A Looming Shadow
From her window, Nikki could see the crowds moving in the direction of Legaros Tower, likely for some ceremony she had no interest in participating in. Still, she’d been surprised to see the king and queen of Sall Kingdom show up. She didn’t know one of their children went to school here.
She sighed as she closed her curtain, preparing to finally settle in for the weekend. She reassured herself it was just a few days before all the families left, meaning she could use this time to figure out what to do next. Her main mission was to get stronger, which likely wouldn’t be happening this weekend if she stayed inside.
Maybe she could ask Chetachi to spar with her. She shook her head. He was probably the last person to agree to something like that. Plus, she was certain Tyson had already dragged him off somewhere. No, she’d have to figure something else out.
She had just flopped onto her bed when she heard a knock at her door. She went over to answer it and was surprised to see Bella and Kim standing before her.
“Uh…what’s going on?” she asked.
“Don’t give us that look!” Bella rolled her eyes. “We’re not here to play board games or anything! Someone’s looking for you.”
Nikki’s brows furrowed in confusion. “What? Who?”
“Your dumb sidekick is outside,” Kim giggled into her hand. “He couldn’t figure out where your room was, so he kept shouting till he found ours.”
Nikki raised an eyebrow. “Well, what does he want?”
“What do you think?” Bella shrugged. “He wants us all to come outside.”
Nikki sighed and shook her head. “Of course he does…”
“So, are you ready or what?” Bella asked, already halfway out the door.
“What do you mean? You’re both going too?” Nikki asked.
“We wouldn’t normally,” a smirk crept across Kim’s face, “but we couldn’t help but notice Rowan has an…interesting sidekick of his own today.”
Nikki cocked her head to the side. “Who?”
“Only the hottest guy in school!” Bella called from down the hallway. “Not that it matters for you!”
“Is she talking about Lorenzo?” Nikki asked, feeling a strange flutter in her chest.
“Oh, come now,” Kim giggled as she pulled her out the door. “You knew who it was the moment she called him the hottest guy in the school. Don’t be coy.”
Nikki’s tried to make her expression as neutral as possible. “I-I’m not! I was just checking!”
“Sure,” Kim looked at her skeptically. “Why don’t we just head out now?”
Nikki let out a long breath before closing the door behind her. She and Kim caught up to Bella before they all made their way toward the dormitory entrance, where Chetachi and Lorenzo were waiting.
“Oh, hey!” Chetachi waved as the girls approached them. “Sorry, Nikki, I didn’t realize till we got here that I don’t even know which dorm you stay in.”
“What’s all this about?” Nikki folded her arms in front of her. “And why is Lorenzo with you? Did Tyson not carry you off with him this morning?”
Chetachi sighed. “You know he did, but I had an idea and managed to get away for a moment. Since the five of us don’t have families here this weekend, we should stick together!”
Nikki glanced at Lorenzo, who seemed to have already given in to Chetachi’s plan and no longer wanted to struggle against it. She felt a strange warmth in her chest, despite the embarrassment of being dragged along.
“And how do you want us to…stick together?” Nikki measured her words carefully.
“Well, Tyson mentioned the headmaster speaking at a ceremony in a few,” Chetachi shrugged. “So why don’t we all go together?”
“Why do we all have to come?” Bella groaned, shooting Nikki a sideways glare.
“It’s not as though all of us are tight-knit,” Kim added.
“Yeah, yeah…” Chetachi waved their concern away. “But I’m sure it’s better than sitting here alone all weekend, right?”
Nikki couldn’t help but agree, though she studied Bella and Kim’s reactions carefully. Bella still seemed to be glaring at her, and Kim was obviously trying not to laugh.
All things considered, they seemed like their usual selves. She stole a glance at Kim’s wrist and noticed she was wearing her silver charm bracelet. Nikki looked down at her own, its silver charms clinking together in the breeze.
Bella was also wearing hers.
“Okay, so it’s settled,” Chetachi said with a smile. “Let’s go to the ceremony thing!”
“He doesn’t even know what it’s called or what it’s for,” Kim giggled. “He never changes, that one.”
“Yeah, yeah…” Bella rolled her eyes. “Let’s just get this over with.”
The five of them made their way to Legaros Tower, laughing and joking all the way. Nikki couldn’t believe her eyes and ears. She never thought she’d be doing anything with Bella and Kim ever again, yet here they all were with Lorenzo. Nikki wanted to smile, but she wasn’t sure if she should. She had to admit, it felt nice to be part of a group again.
Maybe there was still a chance to save her friendships while she figured out a way to take down Legaros once and for all.
They finally reached Legaros Tower, where the rest of the families were gathered. A stage had been set up along with a few chairs and a podium. All of the faculty were seated on stage, and Nikki could make out Stufford, Naul, Lelele, her art professor Henri, Nurse Taffy, and many others she hadn’t seen before.
“Let’s find a spot!” Chetachi said, already looking around for less-populated spaces.
As they made their way through the crowd, Nikki couldn’t help but notice the stares from the other students, coupled with hushed conversations.
“Is that Lorenzo? Look who he’s with!”
“I’ve seen him hanging out with that Rowan boy before. They must be close!”
“Who are those girls? Is he dating one of them? I’m so jealous!”
“Ugh…” Nikki heard Chetachi mutter under his breath. Clearly, he wasn’t happy about the attention they were receiving. She chuckled, though she sympathized with his predicament. It probably wasn’t fun having to deal with this many teenagers when you were an adult pretending to be one.
“Hey Rowan! Over here!”
Nikki looked over to see Tyson standing with two adults who closely resembled him. Nikki studied them for a moment before concluding they must be his parents. It looked like she was going to meet them after all.
“Hey, why don’t we go stand with them?” Chetachi suggested.
“Whatever,” Bella shrugged. “I don’t think it matters either way.”
“We’ll follow you,” Kim added, flashing Nikki a wide smile. Nikki wasn’t sure where that came from, but with Kim, she was sure it meant some sort of impending boy drama she could use to tease Nikki later on.
As they made their way toward Tyson and his parents, Nikki noticed Lorenzo had gone completely silent, which wasn’t like him at all. He seemed to be doing his best not to draw any attention to himself. Tyson’s mother seemed on edge as well, her posture rigid even though she was smiling. His dad was a little harder to read, but something seemed off between the three of them.
“Oh, Ty, your friend Rowan knows a lot of people!” Tyson’s mother observed while studying Nikki and the others. “Popular with the ladies too!”
Chetachi’s shoulders slumped as he groaned yet again. “It’s…it’s not exactly like that.”
“Aw, Mom, don’t tease him,” Tyson said with an amused smirk. “He’s a real stand-up guy. He’s not like Tedd.”
Tyson’s mother chortled. “Well, you’re right about that! Tedd’s future wife certainly has her work cut out for her!”
“I’m Mart, and this is my wife, Sharon,” Tyson’s dad announced as he began shaking everyone’s hands. Nikki noticed when he got to Lorenzo he hesitated at first before finally extending his hand. Nikki exchanged a knowing look with Chetachi, but Lorenzo didn’t seem to notice.
“Nice to see you again, Lorenzo…” Mart said in a strange sort of way.
Lorenzo nodded and offered Mart a polite smile. “Likewise.”
Sharon also tried to smile, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “Lorenzo, how have you been? I thought I saw your parents earlier. Are they coming?”
The realization came over Nikki as she took in everyone’s body language. Tyson and Lorenzo were from the same city, but it seemed like their families also knew each other. It seemed as if there was much more to Tyson’s one-sided feud than Nikki initially thought.
Lorenzo started to answer, but Chetachi cut in. “They had something come up, so he’s with me today. Not everybody’s parents could make it this weekend, so we’re sticking together.”
“Oh, I…” Sharon exchanged a mournful look with Mart, and both of their expressions shifted into understanding. “I’m so sorry to hear that. Well, we’re used to having a lot of kids around, so please join us!”
Tyson didn’t seem pleased with this at all, though he didn’t say anything as Lorenzo moved to stand with the group. As Nikki watched him, she couldn’t help but wonder what exactly had happened between Lorenzo and Tyson in the past.
She couldn’t help but sense something terrible had happened, and it made her sad for Lorenzo. However, that wasn’t the only feeling growing in the pit of her stomach.
That sense of wrongness she’d felt in class the other day had returned. Nikki couldn’t shake the suspicion that something bad was coming. She then shook her head. No, that wasn’t it. It felt as if something was all around them like a dark cloud hovering just out of reach.
She looked around, trying to make sense of what she was feeling. Nothing seemed out of place, and from what she could tell no one else seemed to be on edge. Someone tapped the microphone, and everyone’s attention turned to Professor Avis, who was now standing at the podium.
“Welcome, students!” her voice was crisp but full of her usual no-nonsense attitude. “And welcome parents, siblings, and other family members! We are gathered here today to celebrate the accomplishments of our students and recognize them for their hard work!”
The crowd erupted in applause, and Nikki tried to focus on Professor Avis’s words. There was something about watching her that made Nikki uneasy. She’d felt it since the day they arrived at Legaros Academy, even though she thought it mostly had to do with the confusion surrounding Chetachi.
Now, she was beginning to understand that this was a recurring feeling, and it seemed like she was the only person aware of it.
“I will now hand it over to our headmaster, Dr. Phineas Chapman!” Professor Avis gestured to the tall man standing beside her, and the crowd erupted into more applause.
Dr. Chapman, as to be expected for a headmaster, wore a finely tailored suit with a red vest. He had several silver rings on the fingers of his left hand, which nearly matched his short but immaculately-groomed gray hair. His eyes were also a steely color and seemed to bore into you whether you were in his direct line of sight or not.
Still, unlike his faculty, Dr. Chapman looked about as ordinary as one could get. He stepped up to the podium, a pleasant smile on his face, and regarded the crowd before pulling the microphone up to his mouth.
And that was when Nikki noticed the figure approaching from above.