WARNINGS: Violence, swearing, bad British humor, god-awful American humor, slow-building romance, and (some) gay sex. That should about cover it.
EDIT: This is version 3.0 of my story. It has been fully revised and reviewed by my Beta following completion, but I still welcome commentary, questions, and critiques to further improve.
Chapter One (Prologue)
Fernwood Academy reflected the kind of nonjudgmental apathy of a place which cared little whether or not it really belonged in the desolation of its environment. The sky was a heavy, monochrome gray, a color not dissimilar to the stoic stone walls surrounding a flat, grassy courtyard, the only source of décor appearing to consist of a few wooden benches and a tall, stiff belltower.
Jake followed the signs into the main office, pushing open the door and peering cautiously into the room before stepping in. It resembled a fairly ordinary office, though the paintings on the walls were fairly eccentric and leaning into the fantastical. The receptionist was a middle-aged woman in bejeweled horn-rimmed glasses who could have passed for normal if not for a sense of style that had long since died out and green eyes that seemed a little too bright. The woman smiled brightly at him.
"Are you Mr. Harrison?" she asked in a very high voice. Jake nodded and she beamed. "Wonderful. Digganteus informed me that you were to be expected today. He'll be right with you if you'd like to wait in his office."
Jake nodded and shuffled through a green doorway, pulling his bags in beside him. He sat on a thick, cushioned chair, ankles crossed. It was a fairly plain room – white walls, a simple wooden desk covered in neatly piled papers and utensils, and more weird paintings framed on the walls. Every few minutes, his eyes darted to the loud white clock on the wall, avoiding the sleepy gazes of the strange portraits.
Finally, the door of the office swung open and a man walked in, middle-aged with a head of receding pepper-gray hair and thick-rimmed glasses pushed up a large bulbous nose. He was dressed in a dated outfit of brown corduroy pants and a blue and gray argyle vest over a white button-down, and his eyes were a meady brown that flashed gold when they flit around.
"Please excuse my tardiness –Jake, is it? – I was held up at a meeting." Jake shook the man's hand before he plopped into his own chair on the opposite side of the desk. The man smiled warmly as he pulled out a pair of spectacles and perched them on the bridge of his nose, and as it turned out his name was as queer as his sense of fashion. "My name is Digganteus Igniflatus and I am the director here at Fernwood Academy. If you would give me a minute, I'd like to review your forms we can get you set up in the dorms immediately." He pulled out a few papers from his desk drawers and peered down at them through his spectacles. After a few minutes, the director looked up and smiled again, the wrinkles along his mouth easily parting as if used to the gesture.
"So, Jake, you are transferring from San Anthony's Public School, aren't you?" Jake nodded. "Good, good." The man's eyes fell upon the papers again. "Do you have your forms?" he asked without looking up. Jake immediately procured a large manila envelope from a pouch in one of his bags and slid it across the desk. Digganteus smiled in thanks and pulled out the various papers, glancing over them.
"Is your father here with you?"
"My father's work required him to leave the country," Jake replied evenly. "He dropped me off twenty minutes ago and he's probably on his way to the airport now."
The director frowned. "You should have contacted me if you were arriving that early. I would have set the meeting back."
"Its fine, sir," Jake insisted.
Digganteus sighed and removed his spectacles. "All right then." He slapped the documents on the desk. "You've been registered. Here is your official transcript." He slid a small slip of paper across the desk. "So now all we have to do is set you up at your dorm and you'll come in tomorrow to discuss your class schedule. I'll have Percival escort you to your room. You'll find your school uniforms ready for you on your bed." The director picked up a black-backed frame, and scribbled a few words on it with a strange brush-tipped pen. Jake followed the motion as the director stood and scooted out of the armchair. Digganteus walked around the desk and smiled, sticking out a hand. Jake gave the director a flat smile and gripped his hand.
"It was nice meeting you Jake. I hope you enjoy it here at Fernwood Academy," the director beamed. Jake nodded and managed to twitch his lips into a more genuine smile before leaving the office. There he was directed by the grinning receptionist to follow a quiet, pale-faced boy by the name of Percival outside.
Jake followed a cobblestone path littered with broad, fiery-colored leaves that tumbled from the shivering trees on either side, heavy duffle bag slapping the back of his knees with each step. His guide trudged ahead with a sluggish ennui that somehow complemented the school's atmosphere. Finally, they approached a particularly large building at the end of the path at least a half-dozen stories tall capped by a red-tiled roof. Green ivy and mosses clambered up the walls, desperately clinging to the windowsills and the smallest of cracks between stones. Percival silently directed them through a pair of uncharacteristically modern glass doors. Inside, the boy paused and turned, adjusting Jake's other bag over his shoulders as if it weighed only a half-kilo, and turned his discomforting gray eyes on Jake.
"This is the dormitory. What wing are you in?" he asked in a voice that suggested he would much rather be anywhere but leading Jake to his room. Jake awkwardly shuffled through the pockets of his sweater and managed to pull out the piece of paper the director had given him only a few minutes before.
"It's below the room number," Percival offered impatiently, as Jake struggled to decipher the rows of numbers and letters in small font. "There should be two letters."
"Uh, it just says WW," Jake supplied, and Percival swiveled to his left.
"You're in the west wing then. What number?"
"Room 612," Jake said, following Percival through wooden doors and down the hall. The building was cool and dim, the only light streaming from the huge glass windows, steps echoing against the stone-and-cement walls.
They finally reached a wide stairway that appeared to spiral upwards from level to level, and additionally downwards about two floors. Jake followed as his guide upwards. By the third floor, Jake was starting to regret having dropped most forms of exercise during his three-week transfer period, his pack dragging along behind him. He cursed his lack of endurance until Percival appeared before him – an unimpressed look upon his face – took his bag, and continued on at the same, sprightly pace. They stopped on the fifth, and final, floor and began down a broad, empty hallway with cream-colored walls interrupted only by the occasional odd-numbered doorway. Percival stopped by a simple wooden door with a metal plaque carved with the number 612. Percival suddenly frowned and heaved a small sigh before pulling out a silver key from his pocket and unlocking the door. Upon opening the door, Percival gingerly stepped in with clear discomfort, motioning for Jake to follow.
Jake entered the room, glancing around. It was dark, the blinds still closed despite the rather late afternoon hour. Clothes and random articles were strewn about the floor of the room and the furthermost bed was messy and undone. Two desks were placed in the room, one beside the messy bed nearest the window, and the other across from the other along the wall, both covered in papers, discarded clothes, and books. A small, battered, black, leather-bound book rested on the desk nearest to him.
"I would leave those things alone, if I were you." Jake turned to see Percival looking at him expressionlessly. The boy nodded towards the desk beneath the window.
"That's your roommate's desk. Just ask him to move his stuff so you can use the other one. And don't touch anything. Last time someone borrowed his textbook, the poor sod spent three weeks in the hospital ward." Jake couldn't help but stare back in alarm, but Percival simply glanced at Jake's bag. "You can unpack and make yourself comfortable," he said in drab monotone once again. "You will begin your classes tomorrow. Ask anyone for directions if you can't find your way. The rest is self-explanatory. The literature and cultural study departments are on the west side of campus, and the math and science departments are on the east side. The gym and sports field is behind the dorms, the cafeteria is on the first floor, and the main office and infirmary are on the north side of campus, where we just came from. Dinner starts at seven and ends at nine." Jake nodded and, after a moment's hesitation, shoved a few of his roommate's garments aside to make room for his bags beside the bed. He was about to open his bag when he noticed Percival was still in the room. He straightened and Percival hesitated before speaking.
"Your roommate…" he paused again, as if unsure, and continued, "I wouldn't try to get too close to him. It won't do you any good."
Jake narrowed his eyes. "I'll decide that for myself, thanks," he said curtly.
Percival gave him a quick, calculating look, but his face quickly returned to a mask of indifference and he shrugged.
"Your funeral," he said cryptically. The boy flung Jake the keys, which he snatched out of the air and pocketed, before turning and exiting the room.
Jake looked down at his bag. It was too dark in the room to be able to unpack properly, so he simply threw off his sweater and clambered onto his bed. He noticed his school uniform neatly folded on the pillow and unfolded it; the entire ensemble consisted of a white button-down dress shirt, a gray cotton sweater vest, a black blazer, a red tie, a red and black striped scarf, and a pair of black slacks. The school crest, a curled green fern on a grey shield-shaped emblem was embroidered on the right side of both the sweater vest and blazer, as well as on the corner of the scarf. Jake set the clothes aside and threw himself on the covers. He folded his hands behind his head and closed his eyes, letting himself drift off to sleep.
Jake awoke to the sound of someone opening and closing the door. He blinked groggily, his attention focusing on the rustle of fabric and the thud of a backpack hitting the ground unceremoniously. He flipped over on his stomach and cracked open his eyes. A boy about his age leaned over the desk beneath the window. In the dim light, Jake could make out that he was lean and not particularly tall, with long, sleek black hair shaved short on the sides so that it fell from a thick strip in the center of his head reminiscent of a horse's mane. He was clothed in the school uniform, though his tie was loose and his shirt half-buttoned. Jake watched him grab the notebook off his desk and slump in his seat, opening it to reveal tight, black writing and messy sketches. The boy bent over the book and began sketching on a clean page with enraptured focus until Jake decided to interrupt.
"I'm going to need that desk," he said. The boy whipped his head around, nearly dropping the pen in his hand. His eyes automatically locked themselves on Jake, and Jake found himself wishing he could see their eye color despite the dark. The boy suddenly stood up, his chair raking the floor loudly.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, voice laced with a threatening growl. Jake noticed a slight accent to it - Russian, perhaps.
"I'm your roommate, obviously."
His 'roommate' stared at him incredulously, as if it were the most ridiculous thing he'd heard. "I was never informed that I was getting a roommate," he hissed, spitting out the last word as if it tasted foul.
"Well, sorry about that," Jake retorted defensively. "But either way, I would appreciate it if you could move your stuff off my desk, because I'm probably going to need it starting tomorrow." The fair-haired boy glared at him and opened his mouth to snap a retort but thought better of it and turned around, snapping his diary shut. The boy snatched his belongings off Jake's desk before walking to his own, stuffing the diary in his backpack and marching out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
"Well, there's a pleasant guy," Jake muttered under his breath before pulling out his mp3 player and shoving the earphones in his ears.
Jake sighed, dropping his mp3 player on the bed covers beside him and stretched his arms over his head. He glanced around, suddenly aware that there were no electricity plugs. His mp3 battery was nearly dead so he sighed and threw it in his bag. He glanced at the time on his wristwatch and pushed himself upright. He wasn't very hungry, but it was half past six and he didn't have anything better to do. He glanced around and noticed that his roommate hadn't returned.
Jake crawled off his bed and grabbed his jacket off the chair at his desk before glancing at the square mirror across from him on the wall. He leaned forward and ran a hand through his shaggy mop of auburn hair. The dim, fading sunlight from the window could barely reveal the natural red highlights of his hair, a gift from his mother. His only gift. The rest came from his father – his deep-set brown eyes, chiseled, square jaw-line, and lean build. He'd managed to bulk up a bit in sophomore year, hitting the gym on days he didn't have basketball practice. He was told he was handsome, but it hardly mattered to him. Only those burgundy highlights. Jake threw on his jacket, hoping he wouldn't look too out of place in casual clothes, grabbed his room key, and left the room.
The hallway was just as empty as when he'd first arrived, save for a few stragglers leaving their rooms to go to the dinner hall. Jake began walking towards the stairs when a deafening shriek suddenly pierced the silence. Jake whirled around to see someone leap out of a nearby room and dash in his direction, guffawing. A second person followed suit, releasing a loud string of profanities and hurdled something at the runaway. The running boy yelped as something bright and apparently hard slammed into his head, causing him to stumble forward and crash a few feet away from Jake. Alarmed, Jake was about to hurry over and help him up, when he suddenly noticed the very obvious, very blue tail protruding from the prone boy's pants, which he had first failed to notice in the dim hallway lighting. Jake first thought this to be some kind of costume accessory of some kind, until it suddenly twitched and several small, white, needle-like spikes suddenly sprouted from the tail like thorns. The boy groaned, startling Jake, and pushed himself upright. Jake noticed, with increasing unease, a pair of small black horns growing from the sides of his head to curl behind his ears.
"What the hell? You didn't have to throw your freaking bearing at me!" The boy growled, glaring at the offender, who was now stalking angrily towards them.
"Oh, I didn't have to, now?" the other demanded. "Because I'm supposed to just lie low and not say anything about you trying to dye my wings orange?"
"Big deal! It's an improvement on their current color!" the tailed-and-horned boy retorted.
"I quite like my wings as they are!" the other seethed.
"They're bright pink!"
"They're fuchsia!" The assailant took an aggressive step forward, but the blue-tailed boy suddenly seemed to notice Jake and, leaping up, ran behind him, pushing Jake defensively between them.
"There! You can't injure an innocent bystander!" Jake stiffened and glanced up at the boy in front of him. He stared. Sprouting from the angry, apparently-victimized boy's back were a pair of brilliant pink-purple wings, feathered and translucent in a shape that evoked the swallow-tail butterflies that used to flutter by his windowsill in early spring. The boy himself, tall and lean, sported a head of vividly white long silky hair that hung past his shoulders.
"Stop hiding like a damn coward, Damon! Look, you've frightened the kid half to death!" Forcing the expression of undisguised shock and horror on his face into one of mild alarm, Jake forced his mouth to life.
"Hey, back off," he said, brushing Damon's hands off his shoulders and stepping back. "I don't know what's going on here, but someone needs to explain those things to me." He vaguely gestured at Naetili.
"See, even this guy thinks your wings are ridiculous," Damon taunted, ignoring Jake's request.
"You're being petty," the other snapped back. "I apologized already! It was just a joke!"
"You called me bog-vermin! How many times do I have to tell you only kelpies live in bogs!"
"Aren't you supposed to be part kelpie anyway? Since when are you so sensitive about this?"
Jake realized the two were now lost in their own conversation and had begun slipping away when he felt a strange tingling in the back of his head, as if someone were watching him. He glanced around, but saw no one else, save for a group of boys rounding up the stairs and heading down the hall in his direction. Jake made for the stairs, and stumbled as one of the students' jostled into his shoulder without apology.
His nerves already frayed, Jake shot the student a sharp look. "Hey, watch it," he snapped, shaking his head and continuing to walk. Jake suddenly felt something heavy clamp down on his shoulder and was suddenly shoved into the wall.
"Look'it this guys, a meal on legs." It was one of the boys who had pushed past him, and while not particularly tall or menacing – in fact, he was rather scrawny and sallow-faced – there was something in the student's cold eyes and humorless smile that immediately set Jake on edge.
"I don't want any trouble," Jake muttered, trying to push the boy's hand off his shoulder, but the arm stayed firmly in place, fingers curling into his collarbone with increasing discomfort that soon bordered on pain.
"If you didn't want trouble, you shouldn't have come here," the boy snickered, leaning in. Jake caught a whiff of iron and flinched away. The unsettling feeling rose again, more intense than before, and the hairs on the back of his neck tugged painfully.
"Hey, Trey! Get your slimy hands off him!"
The boy's grip on Jake's shoulder relaxed slightly as he turned in irritation. "I didn't know the meat sack was yours, half-breed."
There was a shout, and something bright sailed past them, crashing into the wall only inches above him. Jake winced, raising his hands to protect his face from crumbling plaster, and gasped as the discomfort from before returned twofold. Jake snapped his head up and this time he thought he saw a dark shape at the end of the hall, hidden in the shadow, before pain seared through his head. He heard someone laugh, a voice deep and cruel that struck him with cold fear, and all he could see were glowing red eyes and grinning white teeth before all went dark.