The anger was just bubbling up deep inside my gut as I walked into the empty hallway. Up ahead was a lone mirror on top of a nightstand, kind of what you would see in a Disney movie. However, this was no Disney movie, this was real. There would be no happy ending for any of us. Because when you're in Wind, the joys of a normal life are never in reach. They're taken from you the moment you're initiated, and the happiness is slowly sucked from you. As I walked to the mirror, slowly but surely, all I could see were the faces of my enemies; their lingering, translucent faces laughing at me. Their smirks made my insides burn with an intense wrath. I touched the mirror with the pads of my fingertips and instantly, a sting burned me and a quick yet sinister laugh filled the room. Was I going crazy? But then, the faces began to talk to me.
"It's your fault he's dead," They told me. They kept saying it over and over; trying to provoke an emotion. "It's your fault, it's your fault. But I guess you can't help being weak. You're all weak. That's why you'll all lose in the end…"No. I can't listen to this anymore.
"You're wrong," I say louder than expected in a voice I never expected to use. Without even realizing it, my entire body tenses and my fingers curl inward into balled fists.
"Are we?" My translucent enemies begin to morph into my reflection, and creep out of the mirror in order to whisper in my ear. Her fingers lightly brushed against my jaw line. I can't help but cringe at how cold the texture of her skin is, a shudder running down my back. "Don't kid yourself, you will lose, because you're weak… you don't want to kill us enough!"
"You're wrong!" I scream at the top of my lungs, shattering the mirror with the side of my fist. Blood began to pour down my arm, and tiny bits of glass fell to the floor as the nightstand and mirror disappeared. Everything fell silent, but I could still hear them utter "weak" in my mind. Weak… weak… weak… The glass shards were stuck in my hand, causing a pain that didn't seem to register with my brain. I was so far away from the world that any physical pain done to me just never happened. They were never here; it was all in my head. I guess I really am crazy.
Chapter One: Safeguard
"Ariella, wake up, it's time to get ready for school!" My mother – or should I call her my alarm clock? – called my name from downstairs at precisely six-fifteen on a Thursday morning. I could smell the delicious scent of chocolate chip pancakes she made for me from all the way up in my bedroom. That scent drove me out of bed as I floated down the stairs and to the breakfast table.
My name is Ariella Rose Harrington, and I am sixteen years old, as of August 1st, 2049. I'm nothing out of the ordinary; just a junior at Sitka High School in Sitka, Alaska. People tell me I look like a younger version of my mother. We both have the same long, midnight-black hair, same blue-green eyes, same sprinkle of tiny, tan freckles on our noses and cheeks, and same pale skin. The only difference – besides the aging my mother has done over the years – is our height; I am way shorter than she. I stand at five-foot-two; she stands at five-foot eight.
"Here you go," Mom gives me a plate of pancakes as she goes back into the kitchen to grab orange juice and maple syrup. She looks extra solemn today, for some reason. Maybe it's because next summer, I'll be going off to my host family in Japan for an entire summer. Of course I'm the only one excited in this house. She places the carton of orange juice and maple syrup onto the table and sits down, holding her warm cup of tea. Her beautiful eyes stare outside into the cold wilderness of Alaska, where it has already begun to snow. Quel surpris!
"What's bugging you?" I ask while simultaneously eating the deliciousness of chocolate chip pancakes! It takes her a minute to respond, and then she turns to me. Another difference between us was I tried to make humor out of any situation. She was more of a pessimist.
"How's your ankle?" I shrug and lift my leg to balance it on the edge of the table. I roll up my pajama pants and reveal my ankle with its clear bandages. Beneath it was a special tattoo of music measures with playable notes running up and down the staff lines. The tattoo wrapped around my ankle.
"Don't try poking it, cuz then it will hurt," I smile cutely, my white teeth showing. I'm used to my mom not responding to my jokes. "It's fine! I can still walk."
"It just doesn't seem fair that you had to get a tattoo to prove loyalty to a band you'll be in for just ten months," The idea of getting a tattoo in my mom's mind was horrendous. 'Why would you mutilate your skin?' she would say. I, however, thought it was great; I didn't have to wait until I was eighteen to get one. "The whole thing is crazy."
"Aren't you happy that I got into Wind Ensemble?" That's me, the musician of the family. I play the flute, if you really care. Oh, and the piccolo and clarinet.
"Of course, I am! So proud," She stopped for a moment, biting her lip as if she knows something I don't. "It's the tattoo. It's always about it."
"I know, I know," I rolled my eyes slightly. It's been only about a week since the ceremony they hold for the new kids who get into Wind, and it's been two days since I got my tattoo that was "strictly mandatory." It was one of those, "get it done now, I'll explain later," kind of situations. Hell, no questions asked on my part. "Times have changed since you went to Sitka High, Mom, especially class size." Mom looked outside again, warily looking at all the snow.
"I think I'll drive you to school today," She merely said. "Go get ready if you're done." I sigh playfully and go upstairs to shower and change into a dark red peasant shirt, black skinny jeans, and black and purple sneakers that look like they're eating my feet. Trying to slide my sneaker onto my tattooed ankle at first sends an electrified burst of pain up my leg that causes me to wince, but it evanesces quickly. Walking on it with shoes still feels tender, but I can manage. I put on a smile; grabbing my coat, backpack, flute and piccolo cases, and walk to my mom's car and drive off, in utter silence. I doze off into my own little world as I listen to the smooth music of "Flute Sonata in C Major, BWV 1033: I: Andante," played by Emmanuel Pahud, a famous flautist, on my iPod. As I daydreamed, I had flashes of the ceremony from only a week ago.
"Welcome to Wind Ensemble," The director, Mr. Alan Chambers, said in his heavy voice. I was sitting in the front row with a few other strangers who were either in my grade or just a grade below. "You will find that in your experience as a member of our honorable band, there are challenging times ahead. You will be frustrated, you will have moments of weakness, you will cry, and you will break down; I promise you. But, whether you will be graduating after this year or you will continue helping us for another, I wish you all the luck in the world. Practice hard, train, and make something of your time with us. But, be warned. This is no ordinary band, for we carry on a legacy that has brought this school fame since 2012. You'll uncover quickly some inescapable problems, but just rely on your musical allies with your lives as you would with your best friends."
My band director briefly explained the rules, which seemed more like a schedule at first. Every day of the week, a different section had to stay after and rehearse. Flutes and the piccolo stay after on Wednesdays, for example. But everyone had to stay after on Fridays for an extra rehearsal. Some of the rules were a bit stranger than the others. He said that students were not allowed to associate with non-musical students, they had to receive an initiation tattoo that signified their commitment to the band, and we are not allowed to have anyone hear what we practice in after school rehearsals. I could never imagine the reason for those rules, but I never let it bother me. I always just assumed it was the lifestyle. As a true musician, I never say no to a sectional or rehearsal or question the authority of a master like all my music teachers. The more the merrier, as they say!
We get to the small high school, and Mom drives all the way to the front.
"Good luck today," She says briefly. She looks at me with those heavy eyes.
"Thanks, I'll try to stay out of trouble," I wink at her and unbuckle myself.
"Stay warm!" She manages to say as I exit the vehicle and grab all my belongings. It seems as though she's rushing to tell me something, but I just shrug away the thought.
"I will. Have a good day at work!" I watch her drive away and then enter the building. The main office, to be more specific, so I can get my schedule for the first semester. It's pretty straight forward; Music Theory I, Wind Ensemble, Intermediate French I, AP English Literature, Lunch, Health/Gym every other day, and finally German I.
My first class and homeroom, Music Theory, is in the Performing Arts center of the school, which is all the way in the back. There is nothing that warms me more than knowing that I will start off my day with some music with the most musical students in all of Sitka. I enter my homeroom, which is all the way at the end of the hallway, and find my best friends, Andy and Luna Knox – who are the most beautiful fraternal twins in the universe, thank you – sitting together on the risers with their backs to me, looking through some sort of "Understanding Music Theory" book. I sneak up behind them and scratching their hair – Luna having lovely light red hair with a slight wave and Andy having perfectly straight, black hair that's kind of like mine. In unison, they yelp slightly and jump at the sudden event. But once they see it's just me, they both offer me hugs to which I happily accept.
"Ari! It's so nice to see you, finally!" Luna gingerly says with her perfect grin. "You haven't changed a bit."
"Oh, are these split ends I see?" I pick up a curl of Luna's hair and look at her with joking eyes and a crooked frown. "You certainly have changed."
"Very funny, Ari!" She playfully pushes my shoulder and we chuckle.
"Guys, just ten months until summer!" I remind them and we exchange glances.
"Yeah, and then a certain friend of ours will leave us behind to go to Japan," Andy adds as he raises his eyebrows. A hint of red colors my cheeks. He always had that effect on me for some reason and I could never explain how he could.
"Oh, shut up, you can come with me if you want to. You know that," I can't help but blush a little more and a smile creeps on my lips. He returns a smile that is more crooked than mine and shakes his head, symbolizing a no.
"Thanks, but I can't rely on you being a translator," He responds.
"Are you kidding? I need someone to teach Japanese to!"
"You mean, you need someone to geek out about their culture to," He smirks playfully and I respond by one, grinning, and two, hitting him in the shoulder.
"I might as well print 'geek' on my forehead then," I say before turning to the rest of the students in my class. "Geek and proud!" I exclaim, throwing my hands out. Some people laugh at me; some of them don't even listen. Those are the people who expect this nonsense from me. I've always been strange.
"Anyway," Luna says, turning my attention back to her. "Tell me your schedule!" I flash my schedule at them and they seem ecstatic to see all my classes.
"We obviously have Music Theory together… we have French and lunch, too! And also Health and Gym, of course." Luna replies. "Maybe if you work your magic this quarter, you'll be a part of Symphonic Orchestra with me next quarter!" For the first quarter, Symphonic Orchestra is strictly just string instruments. But the unbelievably nice Orchestra director, Mr. Frost, allows the first row of every section in Wind to collaborate with them, creating the Full Symphonic Orchestra every Thursday for the rest of the year. To be a part of something so great; it would be an honor.
"We have Music Theory, Wind, French, and German," Andy briefly mentions. He's always so quick with his response.
"Glad I won't be alone! All I need to worry about now is finding someone in AP English, if I can," Andy and I exchange looks, remembering what Mr. Chambers said about not having any non-musical friends. Andy and I laugh to make it come off as a joke since Luna doesn't understand. Then, our teacher, whose name is Miss Li, enters the classroom. She was still young, approximately twenty-three years old, and very graceful. She was of Chinese descent but she was raised in Alaska for most of her life. She spoke Cantonese fluently, as well as English.
"Alright, class, settle down," She said sternly. She spent some time alphabetizing us into our seats. Because the twins' last name was 'Knox' and mine was 'Harrington,' the three of us sat next to each other happily. Besides, only about fifteen kids signed up for the class and most of their last names ended towards to very beginning or very end of the alphabet. No complaints here!
After the announcements were over, Miss. Li looked at us with a lovely smile.
"Good morning everyone, I hope you had a nice summer vacation," She started. Her voice was smooth and delicate. "Welcome to Music Theory I."
The class ends, our hands full of papers for parents to sign, as we run off to our next class. Andy and I had to leave Luna behind so she could go to Symphonic Orchestra, which was in another hallway. I watched her as we parted ways and got thoughtful for a moment.
"For a girl who acts dumb, she certainly isn't," I say. It wasn't supposed to be taken offensively; Luna really didn't like flaunting how smart she was.
"Hard to believe she's in AP Physics C and AP English Lang, huh?" Andy says breathlessly. The two of us jump over to Wind, which is only across the hall from Music Theory.
The door to Wind has a note that says, 'All Period 2 Wind Ensemble members, go to the auditorium.' Through the clear glass, the room is dark. The lights weren't on and no one was inside.
"Are we not playing our instruments today?" I ask somewhat rhetorically.
"Oh well, let's go," Andy takes the first few of my fingers and drags me off to the auditorium. Students are pouring in, many of whom I have never seen before. They look a lot more advanced and wise than I. The two of us station ourselves in the front, for we would never sit together in actual Wind. Andy is a total whiz at the French horn. I'm just a piccolo/flute player.
"Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors!" It's Mr. Chambers, and he's speaking on the stage. He's a fifty-something year old who is woodwind player as well. He's wearing a formal black, button down shirt and khaki pants. He's also a little bit on the heavy side. His voice is very commanding and grabs everyone's attention, even if he doesn't have a microphone. "Welcome. Congratulations on making it to this band, if you are new. To those who have never been in Wind before and were in the slightest way confused by my speech in the most recent ceremony, I shall explain everything." He paused and just gazed out into the audience.
"I wonder what the big secret is," I whisper to Andy. He wouldn't tell me anything, for he himself had been accepted into Wind one year before me. He always said that I had to find out for myself. Andy didn't even seem to notice that I whispered to him, which was strange. He suddenly seemed to grimace.
"My fellow musicians, you have been accepted into a program that may perhaps kill you one day. You see, we aren't just musicians; we are the guardians of this school. We have been given the task of destroying evil spirits called 'yoo-ryeong.' They're impervious to almost everything, except music. But we need the best to truly get rid of them." He stopped himself again and almost every new Wind member began to panic. My own emotions panicked for a brief moment. Could this really be happening? I could die, playing music and destroying evil beings I never even knew existed? I calmed down quickly however; this meant coming to school would be worth it. It would be exciting, an adventure! And Ariella is always up for adventure! It seems as though the others were thinking the same thing, because the uproar slowly diminished to a silence.
"Little did you know, we're in a time of war. We have those fighting a war out west in the Pacific, but there's a war going on here as well invisibly. There's a reason you would never have heard about these ghosts. They go undetected; unscented, unheard of. You can't taste them or smell them or see them. They're here trying to possess your bodies since they themselves have lost their own. They thirst for blood and don't decipher between friend or foe, so be on your guard. If they manage to take a human's body completely, that original human will be forever lost in limbo and that yoo-ryeong will be able to transform, manipulate time, revive its brethren, and do the unthinkable. But if there's one thing they can't protect themselves against, it's a professional musician. You are here because you have a duty to fulfill. We will help you unlock that special power inside all of you, and hopefully, maybe, even completely destroy this race so we will never have to deal with them again."
The realization of it all hit me. That's why he needs us all to give so much of our time to this band; we need to practice to get stronger. But one thing that still confuses me is why we need to distance ourselves from the real world. Could it be…?
"We will use our school days wisely, that is when we show our students that everything is fine, we will rehearse complicated songs for competitions and recitals. We will look out for them in the shadows, almost. After school for sectionals and Fridays, that is when we attack. That is when we practice in retaliation." He's quick with this pause, but indeed, he takes a second to breathe. "I must ask too much of all of you when I say don't have relations with people on the outside. I want you all to avoid the hurt of losing someone you care about if, God forbid; these demons go after them and kill them. You must realize that detaching yourself is the only way for you to be safe emotionally." I turn to Andy, and he looks down. I remember last school year; he acted as if he was depressed. He didn't want to talk to anyone outside of Wind. He barely talked to anyone besides Luna, until I told him I was accepted into Wind. Then he started to lighten up and be my friend again.
"Looks like we're in for an exciting year, Andy!" I say in a very happy voice, my eyes sparkling. He looks at me, returning the smile somewhat sadly. "Does this explain last year?" He nods his head.
"Well, I'm ready to fight some monsters. I'll give them a piece of my mind!" The two of us chuckle.
"The rest I'll leave up to those who have been here the longest and know the deal," Mr. Chambers gets off the stage and passing out papers for parents. None of the information on the sheets remarks on what he was talking about; how we've just become guardians to protect our school. One would think that that's kind of important!
The bell rings before we even know it. Andy, being the gentleman that he is, would normally walk me to French, as down the hall is his AP Chinese class. It's always nice to have the twins ever so close at all times; Luna with me and Andy only rooms away. However, as we pass the Orchestra room, we encounter the one person I've wanted to see all day.
"Trist!" I made a bee-line straight for him and gave him a gigantic hug. He chuckled as he brought me to the side of the hall – just so we wouldn't be in anyone's way – and kissed me.
"Hey, Ella," I love the way he says my nickname. So breezy and perfect. "How was your first day of Band?"
"We had to listen to a boring speech about how intense our rehearsals will be. Then he gave us papers. Same old same old!" I shrugged my shoulders, unable to stop smiling. I had to tell a little white lie; even if Tristan was musical, I don't think I should be the one to tell him what I'd really be doing. "How was your first day of Symphonic Orchestra?"
"Uhhhhm, sounds similar to your first day of Wind," He laughed as he wrapped his arm around my shoulders, our fingers interlocking. I stand there and just stare at him for a moment. He was a sophomore, and probably one of the best violinists in our entire city. He could play anything; easy, medium, difficult and he would play it ever so beautifully somehow. As well as being a great string player, he knew his way around the piano. Even if Symphonic Orchestra was meant for Juniors and Seniors only, Mr. Frost invited him specifically to be a part of this noble team a year early. All the girls would swoon over him, especially Freshmen year. And he chose me. My heart always skipped a beat when I looked into those vivid, grassy green eyes of his.
"Okay, lovebirds, stop with the lovey-dovey stuff, let's go to class!" Luna appeared out of nowhere and herded us to our next class. Trist had to go to his Geometry class, so we eventually had to part ways.
"How long have you guys been together again?" Luna asks as we sit down in our seats in French.
"I don't know, about four months now, I think," Luna smiled a bizarre smile. Yes, she smiled normally, but in her eyes, she looked so distant. "Something wrong?"
"I can't believe he's been waiting that long already…" She whispers, barely audible.
"Who's been waiting for what?"
"Nothing," She smiles normally again, the life back in her eyes. I'm not going to force an answer out of her, so I turn to face forward as Madame Chèrie politely talks to us in French, explaining the rules of the classroom. As her voice drifts off and my mind starts to wander, I have this strange chill run through my body. It wasn't the normal, "there-must-be-a-draft-in-the-room," chill. It was kind of…ghost-like. I wonder if anyone in the Spirit World is watching me, or if what Mr. Chambers was actually being serious about those beings. I have to admit, I'm skeptical. Mr. Chambers does enjoy a good joke every now and then. I must be over-thinking things again.
"Excuse me, Madame Chèrie?" The principal's voice, Mrs. Pitts, interrupts Madame as she was explaining les projets for the year.
"Yes?" She responds as though unhappy to have to speak English again.
"Can you send Ariella Harrington to the Performing Arts center?"
"Yes." However reluctant to keep me in class, she sighs and sends me on my way, but not before most of the class says, "ooo, already in trouble!" even though I'm not going to the Principal's office. I wonder why I have to go? I might have forgotten a notebook or something, even though I highly doubt they need to make an announcement for something so trivial. I gather my things and leave the classroom, and who else do I see but Andy? Relief washes over me, knowing I won't be alone.
"Did you get called down, too?" I ask.
"Of course, standard protocol. He does this every year," Andy walks past me, looking straight forward and is all seriousness again.
"You'll find out. We're going to the Forbidden Room in the P.A. Center."