The castle of St. Adrian's Academy was a regal sight from her window as Alexa looked at her new room. It was very Victorian with her very own four-poster bed; a red velvet divan settled at the foot of it and topped off with damask walls, carpet floors and mahogany furnishings. It was nothing compared to the Spartan interiors of her old room back at Dovecross with Sister Bennett.
It was a quarter to nine in the evening as Alexa collapsed to her bed, tapping her boots restlessly on the carpet floor. The first day of school would begin tomorrow, but she was asked to arrive early for an orientation with the other Crusade members. She had not stepped out of her room the moment she arrived at Knights Hall, a dormitory exclusively for the organization. She heard conversation outside her door from time to time, but did not bother to venture out.
Glancing at her watch again, she pulled herself from the bed and approached the dresser, seeing a girl with long, black hair with slightly smudged eye make-up staring back at her. She had arrived in her old Dovecross uniform, a plain white shirt with a loose, checkered gray necktie. The length of her skirt barely passed the school standard, but covered up the rest of it with black tights.
With a halfhearted sigh, Alexa walked to the door and left her room, walking down a long, empty hallway. Beyond the windows, moonlight shone down the surrounding forest. At the end of the corridor a spiral stairway greeted her, where she could hear animated conversation below.
A small group greeted her when she arrived at the foot of the stairs. They all turned to look at her as they stood in front of the dining hall.
"Ah," The oldest in the group, a man in his mid-thirties, spoke. "You must be Miss Young."
He had a lanky build under his dark gray suit as he looked patiently at her through square-framed glasses. A polite smile formed on his pleasant face when she did not respond.
"Pardon my manners. My name is Grayson Pearce, overseer for Crusade trainees and headmaster here at St. Adrian's. Now that we've all gathered, let's proceed to headquarters, shall we?"
The group followed his lead. Alexa recognized the scared looking, blonde-haired girl from the day of her interview, but neither of them said a word as the rest of them continued in silence.
Including herself and the blonde, there were only two girls in the entire group. Two of the boys were identical twins. One of them was small with black hair and a pensive expression on his face. The only other one was tall with brown, spiky hair and an amused smile on his lips.
They proceeded down a staircase at the end of the corridor, arriving down a narrow hallway with stone walls. This led to a long tunnel dimly lit with torches. There was nothing but the sound of everyone's heels echoing for several minutes until Alexa spotted bright, blue light at the other end of the tunnel.
Next thing she knew she was stepping on glass floors which emitted the same blue glow. They arrived at a vast and contemporary-looking facility with the latest computers, touch panel machinery, and numerous other equipment she couldn't identify. The facility was spread out in a circular fashion with a high ceiling that housed several docks when she looked up.
They stopped by the computer dock at the very center of the room. The man named Grayson Pearce turned to face them once more.
"Welcome to the Crusade headquarters. We are presently beneath the west wing of the school, connected to Knights Hall through the tunnel we just came from."
"Miss Young, as you are the latest to join us, I'd like to officially welcome you into the organization. We look forward to working with you."
"And that should be the last time we wait for you," The tall man with spiky hair smirked at her. She narrowed her eyes at him.
"Zacharias West," His smirk turned roguish at her show of disdain. "But you can call me Zach, because who goes by that kind of name, really."
"I like to call you Zacharias," The small, dark-haired boy beside him said in a light voice as he faced her with a smile. "I'm Seth Evans. Third year, Princeps in training."
"Riley Mitchell" and "Avery Mitchell", spoke the twins in their auburn hair and freckles. "Second years, Ferio."
"B-Beatrice Watson," The blonde girl beside Alexa stammered. "First year, Altrix."
"Alexa Young," she finally said. "First year, Sancti."
Everyone stared her in piqued interest. Beatrice openly gaped at her.
"A Sancti?" Seth softly chuckled. "Well, that's certainly something you don't see everyday."
One of the twins looked at her in amazement. "Woah, I've never met one in real life."
Alexa had the notion that this probably wouldn't be the last time she would be received this way. Indeed, there was less than a hundred of her kind in the country at present. The most popular were the Princeps, the soldiers or the warriors, who fought the enemy face on in battle. The Liberi were the scribes, once known as seekers and keepers of ancient texts, but in modern times they now served as intelligence for the organization. The Ferio were the smiths, crafters of weapons and technology used by the Princeps. The Altrix, or the healers, were the only other class to mainly use spiritual energy other than the Sancti.
"But seriously Dr. Pearce, only two new recruits this year?" Zach shook his head. "What's up with that?"
"I hear initiations were rather... challenging this year," Dr. Pearce cast a knowing smile in her direction. "Although we have a core team of only eight this year, I have full faith in all of you."
There were only seven when Alexa wordlessly counted the heads in the room. She had only wondered who the eighth was when she felt a tingling sensation at the back of her neck. She turned around to find the Undead from her initiation.
"Ah, Marion. Glad you could join us tonight."
Now that he seemed to have fed, Marion was a glorious sight in his long, silvery white hair and porcelain complexion. His grey eyes remained cold and steely, his high cheekbones and full lips set to an unyielding expression.
"Oh my God," Beatrice whispered beside her. "Is this what they all look like?"
"Pale and bitchy?" Zach nodded with a grin. "Pretty much."
Alexa was glad she was not on the other end of the Sanguine's hostile gaze.
"Miss Young, I believe you've met Marion before," Dr. Pearce said. "But just as a reminder to all our new members, even while Marion is a Sanguine, his loyalty now lies with us.
"Now Miss Watson, you will be under the guidance of Mrs. Dixon for your training. You will meet with her tomorrow. Miss Young, you will be under the guidance of Marion and myself."
Alexa stared at the doctor in disbelief. "What?"
"It's been ten years since we last had a Sancti in this school. Due to the scarcity of your class, most are in the main office in London. I heard that you mainly use vodou or blood magic, but I can teach you Fidem and Marion can help you with your necromancy."
"An undead training a necromancer?" Zach snorted. "How ironic can you get?"
"Anyway, we hold a meeting here every Thursday at 9 o'clock," The doctor cleared his throat. "Now, we have a busy first day of school tomorrow. Miss Watson, Miss Young, if you have any questions, feel free to approach me or Mr. West here, as he is your team captain."
"Good night, Headmaster," Seth sang as he headed back to the dormitory with everyone else.
"See you around, Sancti," Zach muttered in Alexa's ear as he walked past her. She cast his back a glare and spotted Marion still standing in a corner, unmoving as a statue with his cold, empty gaze watching her.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Miss Young," Dr. Pearce said behind her. She returned his smile with a crease of her eyebrows before heading back to Knights Hall with everyone else.
All eyes were on Alexa as she walked down the crowded school hallway at lunch break. She had a fairly good idea of what they were gaping at; it was usually her make-up or her modified uniform that caused the commotion. Shocked, disgusted, scornful, licentious... She'd received every kind of look in the book, and she didn't give a damn.
Alexa opened her locker door and let out a sigh, knowing she had three more periods before the day was over. She cracked her neck and closed her eyes before grabbing the rest of her books and proceeding on her way.
She was only adjusting her bag strap when she felt a strong force to her left shoulder, sending her dropping her things. She turned around to find a pretty brunette with her hair up in a high pony. She had two other girls behind her as she smiled smugly at her.
"Oops, sorry," she said with utmost insincerity. "Didn't see you there."
Alexa narrowed her eyes at her but said nothing. The girl looked back at her with an arrogant defiance, ready to pounce on her at any chance. Not wanting to give her that satisfaction, she decided to pick up her things in silence.
She had just picked up most of her things when the girl kicked the last book out of her reach. The three of them laughed as she stared at their feet, suddenly itching to take out the blade from her boot to give those legs a little mark...
The male voice sounded familiar, but Alexa did not bother as she picked up the last textbook the moment the three girls scuttled over to his direction. She finally stood up to find Zacharias West behind her.
"Zachie baby, have you met our new friend?" The brunette sweetly asked as she wrapped her hands around his arm.
Zach flashed her a lazy grin. "No, but I'm sure you two will get along just fine."
The girl named Chelsea sneered at her. "Oh, I know we will."
Alexa blankly eyed the both of them as she mentally counted to ten. She managed to turn on her heel and continue walking.
"I love this school already," she grumpily muttered to herself.
Alexa sat by the window of her bedroom that night, perusing one of the many thick grimoires that Dr. Pearce handed her to "give her a head start" on her training. Books that simply talked about the history of the Crusades, the role of Sancti, and an introduction to Latin... Frankly, all she wanted to do was to get down and dirty with the bad guys. She didn't have the patience for books.
She gave up reading with a sigh and lugged the old, heavy book out of her lap and onto the desk. She restlessly looked out the window, tired but not sleepy, and decided she would check out the pantry downstairs.
She left the room in a black tank top and pajamas, thankful not to encounter anyone down the hallways. Her gratitude was short-lived, however, as she chanced upon Beatrice in the kitchen, cooking up something by the stove.
She had only turned around to head back when the girl called out, "Alexa? Is that you?"
Alexa winced, turning around and plastering an uneasy smile on her face. "Hi."
"It's already late. What are you doing still up?"
She shrugged. "I'd ask you the same."
"Oh, I'm making hot chocolate," The girl smiled. "Do you want some?"
Her first instinct was to refuse, but the smell of chocolate wafted invitingly in the small kitchen.
Beatrice turned off the stove and poured from the small pot into two mugs.
"A chocolatier from our town makes these big balls of chocolate that you melt with milk," she smiled, approaching her by the kitchen island. "They're really good."
"Thanks," Alexa muttered, focusing her gaze on the thick, swirling liquid in her cup.
Beatrice blew on her drink. "I didn't see you over dinner tonight."
"I wasn't hungry."
The girl traced her fingers on the rim of her cup. "This place is nice, huh? My bedroom alone is like half of my entire house."
"Yeah," Alexa clasped her hand on her mug. "Um, I think I'll be going upstairs. Thanks for the drink."
"Oh," Beatrice blinked at her before weakly smiling. "You're welcome. Have a good night."
Alexa wanly returned the gesture before retreating upstairs. She took a sip from her mug down the hallway, feeling just a little bit more remorseful when it tasted better than she expected.
to be continued