THE HIGH SCHOOL

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: High School Romance


THE HIGH SCHOOL By P. C.

Prologue 

The citizen of Malfesan City hurries inside their homes as the biggest storm of the year arrived once more. It’s not an actual storm, but something so powerful that it will determine  everyone’s future. The sky goes dark and the bellringers start shouting. 

“Prepare for the first day of autumn. The High Day has come again!” 

The bellringers keep shouting as they pass every single home in the city, from the honorable  Top Row, through the industrious Middle Row, and end at the dreaded Bottom Row. Some might  say the High Day is the best day of their life. But to some, it’s a living nightmare. 

“This is very bad. I forget that the High Day is almost here again,” says a disgruntled  middle-aged woman. 

A maid comes to wipe the woman’s sweat. “What happened at High Day?” “I forgot that you’re new to this city. It’s the day that the High School of the Top Row will  send invitations to their school.” 

“What’s so terrifying about that?” 

The woman keeps fidgeting with her fingers, walking back and forth in the living room.  “You don’t know how awful that school is. It’s a school for future assassins that’ll work for the  Top Row. Only a few managed to get accepted inside and even less managed to get out of there  alive. I’m very worried that my daughter will get invited there.” 

“Can’t you just refuse the invitation?” asks the maid, following her. 

“You can, but with a great price. The High School is the most honorable school in this city.  The price of denying their invitation will cost a fortune. Even as a Middle Rower, I’ll be forced to  move to the Bottom Row if I have to pay that much of a fine.” 

“And what happen to those who can’t pay it?” 

The woman sighs. “The teen will be killed.” 

The maid is petrified, she stares in unbelief of what the woman says. “But why is that law  even allowed here?” 

“I don’t know. The law is made by the Malfesan City Council. Every single one of its  members are a Top Rower. I don’t know what happens up there.” 

The woman looks at her and then turn her back, staring outside of the window. She looks  at the tram station that connects all three rows of the city then stares at the huge High School above the mountain, just located slightly above the High Row. The school is made out of black stones of  the mountain that it’s built on. A few lamp shines dimly at school’s steel gate. “What’s that crater beside the mountain, Madam?” asked the maid. 

“That’s what’s left of this city’s war before my husband and his friend sacrificed their life  for the peace of this city.” 

The maid looks down. “I’m sorry for your loss.” 

“I’m just worried that I would lose my daughter, like my husband,” says the woman,  tapping the window frame. 

“Don’t worry, Madam. I’m sure this family will be just fine at High Day.” “Thank you for the positive words, I really needed that,” says the woman. “There’s only a  few minutes until midnight. Let’s hope the High School will ignore this family.” The woman talks to herself. C’mon, Margaret. Have hope in yourself. Nothing will ruin  this family. 

Margaret sits on a sofa, looking at an antique grand clock. She blankly stares at the moving  pendulum while tapping her hands. The clock hand keeps ticking until it hits midnight.  Suddenly all light in the city turns off. There’s ruckus from the streets. The High School is  sending all the invitation now. Not long after, all the lights turn on again and the ruckus are gone.  It’s dead silent now. 

“Madam.” says the maid shaking. 

The woman looks at her and suddenly went pale as soon as she saw something changes in  her house. There’s an unknown mail on top of a table. 

“No, no, no…, that can’t be the invitation mail,” stuttered the woman. 

The maid walks closer to Margaret with fear. “Should I bring it to you, Madam?” The woman nods slowly then rested her head on the sofa. The maid picks up the mail and  give it to the woman’s cold palm. Margaret sighs as she saw the High School’s stamp on the mail. “Oh, how could this happen to me? Why did fate have to choose my family?” complains Margaret. 

“So what do we do now, Madam?” asks the maid. 

Margaret looks down. “I have no other choice than paying the fine.” 

“But that would mean…”

“Yes. I must sell this house, fire you, and move to the Bottom Row. I’m really sorry but I  have to do this. I won’t let my daughter to go to that place.” 

The maid looks down. “It’s okay, I understand.” 

“Would you mind getting this letter far away from me?” 

“Sure, Madam.” 

The maid was just about to throw away the letter when she hears something from the door. “Mom, what is that?” 

Margaret gasps and quickly looks at the door. There stands Sam, her daughter in a red  dress. The maid instantly hides the letter behind her back. 

“Why are you here, young lady? Aren’t you supposed to be asleep?” asks the mother with  a straight face, trying to hold her demeanor. 

Sam looks unimpressed. “It’s the High School invitation, isn’t it?” 

“I will not let you to go to that school. It’s a school for bloody assassins. Your life is always  at stake. Why don’t you think of that?” 

Sam walks forward. “We live at stake every day as a Middle Rower. One day we’re  enjoying the drinks, the next day we’re gone to the Bottom Row. If I succeeded on that school, we  could live in the High Row where everything is safe.” 

“We’re not at stake. We’re save here.” 

“It’s only an illusion of safety. Every day, people are being killed mysteriously. That killing  didn’t happen in the Top Row. I want to save this family, like my father who saved this city from  the ongoing war,” says Sam angrily. 

Margaret raises her voice. “You will stay here no matter what. I’m not letting you to  become an assassin. You’ll be dead if you go there.” 

“Then if you rejected that invitation, we would live in poverty in Bottom Row. Isn’t that  the same as losing our live? There’s more murder down there,” says Sam while still walking. “Such impudence! Go back to your room right now!” says Margaret loudly, pointing at the  opened door. 

Sam stops walking. “No.” 

“This is the last warning, young lady. Go back to your room,” threatens Margaret. Sam glances at her surrounding then looks back to her mother. “Sure.”

She snatches the letter from the maid’s hand and get away. She slams the door, running  through the hallway filled with paintings. Margaret and the maid try to chase her but Sam has  already locked herself in her room. 

Margaret repeatedly knocks the door. “Open up and get out, young lady. You’re in a great  trouble.” 

“You told me to go back to my room. I’m in my room now.” 

“Fine then,” says Margaret as she stops knocking. She turns back to the maid, “I want you  to guard this door. Don’t let her get out of this room until next day comes.” “Okay, Madam.” 

Sam overheard the conversation from behind the door then thinks to herself, Why can’t my  mom just understand how I think? It’s much safer in the Top Row. 

From the crack under the door, she sees a shadow of legs standing in front of her bedroom  door. Sam couldn’t get out anymore now. She walks to her paint-stained bed while looking at the  invitation mail. The invitation letter falls out of the mail and lands on her bed sheets. Sam leans  on the wall and starts to read it. 

“No, that can’t be. The acceptance ceremony is in the evening and if I don’t go there, the  High School won’t accept me anymore. That must be why my mom told the maid to stay in front  of my room. This means I must go now. I must be a part of the High Row, for the safety of my  family.” 

Sam looks at her surroundings. There has to be a way out of here. 

She stands up and slams her hand on the window frame. Her brain is fizzing out from  thinking a way out. She looks down, staring at the ground two levels below her, then looks up at  the High School that starts to glow brightly from the inside. Smokes are up in the air as the tram  busily delivers the new High School students. I need to catch one of the trams before it’s too late. 

She looks to her surrounding, looking at the window, multiple canvas drawings in the  corner, then the curtain. I think this is the only way out. 

Sam pulls the curtain out, trying to make as little noise as possible. She keeps looking at  the bedroom door as she keeps pulling until the curtain’s chains are broken. The maid doesn’t  notice anything happening inside. Sam pulls all of the paint-stained curtain and ties it together to  form a rope, connected to the bed’s leg. 

She was about to throw it out the window when there’s somebody walking to her room.

“Sam, I’m sorry that I yelled at—” Margaret stops herself. “What are you doing? Don’t  you dare go out of that window!” 

Sam holds the curtain tight. “Why won’t you understand me? This is for the better of our  family!” 

“You becoming an assassin doesn’t make this family better.” 

“This is the only chance we can live savely on the High Row.” 

“If you go out of that window, then you’re no longer a part of this family,” yells Margaret. “Fine then.” 

Sam throws the curtain out of the window then jumps down. She holds the curtain and  lands on the ground safely. 

Margaret screams from the window. “Get back here!” 

It was too late for Margaret to chase her. Sam’s already halfway to the tram station when  Margaret opens the front door of her house. 

Sam walks through the streets of Middle Row. Lamp shines on the cracked cobble road.  Houses stands tall beside the streets. Every house looks the same except for the wall colors. The  cold winds of the night strike her but Sam is determined to get to the tram station. That night,  everything is just cold and silent. 

“Everybody must’ve left to the High School. Hope there’s a tram still active now.” Sam breathes out a gush of cold air as soon as she hears someone yelling from the tram  station. 

The tram machinist shouts to the air. “Everybody up the last tram of today. Once again,  last call for the new High School student to come aboard.” 

“Wait for me,” yelled Sam. 

“Come quick then, young lady.” 

The tram is filled with people roughly the same age as Sam. She quickly hops onto the tram  and nudges a person with a blue cloak. 

“I’m sorry,” says Sam. 

The person spits. “Damn Middle Rower.” 

The machinist closes the tram’s door and drives the tram up the mountain. Sam stands near  a window and stares outside as the tram goes from the Middle Row to the Top Row. “Studying at the High School will be the best thing that has ever happen to me.”


Miseries 

Alex 

“The High School invitation!” I say, holding up the letter. “Mom, I did it! Are you proud  of me?” 

My mother smiles with her wrinkly face. “Of course. I’m so happy my son got accepted at  the High School. I’m so proud of you.” 

I smile at her. “I won’t let you down. We can finally get out of this cursed Bottom Row.” “Quickly open the mail. When’s the ceremony date?” 

“It’s this evening. I have to go now.” 

My mother smiles widely. “We should go now. We don’t want to be late to the tram  station.” 

I fold the letter and slip it in my pocket. My mother picks up the only clothes I have—a  torn dirty blue cloak—and gives it to me. I wear it while looking at my home for the last time  before I head to the High School. The scrap metal roof that creeks every night, the thin wood wall  that separates us from the noisy neighbor, and the cracked pipes that always leaks to my bed. I  won’t miss this place once I brought my family to the Top Row. 

My mother smiles as we head outside of our home. From the outside, my house looks like  an unstable stack of woods that could topple at any time. This is the best house my family could  afford in the Bottom Row. Most of Bottom Rower even says that my family is quite fortunate to  get this house. But sadly, this is nothing compared to the houses on the Middle Row, or even better  ones in the Top Row. Maybe in the future, as a Top Rower, I can change the Bottom Row for the  better. Hopefully this wish will come true. 

“Wait I forgot something,” I says. 

“Quickly get it then, we don’t want to be late.” 

I run back to the house and pick up my flute from on top of the broken stool. This is the  only thing my father gave me after he died not long ago. I still visit him sometimes, in a form of a  statue just outside of Malfesan City. Will I even have a chance to meet his statue once I’m in the  High School? 

I run out of the house and closes the door. “I have everything. Do you want me to play  Dad’s favorite song before we go?”

“Don’t waste more time. Quickly now,” says my mother in a hurry. 

My mother keeps saying that I’ll be late to the tram station if I stay here, but I know the  real reason she wants to get away from the house quickly. The biggest problem down here isn’t  drugs or crimes, but tax collectors. Those Middle Rower always finds a way to make our lives  feels like hell. Those money-hungry hounds always find the worst day to make people’s day worse,  including during the High Day. But if my mother and I can get to the Top Row before they do,  then we’ll be safe forever. Those Middle Rower can’t do anything against the Top Row. 

We run through the narrow and disorienting streets of dirt. Beside it, houses are stacked on  top of each other, supported only by fragile wood pillars eaten by termites. Most of the windows  are broken. The woods keep creaking throughout the streets. Everything looks like it could topple  someday. Drug addicts fill the streets with bad odor and smokes. I couldn’t see much ahead  because of the drug’s smoke. 

Suddenly the Bottom Row news teller appears in front of us and stops us. “Yo, Mama  Hostia, why are you running?” 

The news teller is a tall man with a clean-shaven face. He wears a torn brown coat and an  old navy cap. 

“Emori, I can’t stop right now. Alex here got accepted to the High School. We need to go  to the tram station quickly,” says my mother while sweating heavily. Seems like age took a toll on  her body. She wasn’t this weak a few days ago. 

“Slow down there, Hostia. I heard the news that the last tram is going late today because  of a problem so you don’t have to worry.” 

My mother sighs. “Okay then. Do you have any other news today?” 

“Just the usual drug gang wars on the other side of the Bottom Row. Also there’s another  murder on the slaughterhouse near the city outskirts.” 

I talk spontaneously. “Another one?” 

“Yes, Alex. Seems like the serial murderer of the slaughterhouse got another victim. Good  thing it wasn’t us Bottom Rower that became the victim.” 

That murderer can’t seem to rest. Another week, another victim. But it’s just another day  in this crime-filled city. A murder a week is nothing compares to the other problem this city has. “Well, goodbye then, Hostia. I will always be here if you need me,” says the news teller.

“Thank you, Emori. I will visit you, but I must go now,” smiles my mother. “Let’s not  waste any more time.” 

We continue running through the streets, turning left and right through shortcuts to get to  the tram station as fast as possible. My mother tries to keep up, but she looks very tired. “We’re almost there, Mom. Just a few more corners,” I say, holding my mother’s hand. We turn to another shortcut but the path is blocked by someone. All of my happiness is  suddenly gone. It’s a woman dressed in formal clothing accompanied by two muscular brutes  armed with bat. 

“Well, well, well. I wouldn’t guess I would meet you two here,” says her while smirking. I stare at her seriously. “Trija, I’m definitely happy to see you here.” 

“Well, why are you here? I’m quite sure it’s not to pay the tax, right? Do you get accepted  at High School? Nah, that can’t be. You’re just a poor boy in the Bottom Row. How sad,” mocks  her. 

“My business is my business. Now, get out of the way,” I say loudly. 

“I’m afraid I can’t. You two haven’t pay the last tax. Well, you better pay up or you two  will be in miseries,” smiles Trija. 

“I’m already living in miseries down here. Mom, take my flute and go to the tram station  without me. I’ll handle this,” I say while handing my flute. 

My mother takes it. “Take care, my son.” 

She runs as quickly as she could, going to the tram station on another street. Behind the  fragile walls of the stacked houses, I still could hear my flute singing in the distance. I take a stance. “Now there’s only me. Let’s start it already.” 

Trija smiled. “As you wish.” 

She waves her hand forward. The brutes run to me but I’m very ready to fight them again.  I won’t let them beat me like the last time. The first brute swings his bat. I dodge it and  counterattack with a punch to the arm. Shit, I didn’t hit his face. 

The second brute punches and hit me in the guts. I elbow his jaw and he falls down. The  first brute hit me in the back. I fell and hit the ground hard. Beside me, the second brute is fainted.  I pick up his bat and swing it to the first brute’s shin. He screams as I hit him in the face. His body  fell to the ground. 

I spit out the blood from my bleeding gum. “Guess, there’s only the two of us, Trija.”

She backs up slowly. “Wait, we can talk about thi—” 

I rush to her and punch her in the face. “Now you’re the one in miseries.” 

I drop the bat and run to the tram station. In front of the rusty tram station, my mother is  standing anxiously. She’s not smiling when she sees me. Something is wrong. “Mom, let’s ride the tram. The brutes are not going to pass out for long.” 

My mother shakes her head. “I’m sorry, Alex. You must go alone.” 

“What? Why?” asks me surprised. 

A tram machinist comes to me. “Only a person with permit can get inside the tram. That  means only a person that have the High School invitation mail that can go to the Top Row.” I look at my mother. “But, that means….” 

“Just go, Alex. The High School is more important for you.” 

“No, I won’t leave my family alone.” 

My mother pushes me. “Just go!” 

I fell into the tram and the door suddenly closes. I quickly stand up and look outside. My  hand is busy knocking on the glass while looking at my mother outside. 

I scream out my lung. “Let me out!” 

“I’m sorry. Once you’re inside the tram, you can’t go out until you reach your destination.  It’s the work protocol,” says the machinist on the control panel. 

I slam the glass once more before I give up. I promised to bring my mother to the High  Row. I didn’t want to leave her at all, not with those tax collectors that’s still down there. They  will hunt her down like hounds. 

From the outside, I could hear my mother whispers to me. “Goodbye, my son. I love you.” The tram starts moving. Now I know there’s no way back to my family, except if I survive  the High School. I keep staring at my mother who watches me from below. Then, from one of the  streets, I saw one of the brutes running with a bat in his arms. I keep knocking on the tram’s  window but my mother won’t realize that he’s there. 

“Mom!” 

The tram keeps going up and moves behind the stacks of building. I didn’t get to see what  happens down there. I just stand there, staring at the blank background, remembering the Bottom  Row where I live since I was born. Why must I leave my mother at the worst time possible?

I keep staring at the window as the landscape changes from the murky view to an organized  neighborhood. There stand rows of houses with the same style. Lamps lit up the streets made of  stone. On the outskirts, I could see a bunch of factories that spews out smoke and waste. This must  be the Middle Row. This place looks way better than I thought. 

The tram stops at the next station and picks up a few Middle Rower. Then, there’s silence  throughout the streets. The Middle Row is way more silent than the Bottom Row. Must’ve been a blessing to live here. 

The tram was about to leave again when a girl with red dress runs to the streets. She hops  to the tram and hit me.  

“I’m sorry,” says the girl 

I spit to the floor. “Damn Middle Rower.” 

She then just stands near the window and stares outside. Middle Rower are worse than I  thought. Can’t fight, can’t do anything right, yet they control the factories and ruin the lives of  Bottom Rower. What a bunch of hypocrites. 

The tram starts moving again, this time faster. Up above, I could see rows of tall modern  buildings with the same style, same colour, same decoration. Everything in the Top Row seems so  monotone, so perfect, so boring looking. The tram goes past it and arrives at a tram station near  the High School. 

The High School stands tall against the mountain peak. The walls of black stones filled  with carvings of many people throughout history. Lamps glow brightly from behind the golden  curtains. The huge metal entrance door opens with its might. the door hides a huge hallway filled  with lamps and carpets. Golden cloth decorates the entire ceiling. Paintings and Statues fills the  hallway’s side. Music echoes through the hallway, filling my ear with beautiful notes that I’ve never heard before. 

I follow the carpet and arrive at the grand hall. It’s full of other people like me. Row of  tables are set. The smell of foods fills the air from inside metal containers. On the other side, there’s  a huge stage with golden curtains covering it. 

Speakers start speaking from each corner of the room. “Everybody please takes a seat. The  opening ceremony will start soon.” 

I took a chair in the middle of the room and look at the stage. The curtains open and reveals  the headmaster of this school dressed in a red robe. I’ve seen him multiple times from in the newspaper, the mysterious headmaster that’s also a member of the Malfesan City Council. Nobody  ever knows the reason he created this school or how this school become so popular so quickly. The headmaster picks up a microphone and taps it a few times. “Welcome my beloved  students to High School. I’m glad we could gather here this evening with a bountiful food that’s  been prepared for you all.” 

Everyone seems busy talking to one another. 

The headmaster continues his speech. “My name is Headmaster Fideli. Here in High  School, we value those who have loyalty, teamwork, and most importantly passion. Everyone will  be assigned to different sector of the school based on your hobbies that we have evaluated before.  There’s the Visual Art Sector, Music Sector, Literature Sector, Crafter Sector, and Performance  Sector. On every sector, there will be dorms that’s filled by two people each, no more, no less.  Now, let’s enjoy a performance from your seniors while we eat.” 

The headmaster walks down the stage with cheers from the other students. A drama starts  on the stage as the metal containers opens. There’s a lot of delicious-looking food, from the grilled  meat to the fried foods. I instantly took most of them and starts eating. Man, I haven’t eaten a food  as delicious as this since I was born. These Top Rower live like in heaven. I can’t wait to be a part  of the music sector and enjoy everything here. 

There’s a few more performance after most of the students finished eating, a few group  bands, dances, and poetry between those performances. After all of that is finished, a group of  people enters the room. They wore the exact robe the headmaster wore except that it’s white. They  give a piece of paper to everyone in the room. One of them gives me a piece of paper and I quickly  open it up. 

“Dorm room 555.” 

The speakers start speaking again. “Everyone, after you got your dorm number, please  leave the hall and go to your own dorms. Everyone is free to do anything for the rest of the day.” Everyone swarms the hall door. There’s lots of chattering and footsteps from the hallway.  I still sit on the table, waiting until the hallway is not crowded anymore.  

A few minutes pass and the hallway seems empty enough. There are a few students in the  hall when I leave. I hold my flute tight as I follow the directions on the wall. There are still students  talking in the hallway. A group of fancy-dressed Top Rower laughs at everything they could see. “Look, there’s a Bottom Rower.”

“Look at how awful that cloak is. Where do you think he got that from?” 

“The worst place at the Bottom Row, duh.” 

“How many drugs do you think he used down there?” 

“Isn’t drugs illegal here. He should just be kicked out.” 

I walk past them without saying anything. I need to hold my rage and use it when it’s  needed. Those weak Top Rower got nothing against me. I will prove it when the battle here starts.  I walk through several hallways and finally find my dorm room. Room 555, exactly as written in  this paper. I can’t wait to finally meet somebody else from the music sector. We will have lots of  fun together. 

I open the door and find somebody is already inside. She smiles to me with her bright red  dress while sitting on one of the beds. That dress seems familiar. 

“Hi, there. Are you my roommate?” asks her. 

“Room 555, right?” 

“Yes. My name is Sam. What’s yours?” 

“I’m Alex. Nice to meet you,” I say as I look at the modern dorm room. “It’s a nice room,  isn’t it?” 

“It really is. I don’t have this amazing of a room in the Middle Row.” 

“Middle Row? I came from the Bottom Row.” 

“Oh, that’s interesting,” says her unsure. “What it’s like down there?” 

“Awful.” 

Sam is fidgeting her fingers. “Oh, okay….” 

I throw myself on top of the bed and stare at the golden ceiling. “Can’t wait to play music  with you.” 

Sam stands up. “Music? I can’t play any musical instrument. I can’t even sing.” Wait, that couldn’t be right. This is supposed to be the music sector. Something is not right. I instantly stand up too. “You can’t play any music? This is the room 555, right?” “Yes this is room 555, exactly as what’s written in my paper.” 

“Then what sector are you from?” 

Sam speaks softly. “The Visual Art Sector.”


Enemies 

Sam 

“We’re from different sectors. We weren’t supposed to be in the same dorm room,” I say loudly to the headmaster at his office. 

Alex slams the headmaster’s table. “I won’t accept this mistake!” 

Headmaster Fideli crosses his arms. “There’s no mistake in this school, except for those that the students made. You two are in the same dorm room because there’s an odd number of  students in the Visual Art and Music Sector.” 

I sit back while Alex keeps debating with the headmaster. This room doesn’t feel like a  normal headmaster’s office. There are weapons on the wall. The shelf behind Headmaster Fideli  is filled with random items that doesn’t make any sense to be here. There’s a sheep figurine, a fake  brain inside a jar, and even a black straw doll. Some people do say that Headmaster Fideli is quite  eccentric, but I didn’t know how weird he actually is. 

Alex slams the table and stands up. “I don’t want to be in that dorm, no matter what.” The headmaster crosses his fingers. “Well, if you don’t accept this situation, then I could  just expel you and force you two to pay the fine.” 

Silence strikes the room. Alex looks surprised and then sits again. If I don’t accept my  situation, then I’ll have to pay my fine by my own since I’m no longer a part of my mother’s  family. I have no choice but to stay here, but my choice won’t matter if Alex still insist on leaving  this school. He’s so stoneheaded, maybe I could plead him to stay. 

I was just about to open my mouth when Alex starts speaking again. 

“Fine, I’ll stay here.” says Alex. 

I would never have guessed that he would agree to stay here. Alex do seem very hesitant about that choice. He doesn’t even look at the headmaster again once he says it. “Wise choice,” says Headmaster Fideli. “Now, kindly leave, I have other things to do.” Alex storms off to the door and disappear to the branching hallways. I walks outside,  glancing at the headmaster that’s sorting out files. Why do I have to suffer on my first day here? What does headmaster Fideli choose me of all people to be in the same dorm with Alex? Alex even  comes from a different row than me. All of the other people I ask is with someone from the same  sector. Why can’t I?

From behind the dorm room, I could hear a faint sound of flute whistling. I open it only to  find Alex is already there, playing his flute under the moonlight from the window. “Why are you playing that? It’s already night. You’re going to wake up everyone else.” He shrugs. “I’m just bored.” 

“Well, you better stop. It’s time to sleep.” 

“Fine!” scream Alex as he puts down the flute. 

I walk to my bed and lay down, staring at the ceiling. I rest my arm on the smooth bed  sheet and breath calmly. Alex stands up and walk to the light switch. 

“What are you doing?” I asked. 

“Turning off the light switch, duh. You say that I should sleep.” 

“Well, sleep. Not turn off the light.” 

“Oh what’s wrong with turning off the light? Are you scared of the dark, Middle Rower?  Well, I’m sorry that you Middle Rower sleep with lights on,” mocks Alex as he turns off the lights. “Why do you need to turn the lights off? Is it because you Bottom Rower always live in  the dark?” 

Alex seems offended by what I just say. He lays on the bed and stare at the wall. I close  my eyes and think of all of the happy memories I have to help me sleep. I’m not used to sleeping  in the dark before. Then, I hear Alex whistling beside me. It’s the same note as when he played  the flute before. 

“You can have the lights off, but could you shut up? I’m trying to sleep” 

“Fine!” says Alex slamming his head under the pillow. 

I face the other wall. What an awful day this has been. I mean, this is only the beginning,  right? How badly can this go. 

*** 

Tomorrow comes fast. The sun is already shining bright in the east when I open my eyes. The speaker in the hallways sings a tune that wakes everyone up. 

The speaker stops playing the tune. “Every new student, go to your own sector’s hall and  wait for the next instruction.”

Alex storms out of the dorm room, bringing only his flute. I stand up from the bed and  follows the group of students in the hallway. Everyone is wearing unique clothes, from the rough clothes of the Bottom Row to the fancy robe of the High Row, but they all are excited for what  will happen today. I can’t wait to see what this school have to offer me today. 

I follow the direction on the wall with curiosity, entering the Visual Art Hall with  happiness. A lone podium stood inside rings of gilded chairs. The ceiling is painted with realistic  paintings of divine beings. A teacher in white robe stands alone in the heart of the podium. 

“Welcome everyone. Please take a seat,” says the teacher with a welcoming face. Everyone rushes to sit in the front row. I walk slowly and take a seat in the middle. When  everyone is inside, all light goes dark and the hall door is closed. A beam of light shines from the  ceiling onto the teacher. 

“Welcome to the visual art sector. I’m Purla and I will be your mentor here. Let’s enjoy a  little show before we do anything.” 

Several screens come up from the side of the stage and starts playing an animation. It’s a  story about a High School student that just got accepted. He picks up a brush and starts painting.  Stroke after stroke, the paint turns redder. The paint turns into blood splotches. The brush turns  into dagger then there’s murder everywhere. At the end, there’s only that student left on screen,  everywhere else is drowned in red.  

The screens go down and Purla is still standing on the podium. “It seems that most of you  are shocked even though you shouldn’t be at this point. I’m disappointed.” Everyone goes silent. The hall now only echoes of the teacher’s voice. Now, she doesn’t  sound as welcoming as she was a few minutes ago. 

Purla sighs. “Turn the lights back on.” 

The lights go back on automatically. Everyone is looking down. I too don’t have enough  courage to look at Purla. 

“This is the High School. Everyone inside is taught on transferring our passion into perfect  assassins. Murder is like a measly bug here. You all should know on how to prepare for this school  before you even think on entering this place.” 

The room feels uncomfortable. Everyone is tense and so is Purla. 

“I think we have an understanding here,” says Purla. “Bring out the supplies!”

Several people with the same white robe as Purla barges in front the door. They each brings  a platter of different art supplies. The teachers stand circling the podium. 

Purla jumps down the podium. “Now, I want everyone to pick your passion so I can know  you better. Then, you can go to the arena to do your next program for today. Let’s start from the  front.” 

The first person walks shyly to the ring of people and chooses a brush. He then goes to the door, following signs on the wall. The second one rushes to the circle and hold proudly a pencil.  Everyone then goes one by one until it’s my turn. I choose the brush and walk out before anyone  else sees me. I enter the arena and wait there like the others. 

The arena reeks the smell of sweat and blood. There’s even a fresh blood stain on the wall  next to me. There are racks filled with melee weapons on the side. Purla is waiting in the middle  of the arena once every Visual Art student enters the arena. Then comes more student from the  other sectors with their teachers. 

As soon as the last student takes a seat, five teachers shout in the middle of the arena. Purla  is one of them. There’s no way to differentiate what sectors they’re from because they’re wearing  the same robe. 

“This is the arena. This is the only place where violence is not prohibited,” says a teacher  with a melodious voice. 

“At the end of each semester, there will be a battle here. You will fight together with your  dorm roommate and battle to find out who shall stay in this school. Those who loses will be killed,  if you didn’t get killed in the battle that is,” says another teacher. 

Purla steps forward. “There will be a battle tomorrow to test out your starting skills. Don’t  worry, there will be no killing tomorrow. Now, everyone can go back to their own dorm room.  Your supplies and battle equipment are already waiting. There will be a training dagger and  uniforms. We’ll be here if anybody wants to train for tomorrow.” 

Everyone storms off the arena, making a ruckus on the hallway. I stay back, waiting for  Purla to stop talking to the other teachers. The arena is quiet and there’s only a few people left on  the hallway. Purla stops talking to the other teacher and sees me, inviting me to come. 

“Start talking, lady. You look like someone who’s really eager to ask something,” says  Purla.

I walk to her. “Well, I want to ask more about the training here. Why is there no long ranged weapons here?” 

“How did you not know about the rules of Malfesan City? Long-ranged weapons are  banned in this city. Even as assassins, we have honor to follow that rule,” says Purla proudly. “Is  there any more question?” 

“I have no more question.” 

“Then go and open up your equipments. Don’t forget to prepare for the battle tomorrow.” Purla walks away from me and start setting up training dummies with the other teachers. I  leave the arena and run to my dorm. When I go inside, there’s a box with my name on my bed. Alex is there too. he must have opened his box because I don’t see it anywhere. I quickly open my  box and sees the art supplies I like and battle equipment inside. I take it and swiftly wear the  uniform. The training dagger shines dimly under the room light. I can’t wait to start training with  this weapon

Alex starts playing his flute again, leaning back at the wall. 

“Why aren’t you training? We have a battle tomorrow. Do you want us to lose?” “Well, unlike you fancy Middle Rower, I live in the Bottom Row where fighting is a  necessary to live.” 

“Okay then. But if we lose, I won’t forgive you.” 

He looks at me seriously. “I won’t lose anymore.” 

I leave him alone and head to the arena. The arena is already filled with students training  under the teacher’s guidance. On the other side of it, I can see Purla watching over the students. I  walk past everyone and comes to her. 

“Look who’s back here again. What is it, lady?” asks her with a welcoming voice. “I want to be trained. I want to be the best assassin here.” 

“Very optimistic, that’s good. Okay then, I’ll teach you.” 

I train as hard as I can under Purla’s guidance. She teaches me so many fighting techniques.  When the dawn came, I trained by myself on a dummy. hours of hard work have made my body  exhausted and I lose my guard. I fell to the ground, accidentally scraping my knee with my dagger. The few people left in the arena stare at me. I quickly take my dagger and walk back to my dorm  room. 

I barge right in and lay on my bed. Beside me, Alex is still playing his flute.

“Look who’s hurt themselves in training. Looks like we will lose tomorrow’s battle  because of you,” mocks Alex. 

“Could you at least shut up,” I say as I try to find a bandage inside the box. “Hurry up and cover your wound then. It’s already time to sleep.” 

“I can’t even calm myself down by painting for a bit?” 

“Not a chance.” 

Alex turns off the lights as soon as I finished covering my wound. He hums again but  quickly shuts himself. I spend the rest of the night in silence. 

*** 

“Wake up and prepare yourselves. Today is battle day,” says the speaker not far from my  room. 

I and Alex quickly rush to the arena that’s already half full. The battlefield seems different.  There’s barrels and boxes scattered everywhere. A teacher stands in the middle, watching as every  student enters the arena. 

“Welcome again everyone, “ says her. “For today’s battle, everyone must fight another pair  that’s randomly chosen. The battle will only stop if one person surrenders. Understandable?” Everyone nods their heads without saying anything. 

“Good, let the battle begin.” 

The teacher goes off the battlefield. A screen pops up, showing the first two pair that’s  going to battle. The two pair steps down to the battlefield and fights awkwardly. Neither of each team seems competent at attacking. One by one the students fight until it’s my turn to battle. 

I and Alex steps down to the battlefield as I watches my enemies. They seem fierce. This  won’t be an easy battle for me, especially with the wound I got yesterday. The battle starts and I quickly hide behind one of the barrels. Alex is standing in the open  alone. 

“What are you doing? We need to hide and make a strategy first,” screams I. Alex shrugs and drops his dagger. “That’s too slow.” 

He runs towards the enemies and punches them in the face. They attack back but Alex  manages to dodge half of it. I walk to the side of the battlefield, hiding behind the boxes. Alex almost gets knock out by one of the enemies. Then he punches the enemy and knocks him out.  With one of them petrified, I strike from the back and cuts his leg. He manages to cut my leg too  but he soon pleads to surrender and my battle ended. 

I grasp Alex’s arm and brings him outside of the arena. “We need to talk.” “About what? About how useless you are in that battle?” 

“Well, we should’ve made a strategy first so you wouldn’t call me useless.” Alex looks away from me. “Strategy is useless in the battlefield. It’s all about instinct and  adaptation to the enemy.” 

“Look at what your instinct does to us. You almost get beaten and I get hurt.” He looks back at me. “Well, we won, right?” 

“Yes, but we wouldn’t be hurt this bad if you listen to my plan first.” 

“Why are you always so slow in the midst of battle?” 

“Why are you so brash about everything? Are you that careless to everyone?” Then there’s a silence between us, broken only by cheering from inside the arena. Another  students must have won. 

“I’m done here,” says Alex while walking away from the arena. 

“Why are you leaving? There’s rules here you know. We must follow the schedule.” He shrugs. “Who cares.” 

“So you’re just going to leave me alone in the arena?” 

Alex looks back at me. He frowns his forehead, trying to look intimidating. “I will always  leave you every chance I got. Goodbye, enemy.”


Rivalries 

Alex 

Snowflakes has stopped falling behind my room’s windows. The snow is already starting  to melt today. I remember the chill wind of winter that seeps inside, but that’s nothing against the  heat that made me angry all the time. 

Sam is complaining to me again. “This is almost the end of the semester and you never  trained in the arena. We were almost beaten in the beginning battle. Do you know how much better  the other rivals are now?” 

I lay on my bed, putting my flute down. “How good can those fancy Top and Middle Rower  can be? I will win this fight for us.” 

“Would you at least listen to my plan this time?” 

“Keep talking about your plans even though you know nothing of what the battlefield will  look like now. All we need is quick adaptation.” 

“And how quickly can you adapt to disadvantageous situation?” 

“I live in the Bottom Row. I will adapt no matter what. We will win.” 

Sam sighs. “We need a miracle to win this battle if you keep doing this. I don’t want to  lose my life just because of your stupidity.” 

“Says the one who can’t stab people properly.” 

She looks pissed. “Fine then. I’ll go to the arena now. But if we lose, I will hunt you down  in the afterlife.” 

Sam leaves the dorm, slamming the door. I look away from it and pick up my flute again.  “Middle Rowers. Always talking but can’t do any shit that’s meaningful.” 

I start to play my flute again, whistling songs to calm myself down. I miss the time when I  don’t have to deal with this shit. My head still holds the memory of when I and my mother still  spend time together, when I visit the statue of my father not far from the city side. But I must stay  strong here. I will win this battle and be the best assassin to save my mother from the Bottom Row.  It’s sad that I can’t visit her now. No one can escape from the High School, but I might know a  way to visit my father’s statue again. I just can’t do it now, there’s a battle that I must win.  

I play my flute while walking to the arena. The arena is almost full when I arrived. Something has changed, the battlefield is shrouded in mist. I can’t even see anything inside it.  What kind of battle that’s going to happen today? 

When all the students are already sitting, a spotlight lights up, shining on Canya, my teacher  of the Music Sector. She stands proudly on a podium with her white robe.

“Welcome everyone,” she says with a melodious voice. “Today is battle day. Soon, you’ll  know if you fit in this school or in a coffin. The rule for today is the same. Your team loses even  if one person surrenders. But if you lose and you’re not dead yet, you’ll be executed. Please, do  your best today.” 

Another teacher walks to the spotlight. “Today’s battle is themed around sneaking and  using all of your senses. The battleground is filled with thick mist. You only have about one meter  of vision radius. Good luck everyone and do your best.” 

I can feel dread spreading through the other students. I don’t know the battle is going to be  like this. Why is this battle not the same as the battle at the start of the semester? I’m not ready  for this kind of battle. I can’t sneak around. 

I couldn’t see anything on the inside of the battleground. Two pairs of students come in,  there’s screaming inside, then only a pair comes out. The students who surrenders are put to a  room next to the arena. I can only guess what will happen to them. Soon, it is my turn to fight. 

Canya calls out my name. I and Sam goes down and enters the battlefield. There’re so little  things that I could see. How can I fight in this situation? 

The battle bell rings. I swiftly move to the side, hiding behind a box, aiming my dagger to  the unknown mist. From afar, I can hear footsteps moving behind the mist. They move quickly as  I walk around the battlefield. There’s a bang then the sound of footsteps moves faster. Daggers are  clanging from the other side of the battlefield, that must be Sam. Where’s the other enemy? 

Someone steps from the mist and attacks me. I dodge the first attack but she manages to  slice my legs on the second attack. I retreat to the mist, holding tight my dagger. She attacks me  again. I try to counterattack and manage to scrape her arm, but she cuts the side of my stomach.  Blood seeps out of my shirt. Shit, I will bleed to death if this continues. I’ll die no matter what, so  it’s better to surrender just to get a little more time being alive. I’m sorry Mom. 

“I surrender!” screams I. 

The battle bell rings again. Canya finds me and pulls me to the room next door. Sam is  with her too. Inside the room, I see all of the student that surrenders today. Everyone is sitting  alone, waiting for their time to end. 

“Thank you so much for the help, Idiot. Now we’re going to die because of you,” says  Sam. 

“Yeah, sorry about that.” 

“Oh now you’re sorry. That’s a great news at the perfect time,” says Sam pissed. She sits  on the floor, looking down. “It’s too late now. There’s nothing that we could change.” 

I sit next to her. “I’m really sorry, Sam. Maybe you have some words that are right.” She looks at me while slightly moving away. “Some?” 

“Yeah, some words.”

“You never learned anything do you?” says her while looking away. 

Canya barges in. “Alex and Sam, come out of this room.” 

“What is it, teacher Canya?” I ask. 

“You two didn’t lose the battle,” says her while she closes the room. 

“But how?” asks Sam. 

Sam’s teacher comes from the other room. “The other pair has been caught to be cheating  and breaking the law. By that, they are disqualified and you two are safe.” 

Sam walks to her. “Is that why I hear a bang, teacher Purla?” 

“Good observation. Yes, they use a long-range weapon. You two should already know that  it’s illegal to use those kinds of weapons.” 

Canya talks to me. “It’s a very rare occurrence that this happens. I think you two now  knows how hard it is to fight against other students, some you can even call rivals. If you two  keeps fighting against each other, you two will fail on the next battle.” 

Purla steps forward. “There won’t be another miracle for you two. Learn to understand  each other or else, you two will be dead next time. Now, go back to your dorm and talk about this. I have to watch over the next battle.” 

Canya and Purla enters the arena, leaving the two of us behind outside. 

All of this is too overbearing for me. My head start to spin and my heart is beating fast. I  need to calm myself down. There’s only one place that could calm myself. I walk from Sam, to a  place that I will never forget. 

“Hey, Alex, the dorm is this way. Where are you going?” asks Sam 

“Somewhere to calm me down.”


Memories 

Sam 

“Why is he so stone-headed all the time? Now I almost lose because he surrenders,” I says  while walking to my dorm. 

I bash the door and jump to my bed. I throw off my shoes then stare at the ceiling. My head  is fizzing out. It’s heating up every second I remember what just happen in the arena. I pick up my  canvas and brush, then start to draw. Only one stroke drawn and I can’t focus anymore. Out of  anger, I throw the canvas and stares at it blankly. What is happening to me? I need to calm myself  down or else I’m going to destroy everything here. Well, there’s only one place where I can calm  myself down. 

Just outside of the city, there’s two statue of people who save this city from destruction.  One of them is my father. Whenever I’m at that place, I feel calmness and happiness. But to go  there, I must go down to the Middle Row and walk outside the city barrier. I used to use my  mother’s money to pay the guards to allow me to go there. Maybe now I can use my assassin skills  to beat them. 

“I must go there, even if I have to break a little rule.” 

I rush out of my room, leaving my student uniform behind. The hallway is empty and  completely silent. The teachers must’ve been still preoccupied by the battle. It’s a good thing I  get to go out of the arena early. I open the school gate slowly and run towards the tram station. 

The tram machinist stops me. “Hey, stop there, lady. Why are you here?” 

“I’m told to pick up school supplies from the Middle Row.” 

“The school supplies are usually picked up at the Top Row. What’s with the change?” “The school wants to get it straight from the factories. It’s cheaper that way,” I argue. 

“Huh, even Top Rower still tries to get the cheapest price. Okay then, hop in,” says the  machinist, opening the tram door. 

I walk in and closes the door. The machinist turns on the machine and the tram moves  downward. 

The machinist talks again. “I feel save to finally get a sane person as a passenger today.” “What happened?” 

“A huge dude comes to me and beats me up. He told me that we’ll beat me up if I don’t  send him to the Middle Row. With how he acts, he fits to be in the Bottom Row, not the Middle  Row.” 

“That sucks for you. I hope you’re okay.”

“It’s fine. I get threatened everyday whenever I get to the Bottom Row. It’s a usual  occurrence if you work this job,” says the machinist. He steers the tram and stops at the Middle  Row. “There you go, the Middle Row.” 

“Thank you once again for your help.” 

He leaves the station as there’s no other passenger in the tram station Now, I’m in the  Middle Row. I can’t visit my mother because I’m no longer a part of her family. I no longer have  a home here. My memory of the path to the statues is vague, but I can still recall some of the streets  I have to go through. Some people stare at me while I walk to the gate. Must’ve been because of  my clothes that I got from the Top Row. I should’ve change to my old clothes before going down  here. 

I lost my way a few times but I manage to get to the city gate. The gate is a big metal door  with reinforced frame surrounded by thick walls, but something is not right. The gate handle is  warm and there’s no guard in sight. I look over the guard’s post and see them all knocked out.  What happened here? 

Outside of the gate, there’s only grass plains and mountains. No snow to be seen as spring  has already starts. No one is found to be alive beyond the walls. Someone from the inside must’ve  caused this. But who will do this? 

I walk beyond the gate and follow a path to my father’s statue. There are footprints here. I  think the person that caused the chaos at the city’s gate is at the two statues. I pull out the dagger  from my skirt and hold it tight in front of me. My feet steps slowly to the statue that’s surrounded  by sand. My father’s statue is chiseled perfectly except for a few mosses growing, meanwhile the  other statue’s face is now missing. When I was a kid, that statue still have its face. 

There’s someone sitting at the bench next to the two statues. I step slowly but he turns his  head. Hold on, that’s— 

“Oh, c’mon. Why can’t I get away from you Middle Rower?” says Alex, punching the  bench. 

“Alex? What are you doing near my father’s statue?” 

He stands up and points at my father’s statue. “That’s your father?” 

I step forward. “Of course he is. What are you doing here?” 

“That’s my father,” says him, pointing at the other statue. 

“Your father is a Malfesan City’s hero too?” 

He sits down again. “Duh, how do you think I manage to have a bearable house in the  Bottom Row?” 

I look down. “I didn’t know that.” 

“Of course you Middle Rower won’t care.”

I look back at the two statues, remembering it’s perfect condition when I was still a kid.  The two statues are a symbol of peace and change, now it’s abandoned outside of the city it saves. I sit on the bench. Alex moves away to the other end. 

“I’m sorry that your father’s statue is missing its face now,” I say. 

Alex looks down. “Now? I’ve never even seen his face on this statue, only from an old  photograph that’s gone now. I miss him sometimes.” 

“I still remember his face. Do you want me to draw his face?” 

He springs up to joy. “You can?” 

“Yes.” 

I stand up and look around. There’re a few sticks lying around. I pick it up and start to draw  on the sand. Alex stands up from the bench and walks towards me. 

He squats next to me. “How did you do that?” 

“I’m in the Visual Art Sector. I have passion for drawing and painting.” 

“No, I know that. How did you remember the details on his face?” 

I stare at him. “I don’t know. I just let my hand move and it fills all of the detail itself.” “That’s so amazing. I don’t know you could do that.” 

“Well, you never asked.” 

Alex stands up and sits back at the bench. He pulls out his flute and starts playing a tune. I  remember those notes. 

“Alex, is that—” 

“My father’s favorite song,” says we together. 

I sit next to him. 

“Yeah,” says Alex. “It’s the war song about the hardships of our father to reach peace for  this city.” 

“I don’t know it’s you father’s favorite song too.” 

He keeps playing the flute. I get so lost in its melodies that I forgot almost an hour have  passed. We spend time talking about our father and their journey to reach peace. It’s the most fun  I’ve ever had since I get inside the High School. 

Unknowingly, Purla is walking to us. 

“I’ve been searching for you since the last battle finishes. What are you two doing outside  this city?” asks her.

Alex seems nervous but I talk before he could say anything stupid. “We’re just talking.  You told us to understand each other, right?” 

Purla raises her eyebrow. “Well, I guess that’s true. At least there’s a good thing that comes  from your act today, but you two are still getting punished.” 

“For going out of the city?” 

“That and for beating up four city gate guards. You sure have a talent if you manage to  beat them.” 

Alex stands up. “That’s my fault. Don’t blame Sam, she’s not guilty.” 

“Don’t you remember. Everything in the High School must be done in a pair. If one of you  did it, you two must bear the responsibilities that comes afterwards. C’mon now, don’t waste more  time. A punishment is waiting for you two,” says Purla while walking away. 

We follow her, taking the same path back to the High Row. 

While on the way, Alex whispers to me. “Do you want to train together after the  punishment is done?” 

“Sure,” I answer gladly.


Besties? 

Alex 

Years have passed since the time Purla punishes us to do paperwork for getting out of the  city without permission. I spend more time with Sam, training, talking, even eating together. Our  relationship is getting stronger day by day. We manage to beat every battle with an almost excellent  teamwork. We’re undefeatable. 

Now, it’s the time for the final battle. The heat of summer won’t weaken me today. The  ones who pass will finally be an assassin of Top Row. With this title, I can finally bring my mother  to the Top Row to live here. She will be proud of me and I won’t let her down. 

I look into Sam’s eyes. We wear the same purple clothes. She smiles, moving my head to  the arena. The arena now feels so much emptier than the first time I come here. most of the people  that used to sit here are now dead. It feels haunting to sit in this arena, knowing that thousands of  people died fighting in the battlefield. There’re only a few rivals left on the arena. They all sit far  away from each other, whispering in their pair’s ear. With the amount of people left, there should  be only eight pairs of people left that will be an assassin. 

Canya stands on the arena. “Welcome my beloved students to the final battle. If you  manage to reach this point, that means you’re the best students on this school. It’ll be sad to see  half of you die today, but the High School only takes the best from the best.” 

Purla stands next to her. “Good luck everyone. Let fate brings you to victory. Let’s start  the battle.” 

The list of names appears from a screen. I and Sam will be the last pair to fight. This will  be interesting. We watch the closed battlefield when the first two pairs come in. There’s nothing I  could see beyond this cover. Seems like the teachers don’t want us to know anything about the  battlefield today. 

“Are you worried?” asks Sam. 

“No. I’ve trained together with you. We’re undefeatable as long as we stay together.” “Glad to hear that. Don’t be the same idiot that surrenders years ago.” 

I laugh with her. “And you don’t be useless like the first battle we did together.” She laughs louder. “I promise I won’t.” 

A few battles past. This time, there’s no one that surrenders. There’s only corpses and blood  that comes out of the battlefield. The victor goes back to their seat, looking at everyone else. Now  it’s time for me to fight in the battlefield.  

Sam nudges me. “You ready?”

“Exactly as you planned. I will meet you in the battlefield and we’ll make a plan together.” “Now you understand. Let’s fight our best down there,” says her smiling. 

“Lets.” 

The teachers put a blindfold for me and guides me until I’m inside the battlefield. I couldn’t  hear anyone, not even Sam’s voice. What’s inside this battlefield? 

The battle bell rings. I quickly opens my blindfold and find metal walls everywhere I could  see. My dagger stands steady in my grip, pointing at the endless walls of steel. Is this a maze? 

I swift through the maze, searching for the enemy. This time, there’s no mercy for them.  My grip strengthens every step I take. I haven’t seen anyone, not even Sam. Everyone is so silent.  No one wants to reveal their position. My arm hair is tingling from the unknown presence of the  others. Where are everyone? 

“Alex! Help me.” 

That’s Sam’s voice. I run as fast as I could, turning left and right to reach her. There’re  multiple footsteps running towards her too. This isn’t good. 

An enemy blocks my path. She runs to me with a dagger steady in her hands. She lunges  forward and cuts my leg. I manage to counterattack by slicing her in the back. Her movement is  quick, she strikes back and I almost can’t dodge it. I’ll be in trouble if I fight her alone. I need  Sam’s help. 

I run past her and straight to where I hear Sam’s voice. She’s fighting in the corner with  the other enemy. I run and stand next to her. 

“Finally you came,” says her annoyed. 

“Another enemy blocks my path.” 

The enemy I fought comes to the same corner.  

Sam readies her dagger. “Great. Let’s not lose this.” 

The two enemies charge forward. We step away and dodges it. I strike one of the enemy  and Sam attacks the same one. She quickly fell to the ground, dropping her dagger. I fight the other  one but get distracted by the enemy that wakes up again. I clash with the enemy in front of me. He  dashes and slashs, but I protect myself well enough to find his weak spot. I duck and slash upwards,  slicing his neck. His body drops to ground. 

“Alex!” screams Sam from behind me. 

Sam is laying on the ground. Her dagger is thrown away to the side. The other enemy runs  to her. I rush forward, readying my dagger. I leap forward. The enemy looks at me but it was  already too late. I slice her in the stomach. She falls, holding her stomach as blood gushes out to  the stone floor.

Sam is still laying on the ground. “I thought you’re just going to leave me. You know that  I’m capable of beating her alone.” 

“I will never leave you and yeah, I know.” 

I help Sam to stand back up and leave the battlefield as the teachers pick up the dead bodies.  No one cheers as we sit back on our seat.  

Purla steps up to the podium. “Congratulation to everyone here. You’ve come so far.  Please, go to the headmaster room now to sign the contract as a High Row assassin. Welcome to  the family.” 

Everyone rushes to the headmaster’s room while we walk slowly. It’s fun to talk with Sam  while on the way. We have to wait for a few minutes before everyone finishes their turn inside the  headmaster’s room. The headmaster calls our names and we enter the room. 

“Ah, Sam and Alex. You two are very impressive,” says headmaster Fideli. “Thank you, sir,” I say. 

The headmaster crosses his arms. “How do you two have the best teamwork out of all the  other students? Are you two besties?” 

Sam smiles to me while taking a seat. “We’re more than that.” 

“That explains a lot of things,” says the headmaster. He slips up a contract. “With this  contract, you will finally be official assassins.” 

I take a pen and signs it. “Thank you, I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life.  C’mon Sam, you’re so slow.” 

“Fine,” says her before signing it. 

Headmaster Fideli quickly puts the paper back to a drawer beneath his table. “Now, I will  give you your first mission.” 

I look at him. “Wait, we can’t have a holiday? When can I bring my family to the Top  Row?” 

The headmaster looks for a file in a drawer next to him. “You can after you finishes the  first two missions. It’s a standard job requirement.” 

“I see. That makes sense,” says Sam. 

Headmaster Fideli puts down a file filled with papers. “So, this is your first mission.  Assassinate a tax collector that have misused her power. She’s from the Middle Row and she has  no bodyguard. This will be easy for you two.” 

I stand up while taking the file. “That’s great. I’ll go right away. Right, Sam?”

She stands up too. “Yeah. Headmaster Fideli, we won’t disappoint you.” 

He smiles. “I surely hope you won’t. Go now, your future awaits. Don’t forget to pick up  your assassin robe on your way out.”


Effigies 

Sam 

I and Alex stands in the tram, looking down on the Middle Row, tidying the assassin’s robe  we just got. Trees stands tall and their leaves turns golden as fall have come again.  

“You miss the Middle Row?” asks Alex. 

“Not really.” 

“Why? Isn’t this is your home?” 

I look back from the window. “It used to be my home.” 

“What happened?” 

“I just don’t want to remember it. Could we just don’t talk about this anymore?” Alex looks away from me. “Sure.” 

The tram stops at the station and we get out. The polluted air fills my lungs. This place still smells of factory smoke like the old days. We walk through the empty streets. I look at the mission  file headmaster Fideli gave us and sees at the location. 

Alex peeks at the file but I stop him. “Oh, c’mon. You’re not even going to let me peek  just a little bit?” 

“Sure, after we’re done.” 

Alex smiles. “Being mysterious, eh? I like that.” 

We step into an abandoned neighborhood. There’s trash on side of the streets. The lamps  are broken. Not even a single house window that’s not broken. Behind it stands tall factories that  spews out smoke and waste. 

“Wow, I never thought Middle Row could look this bad. This reminds me of the Bottom  Row,” says Alex walking in front of me. 

“I never thought of it too. I didn’t realize this part of the Middle Row even exist.” “So where’s the place?” 

“Just at the end of that road.” 

We stop next to the house and peek inside. There’s a woman eating alone at the table. Alex  looks weird. I bring him away from the house. 

“That’s the target,” I say. 

“Wait, I think I know her.”

Alex steps back to the window and peeks again. The target looks to the side, showing her  side profile. He almost gasps then quickly walks back to me. “I remember her. She’s Trija, my  family’s tax collector. But if she’s a tax collector, why do she live in a place like this?” 

“That’s not important. What important is that we need to finish this mission.” “That’ll be easy for me.” 

Alex rushes to the door and bashes it down. Trija jumps out of her seat, dropping a spoon  she was holding. I aim my dagger at her. 

“Hello again, Trija. It seems that fate has met us again,” says Alex, gripping his dagger. 

She smiles with hesitation. “Alex, nice to meet you too. That robe, so you’re an assassin  now? And seems like you got yourself a partner. Let me guess, the Top Row is sending you to kill  me?” 

Alex smiles. “Of course. I want to get rid a rat like you.” 

Trija laughs hysterically. She grips her hair while banging the table. After all of that, she  smiles creepily. “Oh you poor people. You’re too stupid to know what’s happening.” 

“I’m going to kill her before she does anything bad,” says Alex raising his dagger. I hold his arm. “Hold on.” 

“What are you doing? She’s our target. Don’t you love bloodshed?” 

“Yes, but I want to hear what she has to say.” 

“Alex, your partner is wiser than you. Still the same stupid kid from the Bottom Row,”  laughs Trija. Then, she stares at me. “You see, the Top Row don’t care about you.” 

I step to Alex’s side. “What do you mean?” 

“The Top Row hires assassins to kill whoever opposes them, including me. I used to be a  tax collector, a sheep to the higher up, but I’m no longer that. We all are just effigies used by the  Top Row for their own benefit. Once you’re no longer a part of their system, you’re dead, like an  effigy that will burn up in flames.” 

Alex nudges me. “Sam, she has talked to much. We need to kill her now.” “Wait, let her talk a little longer.” 

“Thank you, whoever you name is,” smiles Trija. “You still have time to get out from the  Top Row. Don’t let them use their power to control the masses. Be aware he who comes from  the—” 

Alex slices her throat quickly. Trija falls to the wooden floor, grasping for air. Not long  after, she lies dead with blood gushing out of her neck. 

I scream at Alex. “What are you doing? I didn’t fully hear what she said!”

“I’ve heard enough,” says Alex while cleaning his dagger. “What happened to you? You  aren’t the ruthless assassin I know from the battlefield.” 

“Nothing has changed from me, okay. I just feel there’s something important on her  speech.” 

Alex shrugs. “Nah, Trija just speaks like that. Don’t let her words affects you. You need to  be careful on your next mission.” 

“You’re probably right. Let’s head back to the High School to report this mission.” 

We go back to the tram station and wait until a tram comes down. I look up to the sky,  looking at the Top Row above. Could what Trija said be true? No, it can’t be. I know the Top Row  is too prestigious to do a dirty job like that.  

“Hey, are you okay? You’re losing your focus,” says Alex. 

I blink a few times then look at him. “Yeah, just feels weird doing my actual first mission.” “Look the tram is coming.” 

An empty tram comes down to the station. We get in and wait until it reaches the Top Row.  I can’t stop looking at the Middle Row, right at the street where my first mission is.  

Alex nudges me. “Hey, we have reached the Top Row.” 

I snap out of my own thinking. “Oh, I didn’t realize it. Let’s go as quickly as we can.” 

We hop out of the tram and run to the High School again. A few other rivals that have just  been assassin is seen running through the hallway. Everyone must be busy to finish their first two  missions. We enter the headmaster’s room. 

Headmaster Fideli smiles at us. “How is it?” 

I hand the mission file while sitting. “It wasn’t a big trouble. Alex did most of the thing.” Alex sits next to me. “So, what’s the next mission?” 

The headmaster takes the mission file and checks it. He nods then put the file in his table’s  drawer. I look at his room again, staring at the multiple things in his shelf. It hasn’t changed a bit,  but I feel different about it somehow.  

Headmaster Fideli brings out another file. “Here’s another beginner level mission.” 

“Couldn’t we get a more interesting mission?” asks Alex. “The first mission is too easy for  our skills.” 

I nudge him. “Alex, we shouldn’t brag, but I do think a harder mission would be more  interesting.” 

“You two are very passionate about this. That’s very good,” says Headmaster Fideli. He  puts the file back and picks a thicker file. “Here’s a good one. Your target is an ex-con for destroying the Top Row. He’s armed and is trained in close combat fighting. There’s a lot of  rumors that he will attack the Top Row again. He’s last seen in the Middle Row.” 

Alex stands up. “Now that’s an interesting mission. Sam, let’s go.” 

I pick up the file. “I’ll go now, Headmaster Fideli.” 

Alex leaves the room first. I walk out slowly, looking at Headmaster Fideli inside. He looks  at his shelf and picks up the black straw doll I saw the first time I’m in here. 

Alex pulls me forward. “C’mon, you slug. I’m already pumped up with this mission.” I pick up my pace. “Okay, I’m running.” 

We hop back to the tram and go down to the Middle Row again. Alex seems more excited  on this mission. Is it because of the difficulty level or because he can almost bring his mother to  the Top Row? 

Once the tram stops, Alex runs to the streets while holding my hand. We run to the target’s  location near the city’s border. The smell of smoke is stronger as we come closer. The factories  stand tall near the city border, the target must be inside one of these factories. 

I sneak to the side of the factories, leering inside. There’re only gears turning and machines  running. No more than a sound of metal bashing. I look back at Alex who’s leaning on the wall,  holding his dagger. 

He looks at me. “You found something?” 

“Nothing. It’s just a normal factory.” 

“Are we in the wrong location?” 

I look back to the file. “No. This is the right place.” 

“Maybe we should split up to seek the target?” 

I put back the file. “No, that’s a bad idea. We stay together, okay?” 

“Okay.” 

We are just about to search another factory when someone stands in our way. He has a  muscular body and brass knuckles on his hands. It’s the target. 

“Looks like the Top Row send another effigies to me. Seems that they can’t stop ruining a  man’s life. Okay then, let’s fight,” says him, spitting to the wall. 

He rushes to us. Alex readies his dagger while I run to the side. The guy attacks Alex but  he dodges it. I strike from the side but he deflected it with his brass knuckle. Alex stabs him in the  gut. He retaliates and knocks out Alex with a punch. I back off, fixing my grip.  

The guy smiles while holding his stomach. “I’ll fight all effigies of the Top Row until the  day I die.”

He attacks me but his movement is getting slower. I evade to the side and slice his neck.  He holds his neck, grasping for air before falling to the ground. I rush to Alex who’s still laying.  He’s bleeding and his nose is broken. 

“Wake up, Alex.” 

He growls. “Do we win?” 

I help him stands up. “Yeah, the target is dead.” 

“Great. Since we’ve done two missions, that means I finally can get my mother to the Top  Row. Let’s get back to the High School as quickly as we can.” 

“We need to treat your wound first.” 

Alex starts running. “Ah who cares. I can take care of it in the High School.” 

“Wait. Just don’t push yourself too much. You can take care of your family but you must  take care of yourself too.” 

“Fine. I’ll walk.” 

I carry him over my shoulder and walk to the tram station. The machinist looks shocked at  Alex but didn’t seem to care. We head back to the High School and meet with the headmaster. 

Headmaster Fideli looks at Alex weirdly. “You need medication. Go to the nursery now.” Alex turns back and go out. I walk behind him. 

“Not you, Sam. You stay here and report on the mission,” says the headmaster. 

Alex closes the door. I take a seat and hand him the mission file. “Here’s the file. The  person is taken care of.” 

He smiles. “Great work. He’s hard to beat, right?” 

“Yeah, harder to beat, but I’m sure he won’t be the hardest mission we’ll get.” He takes the file and organizes it. “Of course. You’ll face even bigger threat in the future.” I move my seat forward. “Can I ask you a question?” 

“Sure.” 

“Why is all the target saying that we are effigies?” 

Headmaster Fideli laughs. “It’s just something that the betrayer of this city calls us. They’re  just jealous of the position we held.” 

“Oh.” 

He stares at me. “You’re not affected by the words they said, right?” 

I smile. “No, not at all.”

“Good,” he says. 

The headmaster is searching for a file in the cabinet. I look at his shelf again, but there’s  something different. Something is missing from that shelf, but I don’t remember what. The  headmaster picks up a file and puts it on his desk. I stare away from the shelf to look at the file. 

Alex comes back from the nursery with a bag of ice. His nose is already fixed. “What’s  that file on the desk? Do we get another mission without rest?” 

The headmaster puts his hand on the file. “Of course not. You can choose to do every  mission whenever you wanted as long as it doesn’t goes past a full week. I know you’re very eager  to bring your family to the Top Row.” 

Alex smiles. “Of course. I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life.” 

“Well, what a coincidence the next mission is on the Bottom Row. You can bring you  mother here while you finishes this tiny mission,” says the headmaster as he hands me the file. 

“Thank you, sir. We’ll get back here as fast as we could,” I say. 

“Great job everyone. Remember loyalty, teamwork, and passion. Don’t forget that, okay?” Alex is ready to leave. “I won’t forget that, Sir. Sam, let’s go.” 

We leave as fast as we could. Alex is more joyous than he ever been, but somehow, I feel  uneasy. I can feel something is wrong with the Top Row. The whole idea of a school that teaches  childrens to become perfect assassins is sort of wrong. All the target that I’ve been given were all  someone who hates on the Top Row. Maybe the one who’s wrong isn’t the targets, but the Top  Row itself. How do the Top Row even know who to kill or not? 

Alex brings me to the tram. The landscape changes from the prestigious Top Row to the  horrid Bottom Row. Everyone down here seems so miserable. Small houses are stacked on top of  each other. The streets are still made of dirt. There’s so little light source down here. The smell of  sewage punches my nose instantly as soon as I’m halfway to down there. There’s like no rule down  here. The drug addicts fill the streets. Thugs beating up everyone on their way. This isn’t the  Malfesan City that I know. Why would the Top Row let people live in misery like this? They’re the  ones who control everything in this city. 

I open up the mission file and look for information about my target. It says here that he  spreads fake news about the Top Row to the people down here. He’s well known across the Bottom  Row. It’s another person that’s doing bad things to the Top Row. Maybe the previous targets are  right after all. I need to know the truth. Maybe I’m wrong choosing to become an assassin. 

The tram stops. Alex leaves the tram and looks at me. “Sam, are you okay? It’s because  you’re not used to the smell of Bottom Row, isn’t it?” 

“No, it’s not that.” 

Alex walks back to me. “Then what is it?”

“I really need to go back to the Top Row,” says I as I hand him the mission file. “I think  you should do this mission alone for now.” 

“But why? Aren’t we supposed to do stuff together? We should always stay together.” I look down. “I’m going to quit as an assassin.” 

Alex gasps. “Why would you do that? Isn’t being a part of Top Row is all you wanted this  whole time?” 

“Yes, but things have changed. You can quit with me if you want. But if you don’t, then I  understand. The safety of you family is the most important thing right now.” 

“Why do you want to leave me? You know that I can’t leave this job. Without it, I’m going  to suffer. Why do you want me to choose these choices when whatever I choose, I lose?” 

I push the file forward. “I’m really sorry, Alex. I have to go.” 

Alex seems upset. He’s holding his grip very tight. The tram machine starts running again.  

The machinist steps between us. “Do you want to enter or not? Everyone in the tram is  going to be late if you keep standing there.” 

Alex steams up. He grasps the file and takes it with force. “Fine. I’m not working with you  anymore then. Goodbye.” 

He runs to the streets, gone behind the wall of smokes. The tram moves up again. I didn’t  want to leave him, but this is the best choice for the better of this city. I shed a tear as I look up to  the Top Row. 

“It’s too late to change my choice.” 

The tram stops at the Top Row. I hop out and run to the High School. I rush to the  headmaster’s room. 

I open the door. “I quit.” 

Headmaster Fideli looks at me. “That’s quick of you to quit from being an assassin. Sure,  just follow the procedure.” 

“What procedure?” I asks. 

“The one in your contract. Wait, let me get it for you,”  

He opens the drawer next to him and picks up a stack of paper. The papers shakes his table  when he puts it down. He checks the paper one by one, searching for my name. 

“Found it,” says him while giving the paper to me. He points to one of the lines. “There  you can see to cancel this contract, you need to do one final mission alone.” 

I didn’t read any part of that contract, Alex must’ve distracted me from it. I’m usually not  this careless. 

I sit in front of him. “So, what’s the mission?” 

He picks a file from the bottom of his table’s drawer. “This is your last mission. There’s a  serial killer that’s been killing a lot of people. He kills once a week. No police ever manage to stop  the target. The location is at a slaughterhouse in the Bottom Row.” 

I take the file and stands up. “I’ll kill this serial killer. Don’t you worry.” 

“Oh, I’m not worried. I’m sure you can handle it. Bring back the file after you’re done and  then you can quit.” 

“I’ll go now.” 

I quickly left the room and ride the tram. The sun sets as I stare blankly at the sky. There’s  only this mission in my head now. 

So it’s a serial killer and it’s been killing a person every week for multiple years. This  won’t be easy, but I know I can beat it if I’m careful. I’ve beaten a lot of enemies that’s strong.  How strong can this person be? 

I arrive again in the Bottom Row. Nothing has changed since I was here a few minutes ago.  I look over to one side of the row. Alex is there, doing his mission. The slaughterhouse is right on  the opposite site of that. Too bad I won’t meet him here. 

Everyone down here looks at me while I was walking to the slaughterhouse. They express  disgust, fear, and hatred. But the closer I get to the slaughterhouse, all of their emotion turns into  one, sadness. They must be thinking that I’ll just be another victim of the serial murderer, but I  won’t be. I must survive no matter what. But I do have to agree that this will be easier if Alex is  here with me. 

The slaughterhouse is big, filled with silence. It seems more terrifying because the sun has  set fully. I can feel the souls of hundreds of the people that’s murdered here. The dread of the lost  souls fills me with determination. If killing this serial murderer can bring peace to the whole city,  then I must do it. 

I open the creaking rusty metal door. The inside is quite empty. There’re only a few  machines for processing meat. Hooks hang from the ceiling, swinging lightly from the winds of  the open window. I walk inside, watching every corner of the room. The smell of rotting body is  strong in here. Smells like it’s coming from the basement door. The floor is still stained with blood.  I walk past it and enter another room. 

The room looks drastically different. This looks like a place that I would call home. The  floor is made of polished wood. A stairway is located on the side of the room. A chandelier stands  on top a table decorated with beautiful tablecloth. A set of dining equipment is set on top of the  table, complete with the napkins, but there’s no food here. Why is there plates and glasses if there’s  no one that will eat here? 

I walk past a cupboard, circling the dining table. A rope trap sets off from on top, trapping  me before I could touch my dagger. I fell to the table and hit a few glasses. My hands tried to reach my dagger but the trap won’t let me. Whoever created this must must’ve known on where the  assassin’s dagger is located. I’m facing a smart enemy and that can’t be good. I try to move but  my legs are hold tight by the trap. 

Someone steps down from the stairs. I hear at his voice. He laughs while clapping along  the way. He lights up the chandelier next to me, revealing his face. 

“Hello, Sam. We meet again.” 

It’s headmaster Fideli and he’s pointing a gun to me.


Mysteries 

Alex 

“Why does Sam want to leave me alone? Does she not love me anymore?” 

I step away from the tram station, walking to my old home with a convoluted mind. My  hand grips tight my mission file. I really think that I will meet my family together with Sam, but  that doesn’t seem like a possibility anymore. Why does she change her mind so suddenly? Is there  something that she knows that I don’t? 

I wipe my tears as I steps closer to my home. I tidy up my clothes, combing my hair with  my hand, smiling to stretch my stiff face muscles. My mother will smile wide when she sees me  with these clothes. She will be happy of me. I will be a hero to my family, just the same as my  father. 

My hand is shaking while holding my house’s door. The handle is cold and rusty. I peek to  the window but there’s no light from the inside. I quickly open the door only to find nothing inside.  There’s no furniture at all. I can’t even see a single cloth. The floor is filled with dust. The only  living things inside this place is me and the colony of bugs on the ceiling. Where’s my mother?  Did she move? 

I run outside and ask everyone that I can see, but none of them know where my mother is  now. Some say she’s been gone for years from this home; some argues that she moved to the other  side of this row. Why can’t I get my happy ending easily? 

If there’s someone who will know my mother’s location, that’ll be the news teller, Emori.  I venture through the streets of Bottom Row, searching for him. I ask multiple people but none of  them wants to answer me. I used to be known in these streets, why does everyone suddenly act that  I can’t be trusted anymore? 

My legs are burning from traveling across the Bottom Row. I can’t find my mother nor  Emori. I end up in a location near my target. I might as well do the mission. The file says that he’s  inside one of these empty homes. 

From the outside, I could hear noises from inside one of them. Sounds like someone is  trying to get away from me. I rush inside and finds a mysterious man under a coat running through  the back door. I jump over the stack of furnitures and go through the back door. There’s a hidden  street that leads to the main road. He drops boxes of metal bars to the ground, then turning left. I  rush through the fallen metal bars, chasing him as fast as I could. I stand in the middle of the road,  looking at the target that’s entering another street. I remember that street leads to the tram station. 

“I know a shortcut to that place.” 

I run to the side and enter another street. I jump through the trash that fills the road, dashing  right to the tram station. The target is visible again. He realizes that I was coming near and he runs away in the opposite direction. I chase him on the right side of the road, leading him to turn to a  dead end. 

The hits the dead end and looks at the ground. “Please, don’t kill me.” 

His sound shocked me. I’ve heard of that voice before. “Emori?” 

He raises his head. “I know that voice. Is that you, Alex?” 

“Yes, this is me,” I say while putting back my dagger. 

“You wear an assassin’s robe and you chase me. If I’m one of the Top Row’s targets, then  please don’t kill me,” says him. His hands are shaking. 

“Why are you here? Where’s my mother?” 

His jaw drops. “You don’t know it yet, do you?” 

“Know what?” 

“She’s dead.” 

Feels like a dagger just stabs me right in the heart. I hear a metal canister hits the ground.  Something burns my eyes, forcing me to cry out tears. My body feels empty. My leg weakens and  I drop to the ground. My body is petrified. I can’t even move a muscle. My sight fades away into  the darkness. Everything feels empty. Somehow, I can hear a voice from far away, whispering to  my ear. 

“I’m sorry, Alex, but I don’t want to be killed today.” 

*** 

I woke up from a deep slumber and instantly stands up. I wake up on the same streets that  Emori stands on. He isn’t here anymore. I look up to the sky. Why is he scared of me? Is my mother  really dead? What makes him rather choose to drug me than telling me the truth? 

All of this is just one big mystery.  

The sun is setting and my body hasn’t fully healed from the drug’s effect. I should get back  to the High School and stay there for the night. It’s unsafe to life in the Bottom Row if no one  trusts me anymore. 

I head to the tram station and ride a tram to the Top Row. Everyone from the Bottom Row  looks at me weird as the tram raise slowly. Seems like everyone forgets about who I am, even  Sam, the one I trusted the most leaves me. It feels like I’m close to know why she wants to leave  me, but I just can’t reach it in my mouth.

The tram stops at the Top Row. I open the High School gate with hard feelings. I won’t be  able to see Sam behind this door again. Somehow, I already miss her even though she has only left  for a few hours. Where can she be now? 

I enter the headmaster’s room to report on my mission currently. “Sir, the mission you gave  me is—” 

The room empty, but it’s unlocked. Files is scattered on top of the table. Stuffs from the  shelf is now on the ground. It seems that Headmaster Fideli has leave in a hurry. I shouldn’t mess  with his stuff. I should just leave. 

My eyes glances over something interesting while I was about to leave. It’s my mother’s  photo, slipped under one of the files. I quickly stand in front of the table and take the file. I drop it  as quickly as I opened it.  

“No, this can’t be. My mother is one of the High School targets.” 

I pick it back up and read it thoroughly. It’s said here that she’s a beggar that fights against  the Top Row. This mission starts a few years ago. My heart finally drops when I see the  headmaster’s signature on the back of the file, signing that this mission is done. How could the  High School do something this horrible to me? 

All the time I spent here is worthless after all. They keep training me just so they can use me as a tool to kill someone else that opposes their views. I’m just an effigy of the Top Row to  them. How cruel can Headmaster Fideli be? 

My body fell. I manage to sit before my whole body fully collapses. My sight is blurry  from my tears. I wipe it using my bloody robe. This robe means nothing to me anymore. 

I remove the robe and throws it to the corner of the room. My eyes catch something  suspicious at the wall of weapons. There’s a slit between it now. I slip my dagger between it and  pulls it apart. 

The wall opens to another wall of weapons. No, this is wrong. There’re two holders for a  gun and one of the is missing it’s gun. Headmaster Fideli have been hiding illegal weapon all this  time and it seems that he will use it. But, to who? 

I flip over all the files, looking at the headmaster’s signature on every one of them, except  for one. I flip it again and open it up. 

“No, no, no. This is no longer a mystery, but a nightmare.” 

Inside it, there’s a picture of Sam. She’s said as a traitor to the High School. This mission  started just a few hours ago, almost the exact same time when she leaves me. The location of her  assassination is at the slaughterhouse in the Bottom Row. I remember that place, it’s where a serial  murderer lives. Could it be that Headmaster Fideli is the serial murderer all this time? 

“No, I can’t let this happen.”

I grab the one gun left on the wall and rush outside to the tram station. The tram arrives at  the Bottom Row. I hop out and run as fast as I could to the slaughterhouse. The cold wind of the  night doesn’t bother me anymore. I crash into several people but I kept going.  

A tear fell off my chin. “Please. Hold on there, Sam. I’m coming.”


Bodies 

Sam 

I’m trapped and Headmaster Fideli is poiting a gun to me. How am I going to get out of  this situation? 

“Oh look how pitiful you are. You betray the High School and now you must pay the price,”  says the headmaster grinning. 

I retaliate. “Release me you psychopath.” 

“I’m the psychopath? You’re the one who likes killing, not me. I’m simply just a member  of the Malfesan City’s Council that will bring justice to those who betrays the High School.” 

“I didn’t betray anyone.” 

“Oh yeah? Do you remember the school’s motto? Loyalty, teamwork, and passion. It seems  that you’ve left your partner behind, so you’ve failed two of those motto. And I’m not even sure  that you have passion anymore.” 

“Stop trying to manipulate me. I didn’t leave Alex. He just really needs this job for the  safety of his family. I don’t have a family anymore, so I don’t care about this job.” 

“Well, seems like that didn’t end well, because his mother is already dead,” says him  laughing. 

“How could you do that? Alex spends his entire life in the school just to save her and yet  you just kill her. How is that funny?” 

He pointed the gun at me even closer. “Irony is funny. Too bad you have to be with the  other bodies in the basement now. You’re such a good student.” 

I need to find a way out of here before he pulls the trigger. There has to be something in  here that could release this trap. I look to the table, looking at the broken glass that I crashed into. My hand slips it to my back. 

I talk to Headmaster Fideli to buy time. “Whose bodies are down there? Is it other assassins  that knows about your plan?” 

“Very clever. You’re always good with your brains.” 

I keep on cutting the rope trap with the shard of glass. “Why did you own a gun? It’s illegal  in this city. You made that rule.” 

“Oh how sad. I made that rule so no one can own a gun, except for me.” 

“Why did you have to do that?”

“It’s easier to control a mass that has less power than you. Without a gun, the citizens can’t  do anything against my will.” 

I manage to cut a few ropes, my arm is free. “You send your will through the assassins of  your school, don’t you? Without a gun, the citizen can’t kill any of your assassin easily. They’re  just your puppets and I won’t be a part of them.” 

“I could see that you’ve realized that, just like all of the dead bodies in the basement. I’ll  admit it then, I do use you poor assassins as effigies of the Top Row for my own benefit. Guess,  I’ll have to kill you now.” 

“Not yet.” 

I free myself and knock Headmaster Fideli’s gun out of his hand. He strikes me back. His  kick is too quick for me to block. I crash to the table again and hit the side my stomach hard. I  quickly grab my dagger, but Headmaster Fideli kicks it away to another room.  

“If I can’t use a weapon, so do you,” he says, preparing his fist. 

I grab a chair as he punches me. He hits the chair and breaks it in half. I throw the pieces  to him and run to the other room. It’s a big living room with carpeted floor. My dagger lies on the  carpet, beside an antique grand clock. I jump there and grabs it before Headmaster Fideli had a  chance to shoots me. The only chance of me winning is if I can get the gun and use it myself. 

He shoots the ground beside me. I jump out of the way and hide behind a sofa. My heart is  pounding. My sweat starts running. Headmaster Fideli walks closer. I push the sofa and knock him  down. His gun is thrown on the ground. I run to it but he grabs my leg and makes me fall down. I  kick him but he manages to snatch my dagger away. 

“Now this will be fun,” he says maniacally. 

He cuts my left arm. I hold my wound tight while still walking to the gun. Headmaster  Fideli frees himself. I pick up the gun but he’s already beside me. He slices my right arm. I scream  in pain as he kicks me to the ground. I try to get away but he’s too fast. 

He cuts my legs and I fall to the ground. I’m already losing so much blood. My body is  weakening every second that passes. I stare at Headmaster Fideli as he drops my dagger and picks  up his gun from my hand.  

He laughs hard and point the gun at me. “I gotcha, useless effigy. Now it’s time for you to  join the other bodies.” 

I close my eyes in terror and the last thing I hear is a loud bang. A body drops on top of  me. I open my eyes only to find myself still alive. What happened? 

My head turns in pain and see a shadow of someone at the other room. Is that— Alex runs to me. “Sam, are you okay?” 

“You come back for me?”

“I will never leave you again. Not in forever.” 

I try to talk with my bloody mouth. “How did you defeat Headmaster Fideli?” He holds up a gun. “Let’s just say I’m not good at following rules.” 

I laugh with difficulties. 

“Your whole body is bleeding. I need to get you to a doctor now.” 

He picks me up and carry me on his shoulders. He runs as fast as he could to the tram  station. Everyone in the Bottom City looks at me surprised, some run in fear, and some fills with  dread as they know my fate. He brings me inside the tram and the tram goes up slowly. My body  is losing blood too quickly.  

“Machinist, can’t we go faster? I have an emergency!” says him in panic. 

“I’m sorry, but this is how fast this machine could go.” 

Alex lays me on the tram’s floor. “Sam, please hold on. I don’t want to lose you again.” “It’s too late to get to the High Row,” I say, holding his hands. 

“Then where do we have to go?” asks him in fear. 

“The Middle Row. Bring me to my old home.” 

“But why?” 

“Just do it.” 

He carries me again and quickly hops out as soon as the tram stops at the Middle Row. We  past the streets filled with dim light and arrive at my old home. From the inside, my mother and  her maid come out in panic. 

The look of my mother is pure horror. “What happened to my dear daughter?” 

Sam walks inside as the maid opens the gate. “She’s bleeding a lot. A serial killer tries to  kill her.” 

“Quickly bring her inside,” she says. She points to the maid. “Quickly bring the medication  kit.” 

Alex lays me in my room then stands back. My mother rushes in with the maid who brings  a medical kit. 

I try to talk with the rest of my energy. “Alex, please leave us alone for a bit.” He leaves and closes the door. The maid quickly tries to heal my wounds. 

My mother rubs my cheek and sheds tears. “What happened to you my dear daughter?” “I thought I’m no longer a part of your family.”

“I’ve made a mistake. I shouldn’t have said that. Every single second that you’re not here  is a torment for me. I’m not ready for you to leave me again.” 

“I’ve made a mistake too, Mom. I shouldn’t have left the family in the first place. But at  least we’re together now.” 

She cries loudly, trying to wipe her endless tears. The maid works fast but not fast enough.  She looks at my mother and shakes her head as a sign that I can’t be saved anymore. My mother  cries louder, putting her palms on her face. Her body quickly weakens and she falls to the ground.  

I look at the maid. “Please, bring Alex inside. I want to talk to him. You two can leave  now.” 

“No, I’m not leaving you,” says my mother, holding on tight to me. 

“We must respect a dying person’s wish.” says the maid as she releases my mother’s grip  and brings her outside. 

Alex runs inside. “Did they manage to heal your wounds?” 

I shake my head. 

“Please Sam, look at me,” says him, holding my face. “I need you here, please don’t go. I  promise I won’t leave you ever again but please stay here.” 

“It’s too late. My sight is already starting to fade away.” 

“There has to be a way to heal you better.” 

“You must move on, Alex. There’s just some things in this world that you can’t change.” “Please, no. I love you.” 

“I love you too.” 

I fully lost my sight. Now, I’m staring at a dark abyss. Alex’s voice dims out in the distance.  I can no longer understand any of his words. I can see a hoard of assassin’s that died fighting  against Headmaster Fideli. They welcome me with open arms. I’ve fulfilled my dreams to be a  savior of this city, it’s time for me to go. I walk forward and with that I become one with the other  bodies in the basement of the slaughterhouse.


Writer: P. C.