Hey everyone, I'm so excited to be bringing you my first ever mystery book. To all of my CBALMK people welcome to fiction press! To all fiction press people welcome to the book. Please know I will be discussing this book each week on my channel 'Francois Thurston' (otherwise known as comment below and let me know). I'll be uploading once a week on Mondays (Australian Time).

Enjoy.

The 17th Victim

Written by Francois.T.

Chapter One – Sarah Charleston.

BANG!

Bang…Bang…Bang…!

The bullets ricocheted from the gun and found their intended marks. Screams filled the whole hall, at least that's what the killer assumed. To them there was nothing but complete and utter silence.

A woman in a royal blue dress held her hands up in slow motion, her blonde ringlets slowly bouncing as she slowly shook her head.

Please…don't! the killer was sure she was saying.

But it didn't matter.

A moment later the trigger was pulled and like others around her the blonde woman in the royal blue dress fell to the floor limp and unmoving.

Dead.

Somewhere off in the distance the killer heard the cry of a man in a dark blue blazer.

"You don't have to do this!" came the muffled cry.

But, moments later – just like the others before him – the man too fell to the floor.

Out cold.

Dead.

Only one person remained a man in a black suit who now having seen the man in the blue blazer knelt down and sobbed over his dead body.

"You did this!" the killer yelled out enraged. "That is why I saved you till last Dark Moon. I wanted you to see what wrath your brought on! And now…it's your turn."

The man dubbed as Dark Moon felt colour rushing from his face. His body shook and tears welled up in his eyes. There was remorse coming from him - that much was clear - but as the cunning would always say; it was too little, too late.

"S-s-sunbeam!" Dark Moon begged. "P-p-please! It doesn't have to b-b-be t-this way! We c-c-c we can r-run away t-t-together-"

"Silence, you vindictive sack of scum!" Sunbeam replied.

And as though he had no control over it, Sunbeam felt his arms raise the gun in his firm gripped hands, his right finger – as though in extreme slow motion – pulled the trigger.

BANG!

A moment later Dark Moon, victim 16, fell to the floor clutching his heart.

The shot had been perfect, there'd be no coming back from it.

Like the others Dark Moon also lay there.

No longer wailing.

No longer pleading.

Dead.

Sunbeam took a look around at the damage that had been caused. 16 people, all dead at their hands. But emotion was starting to take over and was that-

Was that…regret?

What have I done? Sunbeam thought.

Rummaging in his cloak, Sunbeam withdrew their cell and made a call to the one friend they knew would be there for them.

Sarah Charleston.

Placing the phone to their ear, the killer heard the ringing sound as it attempted to connect them to their friend.

Suddenly a crack of thunder made Sunbeam jump.

The weather outside had begun to erupt into a storm. Flashes of light could be seen coming through the window.

Come ON Sarah! Sunbeam thought frantically as another crack sounded. Pick up!

Sunbeam couldn't help but slowly scan the room as what they'd done had really started taking a toll.

16 bodies…

16 stories…

And now one executed killer if Sarah didn't pick up soon, Sunbeam thought as annoyance rose up owing to the call not connecting.

"The person you are trying to reach is not available at the moment," came a sudden voice of an operator. "Please leave a message after the-"

Sunbeam disconnected the call and yelled out in rage!

She said she'd always be there! Promised she'd come running if ever her friends were in need! They'd all done a blood oath for Christ's sake!

But apparently that oath meant absolutely nothing to Sarah.

Slamming their phone inside their robe once more, Sunbeam raced over to a clipboard of blank papers attached to the wall and grabbed the pen attached to a string with their gloved hand.

When Sunbeam had finished writing the note they threw it under one of the portable staircases that lined the hall.

Thunder cracked, the loudest it had all evening and the killer jumped.

Making sure their hood was up and concealing as much of their face as it could, the killer burst through the door and into the rain knowing exactly what they needed to do to conceal their involvement.

Back in the hall lighting flickered in time with its thunderous counterpart, and every time the light hit the bottom of the staircase it flashed on a note that read:

I'm sorry for what I have done, I just couldn't take it anymore – Sarah Charleston.

"*"

As Sarah and her friends walked down the corridor of their school a sense of excitement could be felt between them. Sarah had been a student at Pascal High for over 11 years and now in her 12th she'd decided to make some changes and join some clubs. She'd tried the fashion club, but it's leader Sandy Wilson had taken one look at her casual style dress sense and scoffed:

"I don't think we have what your type is looking for, please leave."

Hurt but undeterred Sarah had continued looking for clubs and found the perfect one the following day. She recalled the moments as though they were yesterday, though to be perfectly honest it was a good 4 months ago.

Sarah knocked on the door of room 19 and a girl with long black hair tied back in a tight pony tail answered the door.

"Hi there," she'd said cheerily. "Can I help you with something?"

Sarah had taken a moment to appreciate not being tossed aside or having the door slammed in her face, before explaining her situation. She'd explained how she needed to join a club but had been rejected several times. She ended her story explaining what happened at the fashion club and the black haired girl smiled, her eyes widening with excitement.

"That must have been terrible!" she empathised. "I wonder why they'd reject you? Come on in and let's discuss it."

Surprised as she was, Sarah agreed and moments later had found herself being introduced to everyone.

The girl with the long black hair was named Leyla Winship and it turned out she was the head of the club. A brown-haired girl with blue eyes was Sarah's next introduction, her name was Robin Kemp and she'd been a member for a year.

"Pleased to meet you Sarah," Robin had said kindly. "Are you joining us?"

Sarah – still not even knowing what the club was inquired instantly. Everyone's friendly nature seemed to be rather infectious after all.

"It's the Philosophy Club," Marcus Paton a boy with black hair and blonde highlights said. "If you were to become a member of the group, we only require a mind that is willing to think beyond the scope of simple-minded acceptance."

"Ignore him," a boy with brown eyes and a backwards placed dark-blue baseball cap said. "My name's Jason. Jason Martinson, and the only requirement for this club is loyalty."

Sarah smiled tightly wanting to appear nice and kind on the surface and yet not really knowing if she'd even fit in. How could she offer loyalty to a group she'd only just met? And as for her mind, hadn't she proven 'simple minded' acceptance only the day before when Sandy Wilson had said they weren't what she was looking for?

Leyla, sensing the tension suggested Sarah just watch for the moment and called a meeting to order.

"*"

It seemed interesting enough, Sarah mused. A question was asked, and rather than end it with what Marcus called a 'simple minded' answer, everyone seemed to contribute theories as to why something had happened, everyone having their own thoughts and ideas. Everyone contributing to the discussion.

That was except for one person.

A boy, who sat next to Sarah, dolled up in gothic make-up and clothing to match, seemed to be writing something down in what appeared to be a journal. When the other 'philosophers' began a discussion about the boats in Mainland, Sarah took her opportunity to talk to him.

"Don't know much about these boats either huh?" she asked, a smile creeping across her face.

The boy looked up from his journal and snapped it closed a little too quickly. His voice was very soft and dark as he replied.

"I'm only here to delay going home," he said. "They leave me to my writing and I give them another member."

The boy went back to his writing, but Sarah was so intrigued she couldn't help but say;

"I'm Sarah, what's your name?"

"Mason," the boy replied. "Mason Wilkie. But associates can call me Mace."

"Associates?" Sarah questioned, though her already genuine smile grew a little wider.

Mace couldn't help but smile back. Sarah seemed different to the others. It was almost as though she were as lost and confused as he was.

"Those I choose to associate with," he replied.

"*"

Sarah's mind came rushing back to the present as she gave the hand holding hers a squeeze. Ever since that moment in room 19, Sarah and Mace had grown closer and now 4 months later had been exclusive for the last 2. Sarah had worked wonders on Mace, who nowadays spoke more and more during club meetings and had more than enough theories to rival even Leyla, which indeed was saying something.

"I'm so excited!" Sarah couldn't help but say to the group at large.

Aside from the others who had already been involved in the club, there had recently been 1 new recruit, Deven Jeffers.

Deven was really nice and ended up getting on really well with Jason. So well, rumours had started flying about the pair actually being together and their constant spending 'alone time' together hadn't helped things. Robin always intervened on the pair's behalf telling everyone in no uncertain terms that they were simply 'good friends', but the other's figured she was just being nice. With Leyla and Marcus having known each other since the 6th grade the good news was that now everyone had somebody whenever the group wasn't together, which was almost always anyway.

The original group of 6 had actually gotten so close that on Mace's insistence, they'd done a blood oath together, swearing they'd be there for each other no matter what and so far, that system had not failed. Everyone was more than willing to drop everything for the others.

However, as much fun as the group was having, Leyla and Marcus were continually getting frustrated over the fact that Principal Westcott and Vice Principal Bullard would not accept their group as an official club, completely defeating the purpose of the pairs involvement (who wanted to use the club on their college applications). Both teachers had advised the pair over and over again that they needed 7 members and a school announcement to be considered official.

Was it any wonder then – Sarah thought to herself – that Leyla and Marcus were so overjoyed when Deven had joined last week? Not surprisingly – headed by Leyla and Marcus – the group had used the remainder of the week planning their announcement to the school; what to say, how to say it and – as you can imagine – coming up with all the theories on how the school or faculty may react.

"It's perfect," Leyla beamed, smiling at Sarah who was on her left. "Every nook and cranny covered."

"Every potential argument dealt with," Marcus agreed.

"All the students will want to join!" Robin chimed in.

"Why wouldn't they?" Deven added cheerily. "You're the nicest bunch of people anyone could ever wish to know."

"Right back at you Dev," Jason replied, while everyone else shared secret looks.

At half past 8, all seven had made it to the hall everyone buzzing with excitement. Sarah gripped Mace's hand a little harder as nerves began to take over but Mace smiled back at her and his piercing eyes and pearly whites – as per normal – had done the trick.

"Ok everyone," Sarah said surprising herself with how calm she sounded. "Let's do this."

As they were at the front of the group Sarah and Mace gave the door a confident push and it flung open.

But what they saw next had their jaws dropping. Their eyes opened wide as Robin let out a piercing scream from behind her.

"*"

"Sixteen people have been found murdered at Pascal High this morning," a reporter could be heard saying as all 6 friends stood huddled near the hall's entrance. "Though why these murders occurred in the first place is a mystery to everyone. The police are asking anyone with information to step forward."

Sarah looked around at the 16 bodies that were yet to be removed. Cold shivers grew inside of her as she looked at the ones she knew.

There in a pool of blood with a clear bullet to the head was the school principal Mrs Westcott and lying next to her, the vice principal Mr Bullard. All the others were students or at least of student age.

"The most intriguing thing that officers are trying to work out," the reporter went on. "Is why all 16 were even here in the first place. The victims were found this morning by students who were intending to make an announcement about their club."

The reporter hastily made a move towards Sarah, who tried to back-up before remembering she was sitting against the wall surrounded by Mace on her left and Leyla on her right.

"Miss?" the reporter asked standing directly in front of her as a camera man attempted to shove the camera in her face. "What was your reaction when you noticed the 16 murdered victims in your school hall?"

Is she serious!? Sarah fumed internally. Is she really asking me to speak right now?

Fortunately, Mr Tims the science teacher, stepped forward.

"There's no need to involve students at this time," he said hurriedly. "I will be making a statement later on today, however for now I'm going to need to ask you to leave school property."

The reporter did not seem happy about this. Scowling at the teacher with a sheer look of anger flashing in her eyes, she turned to the camera man and motioned him to walk away with her.

"You really don't need to be here for this," he said to the group softly. "Why don't you all take the day off?"

"But Sir," Leyla protested. "We were going to announce our club to the school today! If we don't do it, we won't get credited for the work we've put in!"

Mr Tims' once understanding face flashed red, as anger pierced through his eyes and onto the offending student.

"Ms Winship!" he replied sharply. "This is hardly the time or place to be discussing your little club!"

"But sir!" Leyla implored. "It's really really prudent that-"

"What is prudent right now Ms Winship," the educator chimed in. "Is that you leave at once!"

Leyla went to protest again, but Sarah stopped her.

"He's right," she said. "Let's go."

"Yes," the educator agreed slyly. "Wouldn't want to stick around here now after…everything."

"Everything sir?" Sarah asked, confused at his sudden change in tone.

"Indeed Ms Charleston," Mr Tims said. "I don't know how long it will take the-" he lowered his voice slightly. "Investigators to work out how suspicious it is that you six of all people, were the first to discover the murders. But I for one will not be persuaded by those who think a student incapable of possessing the predisposition."

Sarah's mind raced.

Was Mr Tims really accusing her, or any of her friends of carrying out the murders? Quiet Mr Tims who hardly ever said boo to anyone?

"I do indeed also find it interesting," Mr Tims went on. "That you called the police before alerting any of the teachers. As acting Principal of this school-"

Several glances to one another occurred behind Sarah's back as she continued to gape at the man hardly believing a word of what he was saying.

"I will be giving you the honour of receiving the first detention this evening," he concluded.

"But sir!" Layla protested. "That's not fair."

"You two Ms Winship!" the educator bellowed. "For your inconsideration for the dead. Now-" he went on as all other members looked fit to burst. "Get to your classes. Ms Charleston, Ms Winship, my office when the final bell rings."

No one dared to say a word, picking up their belongings they departed from the room being sure not to say a word till they were completely out of ear shot.

"Can you believe him?!" Leyla yelled. "Giving us detention for doing the right thing?!"

"What would he have done if we hadn't?" Marcus mused pompously.

"Covered it up I'm sure!" Leyla replied.

Deven and Jason were so caught up in the argument coming up with their own theories that they didn't notice Robin signal to Sarah and Mace to follow her.

"I actually agree with them," Sarah said confidently as they rounded the corner and stopped.

"Me too," Mace replied automatically.

But Robin didn't care simply slipping her hand into her pocket and passing Sarah a white piece of paper with trembling hands.

"I noticed this," she began her voice shaking as she said it. "While the reporter was questioning you. I'm glad I did too considering the circumstances with Mr Tims and-"

She stopped, noticing Sarah was listening to her but not looking remotely interested in unfolding the note.

"Well," she said. "Open it."

Sarah did and with Mace looking over her shoulder both drew in a very sharp breath.

"I'm sorry for what I have done," Mace read aloud. "I just couldn't take it anymore - Sarah Charleston."

"I mean…" Robin said softly. "I need to ask…I don't believe it…but…did?-"

The moment the word came out of her mouth Sarah snapped at the whimpering girl.

"Did I commit the murders?!" she screamed. "Are you serious Robin?!"

"Give her a break," Mace replied, pacifying Sarah by rubbing her shoulders. "It's only natural for a member of the Philosophy Club to be curious."

"And yet," Sarah replied, whirling around to face him. "I don't hear you questioning me."

As Robin took the one free moment she had to speed off back in the direction of the group, Mace looked down at his girlfriend.

"I don't need to," he said assuringly. "I would never accuse you of murder. You don't have a murderer's mentality. I should know."

Though Sarah looked at Mace rather offensively, his laughter settled her immediately.

Leaning in to his warm embrace Sarah kissed Mace softly.

"Thank you," she said softly.

Suddenly Mr Tims walked past them in such a rush he didn't even seem to notice their presence. Sarah's eyes narrowed as they followed him down the passage they were in.

Once he'd gone, she looked back up at Mace so seriously he nearly jumped.

"But I think I know who does," she said as her mind began to race with all the reasons why.

"*"