Dinner was a simple affair, which was good since everyone had to be finished in time for the Team Announcement ceremony at six o'clock. Cory sat at the Team Brown table next to a kid with curly hair who he'd pointed out to Charles as Ross. Charles sat with Louis at the guest table once more and told him what he'd been up to all day. He told him about everything, from the one-sided fight, to the secret passageway, to the library. He wanted to leave out the part about Lennon, but he thought that if he did, it would only cause more problems later on down the road. He just wanted it all to be settled and it was better that Louis hear it from him, or so he believed. No matter what Lennon had done, Charles was willing to give her a chance. It wasn't up to him to judge whether or not she deserved to be alienated. He was afraid Louis would feel the same way Cory had if he found out from someone else.
He shouldn't have worried. Louis agreed with Charles that Lennon should be given the benefit of the doubt. After all, what harm could a pretty girl do? Charles rolled his eyes at Louis's romantic response and finished relating his experience. Louis told Charles that he'd finished his book and had met some new people. He'd gone out onto the grounds, where the physical training teacher was supervising a game of soccer. He had never played before, but the boys had taught him and now it was all he could talk about.
"The school has a intramural soccer club. They can't play with other schools because it could make everything more dangerous. Imagine if a zombie showed up at the school they were competing at. We could be totally exposed. Anyway, the guys said that I picked it up really fast and they wouldn't be surprised if I made it onto one of the teams next year!"
He went on to describe all of the sports offered by the school's intramural athletics program, including football, lacrosse, basketball, cross country, baseball, softball, volleyball, and basketball.They'd also had a boxing club a few years back, but it was discontinued after the entire team got detention for various acts of violence. Everyone agreed that the situation was ridiculous because all of the members had already been violent before they joined boxing club and the school required all students to take martial arts, so they could defend themselves. It also enabled them to attack others, whether or not they were in boxing club.
"Oh yeah, I forgot. I actually heard about the fight," said Louis. "During lunch I was talking to the soccer guys. Miss Perry didn't show up, so I sat with them. Someone said it was a kid from Team Brown and a kid named Eric, but they all made Eric out to be the good guy. They said Cory was a good guy and Eric was just shutting him down."
"If Cory was a rebel, Eric probably wouldn't have attacked him so freely. Cory just closed his eyes and tried to ignore Eric's nonsense. Believe me, Eric is not a good guy at all."
"They were probably just misinformed," said Louis.
Charles scoffed. "This wasn't a one time thing. So this time they didn't actually see it, but it's impossible for them to have avoided it completely. They have to know what Eric is. I'm sorry Louis, but really there is no way."
"Oh, well," Louis said, shrugging. "At least now if I get onto Team Brown, I'll have some outside contact."
Charles laughed and stood up. "You won't be on Team Brown. You made a good impression today. I, on the other hand, got involved in a fight between a Team Maroon member and a Team Brown member and ruined the Maroon's day. I also spent the rest of the day with the Team Brown member. Do I or do I not look like first rate Team Brown material?"
"That can't be how they decide the teams," Louis said, rolling his eyes.
"Eric promised me I'd be on Team Brown and Cory made it seem like he actually had some leeway in the matter. I'm pretty sure it's already set in stone. You said it yourself last night; something strange is going on here, and now we could have a small idea of what that is. And it's not just the students. Exhibit A, Miss Perry."
Louis squinted. "You could be right. Or maybe everyone on Team Brown is as crazy as everyone else says and they're rubbing off on you."
Charles threw her hands up in defeat. "I guess we'll see tonight," he said.
The boys went straight to the ballroom from the cafeteria. Charles had already forgotten where it was. The school was just so big, one tour wasn't enough to ingrain a map into his mind. Luckily, Cory caught up with them as they were leaving the cafeteria.
"I can't let my Eric repellent leave without me," Cory said, patting Charles on the shoulder.
Charles smiled. "Hey, Cory. This is Louis. Louis, this is my friend from Team Brown. Are you sure you want to hang around here? What will your soccer buddies think?"
Louis shrugged. "They'll probably just think I'm misguided or something, since I haven't been here long. They'll take it upon themselves to show me 'the light.'"
"That is certainly possible," said Charles. "Now, Cory, I have no idea where we're going. There are only a couple things I remember from the tour, and the way to the ballroom is not one of them.”
Cory graciously led them to a high ceilinged room with a chair covered floor. A platform stood at the end of the room, which also held several chairs. It seemed to be used a sort of stage. There were already people in the room, finding seats and chit-chatting, waiting for everyone else to arrive.
"We don't have to sit on the stage, do we?" Charles asked.
Cory shook his head. "They'll tell you when you need to go up there, if it's anything like the last one. Can you imagine them trying to fit fifty sixth graders up there? That would be a nightmare and probably impossible."
They found seats near the front and they were soon joined by most of Team Brown F. Lennon was the only Team Brown member that Charles knew other than Cory, but he'd heard Ross's name from both of them, so he was really looking forward to meeting him as well as all of the others. Lennon sat by Louis, who was sitting on Charles's right, and the rest of the team sat by Cory, on Charles's left. Some older Team Brown members took the seats behind them and so did a few Team Navy members, reluctantly shaking hands with some of the Browns and patting Louis on the back. Charles smiled, guessing correctly that these guys were the soccer players Louis had made friends with. It appeared that Louis's notion was pretty accurate.
"Hey, man," said the curly-haired kid who had just sat down next to Cory. "I'm dying to meet this new guy everyone's been talking about. Which one is he?"
Cory gestured to Charles. "Ross, meet Charles. Charles, this is Ross."
Ross grinned and held out his hand. "Dude, you're a legend. You've been here, what? Two days? Everyone's been talking about you. I've got to say, I agree with you about Eric; he's definitely not human, even though he looks like one."
"It's nice to meet you," Charles said, shaking Ross's hand. "I've heard a lot about you too."
"Some good, I hope. Not as good as what I've heard of you, I'm afraid. What you did for Cory was really brave. It was incredible, to say the least. I almost didn't believe it when I heard. I should have done it a long time ago. I guess I just didn't think it would solve anything."
"Like Cory keeps reminding me, we don't know that it has. It could have just made things worse."
"It's always better to try though. If it does make things worse everyone will at least know that someone tried to make it better and they'll regret not doing something themselves. I already do. Even if you have to endure the pains of Eric, you will have at least tried to change things, and there's not much more any of us can do other than try. We have no control over Eric, only over ourselves."
Charles leaned over to catch Lennon's eyes. "I guess you were wrong about this one, Lennon."
"There you are," said a bored voice.
Just behind Lennon stood Mr. Buckley, staring disinterestedly at Charles and Louis.
"I see you've both met my team," he said. "It seems I forgot to mention some key things. The headmaster would like you both to sit up on the stage since there are only two of you. When he calls your name, you will stand and walk to the front of the stage. You will restate your name and state your generation, then wait for them to announce your team. Then you will go back to your seat. Is that clear?"
Charles sighed and nodded.
"They'll show you where to sit when you go up there," Mr. Buckley said. "Enjoy."
Charles and Louis approached the platform hesitantly and we're greeted by the man they knew to be the headmaster. He was sitting in a chair towards the back of the platform next to Mr. Simmons. He directed them to ascend the stairs and take two remaining seats. They sat and tried to avoid looking at their audience, which was growing larger by the second and most of which was staring at them curiously. Charles took a peek at the Team Brown group and saw that Lennon hadn't moved an inch. She was sitting by herself, separated from all the others by a gulf of empty seats, those that Charles and Louis had just vacated. He didn't have much time to think about it because the headmaster had just risen from his seat and the ballroom doors were closing. His attention was drawn to a podium at the platform's head.
"Good evening, students," said the headmaster into the microphone. "Tonight we have two students with us who still need to be placed on teams and here we are for the purpose of announcing those teams. Before we do, there are a couple other matters that must be addressed. Most of you were here last year and are familiar with our Student of the Month program. For all of you new students, I will now explain. Every month we recognize a single student for an extraordinary accomplishment of some kind. Since our program is short tonight, we have decided to combine the Student of the Month announcement with tonight's event.
"I am proud to announce that September's Student of the Month is James Franklin from Team Green D. Mr. Franklin, if you would come to the stage, we have your award. James Franklin is being recognized for his outstanding mastery of marksmanship. Mr. Franklin started studying marksmanship last year and took time out of his summer to practice and he has mastered this skill in a mere nine months, breaking the school record by two months. Congratulations, Mr. Franklin."
A thin boy walked quietly to the stage amid the cheers of Team Black and some students from the other teams. The headmaster shook his hand and gave him a polished wooden plaque. Once James Franklin had left the stage, the headmaster returned to the podium and continued his address to the audience.
"Two days ago we announced the very first training exercise of this school year. At this time we will reveal the challenge. This training exercise is a brand new event planned by Team Green's Mr. Simmons. He will now introduce the exercise."
The headmaster took his seat and Mr. Simmons replaced him at the podium.
"I know I'm not a history teacher, so please bear with me. The training exercises have been a part of Glowpeak Academy from the beginning, when the founders realized that students not only needed to be taught the skills they would need to survive, but also how to unite those skills when they really needed to use them. The training exercises are a series of tasks, or challenges, that teams compete in throughout the year. They may seem a lot like games, but trust me, when you're finally out in the field, you'll see just how useful these exercises are. It is my pleasure to announce that the first training exercise of this year is a brand new challenge I like to call 'The Messenger.'"
"'The Messenger' is designed to build your communication skills, develop your strategic judgements and creativity, and to practice one skill that we don't explicitly teach here: how to be productive under pressure. This challenge will teach you some things about what life is like in the field and will prepare you for that type of future. Other tasks will prepare you for other professions like desk jobs, or science, or sometimes teaching jobs, but we thought that this exercise would be a great way to start. You can all speculate for the next two or so weeks about what this task entails, but you will just have to wait to find out until October 20. Each team will be briefed and split up into grade levels. Each will be competing against the other teams in their grade level. Have a great month everyone and we're excited to see you all on October 20.”
The headmaster returned to the podium, smiling widely and rubbing his hands together. With a dramatic voice characteristic of a showman or magician, he sent Charles a wave of anxiety.
"And now, the moment you've all been waiting for: the Team Announcements. Mr. Durand, will you please come to the podium."
He stepped back a little to make room for Louis, who stood up and introduced himself to Glowpeak Academy.
"My name is Louis Durand," he said, tapping his index finger on the seam of his jeans. "I'm a second generation Flesheater slayer."
"After a long discussion, we all decided that only one team would be the perfect fit for Mr. Durand. We have decided to place Louis on Team... Navy!"
The cheers erupted from all over the ballroom and Louis smiled, looking relieved. Charles heard a catcall and saw Lennon stop clapping to plug her ears. The boys behind her were giving Louis a standing ovation and a couple of them were whistling. The headmaster shook Louis's hand and Louis returned to his seat and Charles stood up anticipating what would come next. The headmaster noticed the motion.
"This one's smart," said the headmaster laughing.
A few other people joined in and Charles walked to the microphone, hoping he didn't look too nervous. He saw Eric sitting close to the stage, towards the front of the room, smirking at him. He just ignored him.
"I'm Charles Brooks," he said into the microphone. "I'm a first generation Flesheater slayer.
"This young man was even harder to place than Mr. Durand, particularly since there were only two teams left that we could place him on. Team Maroon, however, has decided to keep a team of nine this year, so Mr. Brooks is officially a member of Team Brown."
The cheers seemed even louder now, but they weren't welcoming cheers this time. Other than Ross, Team Brown almost wasn't cheering at all. It was Team Maroon he could hear. Eric led the chorus and from it emerged a chant that could probably be heard from beyond the ballroom walls. Charles couldn't quite make out what they were saying, but someone else could. A member of Team Brown sitting near the Maroon horde jumped out of his seat and lunged for one of the chanters. He looked like one of the older students, as far as Charles could tell from where he was standing, and he also looked like he was just about ready to unleash his pent up anger on the whole team at once. Mr. Buckley had already left his seat in anticipation of such an occurrence. He beat the boy to the group of Maroon students and managed to hold him back. The chant died down, trickling into laughter and the Team Maroon kids took their seats. Miss Perry's smug face followed Mr. Buckley as he guided the boy back to his seat and approached her.
In a voice just loud enough for everyone to hear and just soft enough to reflect the calmness of his personality, Mr. Buckley said, "Miss Perry, you really need to learn to control your students."
He retreated back to his own chair, having wiped the taunting smile off of his colleague's face. Charles sat down next to Louis and watched the headmaster glare menacingly over the podium until the entire audience had fallen silent. Charles fully expected him to address the situation right then and there and just give everyone detention. He certainly looked angry enough to do so. But he did nothing.
"That concludes our Team Announcement Ceremony. I hope you all sleep very well, because anyone who is late to class tomorrow morning will get detention. Goodnight and may you all stay safe and honest."
Cory came with Louis and Charles to retrieve there luggage from the guest room since Charles had also forgotten the way to the Team Brown F boys' dormitory. A Team Navy member that Louis had played soccer with earlier came along too, so he could guide Louis to their dormitory. He was an athletic looking boy who basically ignored Cory and Charles the whole time. They split up at the end of the hallway, each group branching off into the school.
Charles was about to ask Cory what Team Maroon had been chanting at the ceremony, but he was suddenly distracted by a projectile that was flying towards them. They both dodged it and it barely missed them. They turned to see what it was as it hit the floor with a clatter. It looked like a weight of some sort, maybe a paperweight. Charles heard Cory gasp and followed his line of sight in the direction they had been walking. A few feet away stood Eric, smiling menacingly and probably wanting revenge.
"I told you, didn't I?" he asked. "I said I'd make sure they put you on Brown."
"Thanks," Charles said. "For a minute there I was worried I'd be on Maroon and I'd have to put up with you. I think I would have just gone back home at that point."
"You saw how Perkins reacted to our chant. He doesn't care about any of you on Team Dirt. If it had been you, then he would have just sent your whole team to detention."
"What were you guys chanting, by the way? You weren't quite loud enough for me to hear. Maybe Perkins ignored you all because he couldn't tell whether or not it was worth his while."
Eric's expression contorted into rage. "Don't mess with me, Brooks. You don't know what it'll cost you."
"You just came here to talk, didn't you? To taunt. You're not actually going to do anything without your friends around to support you. Or control you when you've gone too far, like you almost did this morning."
"You think you're clever," said Eric, slowly moving closer to them. "You think you've got me all figured out, but you're wrong. I didn't invite my friends to this little event. It's personal. Besides, if all my friends were here with me we'd be attracting too much attention. I don't want to make a martyr out of you, because I know that's how Team Dirt will see it. No, I want to deal with you man to man."
"I don't want to fight with you, Eric," said Charles, "but I will if I have to."
"Really? You don't want to fight? You seemed pretty hungry for a fight when we were out in public. What changed? Your audience?"
"Can't you just leave us alone?"
Charles and Cory were walking backwards down the hallway, trying to increase the distance between them and Eric. They'd have to go through him to get to their dormitory. Charles was honestly just stalling and hoping that Eric would realize what a terrible idea he'd had. Cory, while moving away from Eric had also managed to move toward Charles, tapping him on the shoulder once he was close enough to do so. Charles glanced at Cory and suddenly knew what he was thinking. He thought they should use their only escape route, the one he'd been using for a month already to keep away from Eric: the secret passageway. He nodded and just as Eric determined that whatever they were communicating could not be good for him, they bolted down the hallway. Eric had thought they were ganging up on him and as it dawned on him that they were running away, he took off after them.
The chase didn't last long. Eric quickly remembered that the only path to their dormitory was through the hallway in which he'd confronted them. They were probably trying to draw him off so they could get past. Simultaneously Charles and Cory had locked themselves in a classroom. Charles wasn't sure how this was going to help them, but he trusted that Cory knew what he was doing. Cory was moving boxes out of a corner of the room and Charles joined him there.
"You know that second secret passageway? This is it," said Cory.
He hefted the last box and stepped on the baseboard. In a similar manner to that of the first passage's entrance, the wall swung open to reveal a hallway that seemed to end abruptly. The boys ran through the passage, turning sharply almost immediately and twice more towards the end and eventually reaching a wall. There was no periscope, but there was still a lever and Cory pulled it, stumbling out into a closet with Charles flying after him. They were in a janitor's closet. They navigated carefully through the cleaning supplies and found the door unlocked.
The passage hadn't taken them very far from where Eric had been waiting for them. Knowing that he had probably returned to his original position and was most likely just around the corner from the closet they had just exited, Charles and Cory tiptoed, shutting the door slowly to make as little noise as possible. They tiptoed all the way down the hall to their dormitory, barely managing to keep themselves from racing away from potential catastrophe. Cory took a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. Clambering through the entrance and locking the door behind them, Charles and Cory slumped against the wall and dropped Charles's bags. They were finally safe.