theater watching were immediately convinced as soon as the fashion show started. Traci was still frowning until about the sixth costume that Jade had walked on and twirled with- but when Jade popped up with her silly grin in a leprechaun costume, Traci finally relaxed. And seeing Traci relaxed convinced me as well.

The judges named Xiao Long as a finalist on stage, and Jade went home as a semi. Kana was delighted to see her costumes doing so well, and when her mom called she left the room, excited to tell her about the clothes she'd designed and had displayed.

An hour later, though, she came back in angry, depressed tears.

"What's wrong?" asked Hawk, going to comfort her.

"My mother thinks I'm wasting my time. She always thinks she's wasting my time when all of this kind of stuff happens. Apparently I should either be a doctor or not even…" Kana sobbed. "I did well in a competition for design, and it still doesn't matter, because she doesn't think I'm good enough or smart enough or creative enough for anything, and," she hiccupped, "and even so she wants me to go to med school and I don't even know if I want to do med and if she thinks I'm so stupid all the time why does she think I have a chance at med school anyway?"

Kana continued to babble into Hawk's shoulder, and after an awkward silence, Jade said, "Hey, Xiao Long's fine, she's just going into semis- November 13th. The finals are on the 20th, so if she makes it that far, she'll be back after that time. Kana, you hear that? Your costume is doing amazingly well, no matter what your mother tells you."

Kana nodded a bit, but clung onto Hawk.

I turned away. "Do you think we could talk to her, maybe?"

Jade frowned. "It's a pretty strict no-outside-contact policy there. I think they're afraid of leaking information and all of that."

"Well, by sending you home early, they should already know we know. We won't tell anyone."

Jade hmmed. "That's true." She quickly called the company. "Hi! …Yep, this is Jade. …Yep, I'm fine. I was just wondering, could I speak to Jae? She was the one who got there with me, and I wanted to know how she was doing. …Um, Jae Long. She made it past quarters… yep, that's the one! Thanks!"

Everyone took a turn talking to her.

The phone finally got around to me. "Xiao Long?"

"Hey!" a strange indignant voice answered. "I told you to call me Jae!"

"Are… are you sick? You sound… you sound a little funny." It wasn't just a little funny though, it sounded completely different. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I think I've been having too much fun lately, is all. My voice has been horribly hoarse."

Ah. That made sense. I passed the phone along, feeling my body go limp with relief. And at the same time, I felt so silly to feel so relieved that I laughed. Chuckled to myself at my own paranoia. I probably needed more sleep- the sleep deprivation had made everything seem sinister somehow, every misplaced word a threat or worry.

The call from Jade in the middle of the night was probably a dream as well- most of my dreams were creepily vivid, involved the dream-me being oddly 'awake' seeming, the clock blurry, details of the state of my room fuzzy…

What. A. Relief.

The next day, after another droning seminar, Hawk held the door for me.

"Thanks?"

"Um, listen." He looked around the campus. "I'm… going to go talk to Jade for a sec, okay? I'll meet you in class." Before any answer could be uttered, he power-walked in the other direction.

I stared after him for awhile. Jade's schedule and ours didn't match much at all. It must've been important.

Without walking with someone, I showed up to class several minutes earlier than usual. And without sitting next to anyone, I had no one to talk to to pass the time. To talk to- to? With who. With whom? I had no one with whom to pass the time.

Wow, I was bored. Correcting the grammar of my own thoughts.

I tried to cram-study a little of the psychology in front of me, but instead started doodling on the side of my notebook. Doodling should have made me more awake, but instead, I slowly started nodding off.

"So."

I jumped up.

"Do you sleep in all the classes where I'm not sitting next to you to poke you awake?" Hawk took his seat next to mine.

An involuntary grin spread across my face. "No… It was just-"

"Boring without me?"

I scrunched up my face in response, forcing control over my face muscles. "Where do you want to go eat?"

"Oh. Actually, I'm just made plans with Jade after class. You're welcome to come, I think, but-"

Trying not to look disappointed was hard. "Oh. No, no, it's fine. I just assumed…"

"Yeah, sorry. We just have a thing to do."

A thing. "No big." I wanted to change the subject. "Hey, isn't that Nathan Chao? I feel like I haven't seen him since-"

"The last one we had! Wow. Maybe he really does only show up on-"

"Please turn off your phones and close your notebooks. We're passing out tests now."

For the following week, Hawk spent all his time hanging around my roommate. From every class to every other class, despite only having ten to fifteen minutes of passing period, he'd often walk her to and from buildings or classrooms. During meals, I'd sit in our regular spot and end up eating alone because he wouldn't show up, often just texting that he was sorry, that he was doing something else. It wasn't exactly that he was avoiding me, per se; it was as if the Jade that had returned became Hawk's newest toy- or he was even more paranoid than me, and was worried she'd disappear again.

He also spent way more time over in our room than before- probably more because Jade was now mysteriously letting him into the room, despite her fierce warnings against it before. Then, and in classes, it was as if nothing had changed. But outside, I was never walking with him, often walking alone.

It hadn't occurred to me until then that I'd gotten so used to him standing by my side…

…so much so that without him, I realized I'd distanced myself from everyone else.