Black Sacrament


Chapter Three

New Haven Academy


"Please, Lu?" Ryder's eyebrow twitched, her breath coming slow and steady as Max stood in the bathroom door. Margery was just behind him, hands on her hips as Ryder slowly turned and set a withering glare upon her mother; in Marg's hand was a skirt, and not exactly one Ryder would call modest. The siblings mother continued as if neither had spoken previously, "A skirt is one of the most ideal things a girl can own, Ryder. And you said it yourself: your life has taken a turn, and a change was needed. So why not add this in as well?"

"Because I still have some pride left!" Ryder pulled on the white, collared long-sleeve shirt before shrugging her way into a dark hoodie. She folded the white cuffs over the ends, absently hunting for the jeans she had bought the night before. Max followed, a silent wall between mother and daughter as Ryder continued, "A change doesn't mean turning into a younger version of you. And the draft that comes with a skirt – do you have any idea how uncomfortable that can be?"

"It's not like it's much of an issue, anymore," Ryder paused and shot a look over her shoulder. It was quiet, for a moment. Marg stared, her blue eyes wide and lips slightly parted as the teenager slowly turned. Max leaned into her side, a hair from touching her side, as the teenager slowly murmured, "Regardless of my new interests in clothing doesn't mean my medical conditions changed, so don't pretend certain parts of me don't exist."

"I'm not pretending," Ryder ignored the woman as she made her way into her bedroom, gaze shifting to the open, stained-glass door. She crossed the room, her hand tucking around the short, flat inner door and then stopped. Mist rolled thick and heavy outside, and the tangled jungle of a garden below was coated in a layer of mist. Exhaling, Ryder closed the door, blocked the mist and the dark shadows, as Marg continued, "Being you isn't a bad thing, Lux. I never thought it was, no matter the challenges presented. However, if you want to change, to turn your back on what had happened, then you can't half-ass it."

"Half-ass?" Ryder slammed the door shut, one palm pressed firmly against the door. She leaned her weight into her arm, shoulders tense and back rigid. 'Half-assed, is that what she thinks? That what I'm doing, I'm doing only the–' Ryder drew in a breath, turning around as she said, "You have no right to say that, Margery. None at all. I can't go only half the distance? Then what have I been doing?

"What was I doing when I moved? What was I doing when I burned the bridges between me and that miserable fucker?" Ryder pushed away from the wall, catching the jeans Max tossed her way without breaking pace. She paused in the middle of the bedroom, voice hard as she continued, "I did everything I had to, for this to work. I left my friends, without a word. I quit my job, cashed in my car and gave up my phone. What more do you want?"

'She wants me to be a girl,' Ryder drew in a harsh breath, as that little voice wiggled its way into her thoughts. Traitorous, poisonous and unwanted; she yanked on her pants, slipping them over her soaks, and then tugged on her boots. She grabbed her backpack, shouldering past the woman in the middle of the room, and swept down the hallway. Behind her, near-silent footsteps followed her before Max said, "You're being hard on her, you know? We've all left behind our old lives."

Ryder cast a sideways glance at her brother as they left the building, both taking the long and winding road towards town. It would be a long walk. Max had his own backpack slung over his shoulder, and, when she said nothing, he continued, "Jefferson's gone. What's the likelihood of him finding you after everything we did to get away?"

'Kenan's resourceful. More than you could possibly understand,' Ryder shook her head, and then exhaled. They were closer to the town, now. She could see the shadow of it rising out of the morning fog, dark shadows of buildings on the rise as she said, "He found me before, Max, but this...farce, I can only hope it works. Being a..."

"A girl?" There was a slight playful, mischievous undertone to his words. She blinked, gaze shifting to her grinning brother as emerald eyes narrowed. He stepped to the side, drawing further away from her as he said, "It's not like you'll hit me anyway, given your distaste for physical contact. Anyway, boy or girl, at least you can understand the complexity of a woman's mind."

"Not really, no," Haven came rolling in, then. They stepped through the gate leading towards Hallow Point, keeping to the sidewalk as the quiet town washed over the two of them. "I don't understand another woman any better than I do another man. I act as quickly as I think, I can hold a grudge and let go."

"How do you know which one is right?"

"I don't," Ryder guided the way towards the massive school in the distance, hands stuffed in her pockets as they neared their destination. They paused halfway, Max's gaze shifting down a different street leading to a different school, and then his gaze shifted back to her as he said, "Well, whatever the case, try not to make any enemies on your first day. See you after school?"

"Always."

She made her way past the café, sometime later. She could hear a distant conversation, one voice oddly familiar. She opted to ignore it, for a time. It could be a family, having a Monday argument. As she made her way across the street, hand trailing over the hard stones of her new school's fence, the fog gone and the streets gleaming with residue water, the teenager exhaled.

'This can work,' Ryder adjusted her backpack, fingers tightening around the strap hanging off one of her shoulders. The voices rose, and she spied a few other students parting in waves around the school's entrance. She blinked, not quite sure what was going on. 'This will work, one way or another. Has too, this time. I'll make it work.'

"You stood me up and that's all you have to say?" Ryder slowed, another conversation coming to mind. As she rounded the bend, stopping at the foot of the stairs, she caught sight of Allen standing at the top. He stood with his feet wide apart, bright eyes narrowed. A few others were standing at the base, shifting from one foot to another as he said, "I waited all evening, you jackass. You didn't even bother to call me!"

"Why would I?" Her gaze shifted to another student, standing on the first step. He was directly across, and down, from Allen yet spoke as if they were eye-to-eye. She took note of the dark hair, the dark pants he wore and the white dress shirt. His own bag hung from one hand, almost touching the wet ground as he said, "It was raining earlier. Why would I go outside in that kind of weather, for you of all people? Now move, you're blocking the way and causing a scene."

Allen seemed ready to spit something right back at the dark-haired boy before his gaze zeroed in on her, and this his eyes widened. Then he grinned, the smile so wide and large Ryder feared it might just jump off his face. The light-haired teen made his way down the steps, shoving his male counterpart out of his way.

"Ryder!" She jerked out of the way of an oncoming hug, swiftly turning so she could keep her gaze on him. Allen hit the ground, sprawled out on the damp stones as she said, "Honestly, Allen, jumping off the stairs isn't all that smart."

Allen sat up, rubbing his face as he asked, "Jeez, Ry, did you have to move out of the way?"

'At least he didn't deny the statement,' Ryder shook her head, a small smile emerging regardless of the start of the day. She stepped forward, pausing at his side as she said, "I did, yes, though it was nothing personal. Now get up, and let's get inside. Rain's coming."

"Coming?"

"Yeah," her gaze shifted to the sky, the light grey clouds darkening in the distance. She made her way up the stairs, Allen on her heels as she continued, "I have a knack, for knowing the weather if rain's involved. I like being dry.

"By the way, mind swinging me by the office?" They were crossing the school's courtyard, the grass dark and rolling. They made their way indoors, slowing as the heat seeped through their clothing. Ryder exhaled, enjoying the feel of the warmth as the other teen led the way through the winding hallways.

He was talking, though little of what he said stuck. Instead her gaze roamed, sweeping over vast hallways and distant staircases. Allen did point out the cafeteria – it was underground, beneath the school, and she idly wondered who decided on that ill-thought idea. What if there was a flood? It would be dangerous, being stuck down there with a mass number of students with water pouring down the steps. Impossible to move, the water rising and knocking the living together like puppets tangled on a string.

It took little time for them to reach their destination, the two pausing at the door. Allen entered first, and, as Ryder stepped into the room, blinked. It was bright, in this room. The woman behind the desk, her face was lined and eyes dull. Yet she was smiling, as she talked to the energetic boy who leaned on the desk.

When he turned back to her, his voice was chipper, "Mina will be with you soon. You can go ahead and wait in her office. I'll wait out here."

"You don't have to wait," he held up a hand, pausing her flow of words as he said, "Course I have to. Who else will show you to your class, once you're done? Now go in there, take a seat and wait."

There was no arguing. Ryder crossed the room and entered the office. The door swung shut behind her, and she idly walked around the room. The walls were covered in shelves, half-shelves, counters and pictures; she paused in front of one oil painting, gaze on the stormy sea and the dark, red sun on the horizon. The sea around it, reflecting the sun's light, almost looked like blood.

There were countless books and binders, the second structured by a series of dates and numbers. It was an odd sight, really. Everything was orderly, in place, and, as Ryder ran a finger down one of the book's spines, the door to the office opened. She turned, blinking as a woman stepped into the room. Mina, Allen had called her. She watched her from the side of the room, emerald irises following the woman to the desk where she sat.

"Lux Ryder," the woman hadn't even looked at her, but spoke softly nonetheless. "It is not often I have a student like you. I do hope you won't have any trouble, here at NHA. Please, take a seat."

Ryder sat. Across from her, the woman continued, "I am Headmistress Mina, though you may refer to me by Miss Mina. Either works,

"Now we need to discuss a few things, if you don't mind," Ryder blinked, watching as the Headmistress brought out a folder. It was slid across the table as Miss Mina continued, "I have no tolerance for fighting, as a forewarning. Your records are astonishing, in that area. You condition has been noted, along with your preference. The teachers have been notified, but the students will only be told if you wish to tell them yourself."

Ryder shifted in her seat. 'Unlikely. I'd rather not tell them anything, if I can get away with it.'

She ran her palms across her jean-clad legs, silent as the woman across from her eyed her. After many long minutes, the Headmistress sighed. Then Miss Mina was rising from her seat, voice soft as she said, "Textbooks stay in the classroom, but there is an online copy of each book in the school's online campus. NHA strives to prepare students for university, so how we do things here are similar to what you will find in a college or university. If you do have any questions, don't hesitate to stop by here or ask Allen."

She was dismissed, then. Ryder stood where she was, by the bookshelf, as she took in Miss Mina's tired and worn appearance. Dark bags outlined her eyes, and, after a moment, Ryder took the folder offered before stepping out of the office. Allen was where she had left him, though now he was quiet and sitting with his elbows on his knees.

He looked up, when she entered the room. Allen stood, then. Neither said anything, as they made their way out of the Headmistress's office, silent as they walked through the academy's long, wide hallways. After fishing out her class schedule and handing it over, Allen led the way.

They made their way to a different building, and, as they crossed the campus, Allen finally broke the silence as he said, "The Admin. Building is separate from the rest of the school. A lot of the professors have offices in there. The school itself is made of various buildings, though being in the tenth grade means you'll have the usual. History is towards the center of the campus."

"Wait a moment, that entire building was the administration building? What about the cafeteria?"

"There's one down there, like I said," Allen was grinning then, eyes alight with laughter. He turned on his heel, walking backwards as he continued, "It used to be a school, Admin. That was years ago, though. Though all makeup tests are done there, and so are any labs you might have to makeup if you miss school."

"I've come to a conclusion," Ryder said as they entered a building that read NHA-H, her gaze sweeping over the letters as the light-haired teen raised a questioning eyebrow. As they made their way through the building, making their to the second floor, she couldn't help but grin when his other eyebrow joined the other when she said nothing. After a moment, he finally said, "You can't say you've come to a conclusion and then not say what it is! Don't tease me."

They paused in front of one door, and, as she placed her hand on the doorknob, she smiled at him before saying, "This school is filled with rich bastards. Now I'm going in. See you around, Al."

She didn't wait for him to respond, opting to close the door in his face and turn her gaze on the teacher waiting near the desk. He watched her for a moment, silently taking the note she passed over before directing her towards a desk at the back of the room. She felt the teacher's gaze on her as she crossed the room, content to ignore the questioning looks thrown her way.

She sat, thankful that a textbook was already on the desk. She opened her bag, fishing out a notebook and pen before pausing when something else within caught her attention. As she placed the folder she got inside, she pulled something else out – a journal, of some kind. Old and worn, the leather flexible and bending under the weight of the paper it held.

She sat it on the table, not quite sure where the thing had come from. She flipped it open, eyeing the blank, faded pages that were stained a darker hue around the edges. It was old paper, yellowed but clean. The inside cover bore no name, nor anything in general. It was, all-in-all, and empty journal seemingly found its way into her backpack.

'Where did this thing come from?' Ryder didn't remember packing it, back at Hallow Point. She ran a hand over the leather cover, silent as the teacher started his lesson a second time. She was tempted to open her textbook, but, as she sat in the back of the class, shadows drifting over her, should was unable to shake a rising sense of unease. 'Why was this in my backpack? Who does it belong to? Why do I have it? And how did it get into my stuff without me even noticing it?'

Questions, they rose one after another. She ran her hands across the old book, quiet as her gaze shifted to her backpack. It was open, the thick folder Miss Mina had given her before peeking out of from the confines of its new imprisonment. She turned the book this way and that, flipping through the various blank pages with a frown. As she sat at the desk, textbook in front of her, she could only wonder why some random, unknown diary was stashed in her bag.

And, more importantly, what was she going to do with it now that she had it in her belongings.