Annashred Crease: Hidden Hallways

Annashred
SF Hades

Chapter One: Reminiscing On Femboy Sebastian

Two wise people have once said, “We create our own demons.” 

But they never accounted for what to do with them. There’s no fairy tales, no fiction, the past always comes to bite you. When the demons come to drag you down, you can claw and bite all you want. Nothing’s ever gonna change. 
Iou
It was around Halloween, last year. Fun times. For everyone else, at least. The Halloween before then, everything turned to an absolute crap-hole. Lina? Gone. Dennis, well, we hated each other guts, Sebastian had just gotten himself suspended. 

When he returned, he had changed. I put up walls around myself, pushing the people I cared about away, this was, of course, just before Mac would appear that weekend. 

I was trick-o-treating, yeah, I know, I’m too old, but it’s all I really have left of my childhood. I cling onto what I still have. I think I was dressed as Annabeth Chase, my hair tucked behind a Boston Red Sox cap which had nearly gotten me killed three times that day. 

“Boo.” A voice said from behind me. I turned around and saw Velma. 
Behind him, of course, was Fred, Daphne, Shaggy, and an entity who looked horrifyingly and vaguely like Scooby Doo. Whoever made a Scooby-Doo costume fit for a human being deserves the eclectic chair. 

I recognized Velma. It was Sebastian Merrick. His brown hair dripping with hair spray, and- oh god  when did he steal my skirt? Xander was a fitting Shaggy, and I know you’re not supposed to kick dogs but when it’s Xena it’s hard to help yourself. Flynn was a really poorly done Fred, his hair really poorly combed. Which left Ben as Daphne, who looked exactly like a malnourished Pedro Pascal hiding a concealed weapon in a purple tunic. 

All in all, they looked like reasons why the death penalty is too light of a punishment.  

There was a big crowd of people around us, all chittering and chattering, meaning they could essentially say whatever they wanted, zero repercussions. No one would be able to hear, to snoop. Much less want to confront the Scoob Entity. 

“Hello, Ximena,” Sebastian said, “You look nice, today.” 

I didn’t know what to do then, almost every student was in a moral gray area, but now? Now, there’s Sebastian’s extremes and us trying to keep the peace. 

But we all wonder, what if Sebastian is just Patrick Henry? 

Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace, but there is no peace. What if the war actually begun. 

That’s why I begin my story here. The biggest what-if moment in my life. 

Now, Sebastian has devolved, his ends the same as ours, different only in the unjustifiable means. 

But I can’t help but think, what if I joined Sebastian that fateful night? 

Maybe I could’ve stopped Sebastian from becoming who he is today, I could’ve kept him on track, stopped all of this from ever happening in the first place. Mac would’ve still come here, he’d be safe, we could make amends with Dennis, convince Mrs. Kemp to bring Lina back. Things would’ve been different, but so much better. 

That night, Sebastian invited me to join. 

I figured that since he now went by the “Seb” moniker, the nickname I gave him, that there was still something left to salvage. How wrong I was. 

I told him no, out of sheer reluctance. 

But in some ways, this is my failure. 

I could’ve saved Sebastian. I could’ve saved everyone from these nightmares. 

Now, who am I? I’m a hollow shell. 

I pushed everyone away. And I mean everyone. 

I’m so afraid of losing attachments that I sever them myself like the failure that I am. 

But it was that night that I put Annashred Crease upon my finger once more. 

Me and this puppet, we’ve been through so much. When Sebastian was “Pleateus Jackson,” me and Dennis were his OriGrover and Annashred. Things were perfect. Then, Sebastian turned, our names ended up on the wrong side of history. Dennis abandoned OriGrover, until Mac came along. But after that night, I always kept her on me. Sebastian’s puppet. 

I didn’t know it then, but that was the worst night of my life. With the opportunity I had missed, this is simply the consequence. There is no undoing what is already done. 

Ximena Strohm



Chapter Two: Early Life

I realized that in my public case files, I never made much effort to disclose my early life and origins. The reason as to why is quite simple. For as long as I could remember, I never really understood people, I never really trusted anyone, mostly because, quite frankly, they never trusted me. It was especially hard spending my first years in the south. Mom always wanted me to fit in, but I really never found anyone I could be myself with, y’know? When everyone was playing with Transformers, I was busy coding websites, editing Wikipedia articles, the sort. Dad was proud of me. 

Dad was an interesting man. Mom was the type to make each child look like the favorite so everyone is jealous of each other, I believe it’s called Spartan Parenting. But Dad? Dad was simple, he made it clear who his favorites were, and who Mom’s favorite actually were (Xena and Xander). 

He’d often tell me that my two siblings had an army of angels looking over them, and I had him, and that he’d do the best he could to spring my success forward, his words, not mine. Besides that, he was never exactly the perfect Father, and when he was arrested, he had one last request. That my Mother was to bring us to New York, Athens Middle School, where my Mother had once gone in her youth. 

Sebastian helped me make a name for myself, him as Pleateus Jackson, me as Annashred Crease, we were formidable. For a few months. Then, I lost even that. 

I’m a bad person. But can you really blame me? 

So many people have betrayed my trust, and so many more just gave up, the latter mostly- and admittedly- being my fault. That’s why I had trust issues. That’s why when people betrayed me I made sure that it stung like a needle. 

Dennis abandoned me? He lost all his friends. 

Sebastian betrayed the one person who I did trust? I pull strings. I get Lina back, exposing that soft side. 

And speaking of the one person who I trust, I was attracted to Mac because from the start he was always honest, admitting his own mistakes in a school where so many of us have so much to hide. 

I say all of this as an apology. I’m sorry. 

I left The Heroes of OrigOlympus. Why? Truth be told, I’m insecure. I’m like the opposite of King Minos. Everything I touch turns to crumbling cookies. And not the good kind, either, Like the cheesecake ones you buy from Subway. 

So what you’re about to read, know that I’m to blame for it. I have issues. I really have issues. 

Ximena Strohm

Chapter Three: A Day In The Life

I wake up, brush my teeth, get dressed. Trenchcoat. Green Sweater. A thin layer of eyeshadow. I comb my locks, which have always been a mystery to me. Some mornings I can pass as a redhead, others a deep dark void. Tricks of light and pigment, I say. It’s fun. 

My parents drive me and my siblings to school, I of course, grab a vine of grapes and some shredded cheese to eat in the library, just as the Greeks did. (Kind of, I think they used wheels for the cheese). Make a beeline for the teacher’s lounge when no one is looking and grab a cup of coffee, Now that I’ve gotten all three of my food groups in, I go to the library and start reading a random book, and, fun fact, I can basically pick up any Riordan book, open it to a random page, and understand what’s happening perfectly. It’s like my superpower. So there I was, reading away at The Son of Neptune, page 252, of course. 

Once the bell rings, I stop buying the school paper. A Lot of the creeps who work there give me seventy five percent off discounts. The weird thing is that they’re already free, and so they’ve managed to both scam and flirt with me. I’ve exploited this error in their numbers to get daily gifts from these bozos, today I got a watch. I grab the paper, another new headline: 

“CHRONOS MEMBERS SENT TO DETENTION AFTER STEALING SCHOOL DESKS” 

You think I’d make this up, but unlike that blog run by Vicky Manief, they actually are reliable. I read it on my way to the first period, and am shocked by what I’m reading. Each day, Flynn Macintosh just steals one part of the desk, removing it, and they time it really well so that they never get caught. They’re really good with timing things, I’ve come to find. I’ve been making efforts to stop them, but my methods haven’t been the nicest. 

I continue reading through the headlines, CHRONOS this, CHRONOS that. Don’t any of them understand that what they want is attention? The pain keeps coming back to me, this time with no one to help me push it back into the corner it crept out of. 

I’ve really stopped listening in class, I understand the curriculum already, but recently, there’s been issues, teachers have caught on, my participation grade has been going down at a rapid rate. 

I’ve honestly stopped caring about anything, save for my own failures. They say no news is good news, but in my book, that doesn’t seem true. News is news. 

I see Lina in a cast, bags under her eyes, hair matted. I want to ask her what happened, but that would require, y’know, starting a conversation, and we’ve moved well beyond that. Also, I was ninety percent sure that I knew what the deal was. 

Either way, seeing two people that I care about being just destroyed by these people, it’s enough to get my attention. 

It’s no big superhero moment, but more so a rage that bubbles in me for a few minutes until the bubbles pop. And that’s when I snapped. 

Sebastian, if you read these words, you can run. But you can’t hide. 

I’m out for blood. 

Ximena Strohm


Chapter Four: Rachel Elizabeth Dollar

The next morning, I go to Laura Delphi’s office, where she runs the school paper. She’s a nice girl, writes most of her own articles, and by hand, too. People always thought she was a little bit weird, a little bit hard to approach, but when they needed her, they’d come to Rachel Elizabeth Dollar, a fabled piece of origami that could predict the future. People used this poor girl, never hanging out with her so long as they needed something. I’d say I was her only friend, but that would be a stretch, her and I were always distant. 

“Dandy Morning, Ximena!” She says, cheerful. She looks up from her computer screen, her green eyes glossy. “What can I do ya for?” 

“I’d like to issue a threat,” I said. 

“Ximena we- we don’t do that here.” 

“Listen, it’s for CHRONOS.” 

“I pride myself on my journalistic integrity, I’d never print something meant to scare another student or promote bullying.” 

‘What if you were to interview a class president candidate?” 

“You’re a class president candidate?” 

“I am now.” 

She thought for a moment, biting away at her pen. She asked me to leave her office for a moment, she wanted to consult Rachel Elizabeth Dollar. 

I exited the office, waiting outside. Purple smoke exited through the cracks of the door, and I began to hear chanting, voices, the slithering of snakes. I was curious as to what these fumes were, if we were being mythologically accurate they’d be volcanic fumes, but I don’t know how she’d obtain them. I pulled out my water bottle, pouring it into a decorative plant. I bottled some of the fumes, just as Laura opened the door, seeing me kneeling by the door cracks, my bottle filled with purple fumes. She knelt down, and grabbed the bottle out of my hands, casually. 

“Wow, you’re insufferable,” she said. 

“So I’ve been told. Anyways, what’s the update?” 

“We’ve decided to help you. Normally, I don’t ask for payment but given the circumstances I’ll need, say, ten dollars.” 

I forked the cash over. I have lost so much money. 

Once we got situated in her office, she pulled out her phone. 

“It’s okay if I record this conversation, is it not?” 

“Yes, yes, of course.”

“Fabulous.” 

“So, before I start recording, I’ll have to inform you that I will have to throw in some questions of my own, and, to keep up with the OrigOracle’s code, I cannot disclose those questions beforehand.” 

I nodded. 

“Last chance to back out.” 

I shook my head and gulped. 

“And we are recording. So, Miss Strohm, if you could describe yourself in a few words, what would it be.” 

“Smart.” 

She frowned. 

“And what words would you actually use to describe yourself?” 

I knew which words I’d use to describe myself. Sad. Angry. Tired. Tired. 

I decided to give a joke answer. 

“Unamused.” 

“Next, what would you say your childhood was like?” 

“Ah, man, it was the best. Mom was so smart.” 

“Yeah, yeah, sure. So, next thing’s next, you’ve been talking to our paper for quite some time now, what is this secret project you’ve been working on for so long now?” 

“Ah, yes, yes, yes, my secret project, yes, I’ve decided to run for student body president.” 

“Well, I know you have my vote, that’s a given.” 

“Aww, thanks!”
 
“No problem, so what exactly are your plans for this school?” 

“I’ll be working closely with the Board of OrigOlympians to ensure the best possible future for this school, and of course, create a new anti-bullying program after the last one was, well, shut down.” 

“Yeah, and on that topic, do you have any words for the now defunct members of the crime gang, CHRONOS?” 

“Yes, yes I do.” 

“AMAZING. And, could you, perhaps, oh, I don’t know, share these words with us?” 

“Yes, I will. My name is Ximena Deanne Strohm. I wield a puppet of Annashred Crease, my phone number is 982-263-4798, and my homeroom is room 420. Meet me, call me, do whatever you want with this information. But I’m tired of you, and the disease that you spread across this school. Anytime, any place, heck, stick the dogs on me for all I care. You want a fight? You’re getting one.”

She paused for a moment, and hit the button to stop recording. “Wow.” She said, after what felt like an hour. 

“And, are you sure you want me to print this?” 

“Absolutely.” 

“Really? Because if you don’t want me to, I’m honestly content.” 

“Laura, honey, listen to me. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.” 

“Wow, you must have a lot of uncertainties.” 

“You don’t even know.” 

There was a pause. 

“Well, I best be off now. Catch you on the flip,” I said to Laura. 

“Catch you on the flip.” 

Ximena


Chapter Five: My Life Is Manually Torn Apart. 

I think another daily schedule is needed. Because today, man, today was painful. 

I had my same breakfast, nothing crazy there, and I also forgot to mention this, but I’m in a band, that’s important, remember that. In the first period, history, I searched through my backpack for my history homework. There’s nothing there, my binder’s empty, for that matter, instead, there’s a green sock. I darted my eyes across the room towards Xena and Xander. Xander flashed a “Eat-Hot-Death-Smile” That was what happened to me all day, my homework gone, reduced to nothing. I email my grievances to my teachers, but in my inbox lies exactly thirty spam emails, none of which actually ended up in my spam folder. Huh. When I go home, I find that Xander insists upon checking every smoke detector. I’ve been tripped in halls, learned you can’t have crap in the big apple, and have had chapstick rockets fired at me, getting me sent to the principal’s office. 

I’ve seen Xander, Xena, Flynn, Benjamin, catching each in the act, unable to pursue them. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen Sebastian m actually get involved, heck, I haven’t seen Sebastian since the night that Mac vanished, and he seemed a bit distraught then, eyes wild, shirt all wrinkled. 

I’ve found all sorts of random trash in my backpack, which means people have been rooting through my stuff. Xena and Xander. It’s terrifying. I can’t own things. My clothes have been stolen, left in tatters that replace my pillowcase. Sometimes I find googly eyes in my pant legs, other times, there’s Plenty Jacksons. But they’re folded from grayish paper, slightly crumpled, making them look sort of like statues. 

One morning, again, I wake up, and I freeze up like a statue. 

Every last one of my socks has been dyed green, little strands of paper stick out from the toes like snakes, the added addition of googly eyes make it look like it’s Medusa. Medusock. 

I already have a bit of Athlete’s foot, I won’t lie, so socks have always been a very important part of my lifestyle. But these things were hideous. And my boots were stolen. 

The way the socks were positioned, the- er- details were hidden, all I could do was feel them, though the christmas tree green was meant to bring attention to them, each gaze brings my blood pressure to dangerously high numbers. 

My grades dip, I get Fs, some days my backpack itself is stolen. 

I decided to have a good sulk, just to let it out of my system. In the Office of Athena, of course. Just underneath my desk. Just sitting underneath where my feet would go, if I were a normal person. Perks of being the librarian’s daughter, I guess. 

Suddenly, I hear Mrs. Kemp’s voice. The door swings wide open, and there’s nowhere I can immediately hide. So I decide to lean back as far as I can, and surprisingly, the bricks in the wall are pushed back. I see Mrs. Kemp’s boots, and I hear her voice talking with my Mothers. They begin to root through my desk. “Could she be a potential candidate for the Triumvirate?” Mrs. Kemp asks. 

“Hardly. Her grades have become subpar, not to mention she doesn’t have the emotional maturity to properly execute the harsher commands. Besides, we already have one of the twins.” 

“But, Ximena, one of the heroes must turn. You and I both know that.” 

“Your nephew has been crushed, Ximena is useless, Dennis isn’t worth the trouble, as far as I’m concerned, your dear old daughter is all that’s left.” 

“No,” Mrs. Kemp said, “There is another.” 

The two walked out of the room. 

After waiting for what must’ve been five minutes, I crawled out from under my desk. I looked at where I had hidden myself. It looked like a god had punched the wall. The bricks, they weren’t structured properly. If this wall was normal, it should’ve collapsed long ago. Then I realized something a bit weird. I looked at the wall, and pinned to it was a map of the school. 

There was something off about it, something so absurd I think we all overlooked. The middle of the school was empty. There were no rooms there, the paper was blank. Kapoot. White. Like, blank, blank. 

I pulled my chromebook out of my backpack and looked at this school from Google Maps. There was, again, something off. The school building was a full square. No hollowed out center. 

This implies that ⅓ of this school is left unexplored, hidden off from students. 

It all came to me like a hurricane. I’ve never seen Xander and Xena meet up with friends after-school, and the CHRONOS members are never seen together in the halls or during courtyard. So where exactly would they meet up? 

There would need to be a place at this school, where no one could find them, walk in on their plans for mass destruction. 

I take away some of the bricks from the wall, just towards the floor, large enough for me to fit through. I knew I had to be quick, if someone were to walk in and see bricks missing from the wall they’d freak. But if I could get back fast, I could put the bricks back in their place, or maybe even move my desk so that the filing drawers hide it. 

The first thing I noticed was just how long the corridor seemed. As I walked through it, the second thing I realized was how hot it was, especially in one of the rooms, which I came to realize was the boiler room. The third thing I noticed how dark it was, and how badly I’d need a flashlight. 

Funny, I realized, if I died out here no one would find my body.

That thought reassured me. 

I opened one room, marked with an origami owl. That intrigued me. My Mother was Arthena, a pun on Athena. Athena’s symbol is an owl. The room very clearly had something to do with us. 

I opened the door, and found that the room was filled to the brims with shelves. Shelves everywhere, each empty. Or… so I thought. One file, in the far corner of the room, was a small folder. 

Taped to the folder was an origami spider, the same way a child would collect them. Taped, flattened down, smashed. I never really liked the critters. Out of random magazine cutouts, the title spelled out “Arthena Versus Artrachne”.

Curious, I pulled it off of the shelf. It was concealing a small jewelry box, which I again, felt the compulsive need to open. Staring back at me was twenty four eyes.

Ximena Strohm


Chapter Six: No, I Did Not See A Lovecraftian Horror

No, what I saw was much worse. Three spiders. 

Remember when I said I never liked spiders? That was a bit of an oversimplification. I never liked spiders, in fact, they’re perhaps the one thing I fear the most. 

Let’s put you in Ximena Strohm’s shoes for a moment. Do you: 

Drop the file out of fear and make a run for it. 

Smash the spiders- but wait just a moment, they’re still in the jewelry box, hiding in it like a shield. 

The smartest idea, just bring the file with you and run. 

Freeze up in horror as the little gremlins crawl up your arm, seeming like they’ll nibble at your flesh at any moment, the only movement you can muster up being to hold on tightly to that case file that likely is important but may be about your Mom so you still really want it. 


It was C! 

Well, that was sort of a lie. First it was D, what can I say, I have like- one weakness. And it’s these things, you don’t see Superman just walk away from Kryptonite, no, it consumes him, his veins bulge, sometimes his legs turn to jelly. Which, well, described how I handled that situation word for word. 

Ximena Strohm, the best possible candidate for Athens Middle School since earlier today when I came up with the idea to get an interview. 

Eventually, I did muster up the courage. Yeah, I ran back into the pitch black corridor, and when the light came to me, the spiders were off, though my back still stings from banging it on the bottom of my desk. 

When I collected my nerves, I opened the file up. It was empty, save for one word. 

“Boo!”

And I knew then who wrote it. Who sprung the trap. Sebastian had written it. He wanted to peek at my curiosity, and boy, he sure did. 

But there was one person, however, that I could talk to about this. I needed someone good with the dark, who could bring in the supplies needed. Someone who hasn’t been killed, but is dam near it. Unfortunately, that one person is the best/worst person for this scenario. 

Why is that? 

Well, my dear reader, that person is to put it plainly, Edward Emily.

***

Edward was always kind of a weird guy. His alliance always varied with the friggin’ breeze, but I can tell that he has a good heart, despite his attempts to prove me wrong. 

So I’m at the Qwikpik, right? And here’s a little word to the not-so wise on the cold art of deal-making. You need to make the person you’re dealing with feel inferior, as ends to a means, I know, I know, it sounds harsh, but it’s a fact of life. 

So I ignore Edward at the counter and go to look at the cheeto aisle. There are so many cheetos. So many gosh dang cheetos. It scares me. I buy some, Baked, of course, and then Edward smiles. 

“Ayy, there’s my favorite customer!” He shouts, all too loudly.

And that is when I pull out my secret weapon. Four words and a hand gesture, able to ruin someone’s entire day. 

I extended my hand for a hand shake. “Nice to meet you.” I said. 

That lowered his guard. Had I…? Forgotten who he was? I mean, no, but if he could keep thinking that that would be nice?”

“Deary Mcyee, do you… not remember me? W- We were close!” 
“Yeah, um, hard pass.”

“N- No, I swear, you gave me charity work, you-” 

“Doubtful, I’m notoriously self involved.” 

“I mean, you’re not wrong but-”

“Look, just give me the cheetos, let’s get this over and done with.”

“I AM THE SON OF THE ORIGAMI LORD OF THE DEAD! MY FATHER IS BANNED IN SEVEN STATES, MYSELF IN THREE OF THOSE. THE NAME EMILY STRIKES FEAR INTO THE HEARTS OF ANYONE WHAT HEARS IT, YOU FILTH.”

Now this was more my speed.

“Ohhh, wow, I did not recognize you… Victor?”

“Edward.” 

“Oh yeahhh.”

“Anyways, there’s this idea I’ve been bouncing around in my head for quite a while.

“Oh yeah?” He grumbled.

“There’s these secret hallways I’ve found at Athens. Like a labyrinth.” 

“And you need my help? And why don’t you bring in your “friends”, The Heroes of Orilympus-”

“ORIGOlympus.” 

“Unless of course… you can’t cry to your friends for help?” 

“Yes, that is exactly it.” 

“Glad to be on the bottom of the barrel… Now, did you really forget my name?” 

I waved my hand, “Eh,” I dismissed.

Ximena Strohm


Chapter Seven: Well, 

Well, that was an altogether unpleasant experience. 

First, I had to smuggle this loser into the school, which would likely take several volumes to account for, putting it simply, rock, paper, monkey, and Star Trek (1966).

Next, we wanted to get in there early in the morning, so we could have all the time that we needed, which I’d like to say was my idea. It was not.

With the lights off, Edward was able to waltz behind my Mother as I launched into conversation with her about my declining mental health, which lasted a bit longer than I expected. Usually she just dismisses me. 

Once that whole ordeal was over with, I pushed my desk out of the way. It was time to go back in. 

“Flashlights?” 

“Check.” 

“Lunchables?”

“Check.”

“Zerf bows?”

“Check and check.” 

“Alrighty then, looks like we’re ready.” 

I put on a steely face of determination, though deep down, I was horrified, I felt like Edward was too, despite what his face tried to tell me. In short, we were both failing at lying to each other.

I pushed my desk over, and we crawled into the labyrinth. 

We walked the hall for what must’ve been a half-hour. There were a lot of… oddities, a lot of red flags, here and there. Something here seems foul, the walls reeked of blood. The halls echoed with each footstep and each shudder that forced its way out of us. I’ve seen places like this in my dreams, never ending well. 

“Ximena,” Edward said, seeming slightly in awe. He pointed at one of the doors.

“Ximena Strohm, open that door.”

I opened the door.

I was now in the band room, halfway across the school. Thank god I hadn’t interrupted a class. 

That’s when it hit me. 

This was a valuable tool, you could get anywhere you wanted. Now, hear me out.

What if this is how the OrigOlympians rose to power? You could essentially control the school. Now think for a moment, what CHRONOS could do with this. 

I had decided to keep the information about CHRONOS’ involvement a secret from Edward, it’s better that way. 

“Ximena…” Edward said, once more. “I think we should go.” 

“No,” I said, firmly, “I need to find something.”

Edward sighed. 

And I knew then that we were both hiding something. 

I walked back into the labyrinth, and continued searching. 

Say what you will about CHRONOS, they’re nice hosts. No, seriously, they really shimmied up the place when they learned about my escapades, thanks Sebastian, that’s really nice of you. They set up a smoke machine and everything, that way, when I die, I’ll be able to have that ominous mist that the detectives stand above, heck, it kind of made me want to lay down and meet my maker then and there. Edward would be so proud.

We found origami littering the floor. Like, lots of it. Mostly finger puppets, but there was stuff like, well, y’know, origami spiders. Edward tried to pocket a lot of them, putting them in his satchel. There were also regular spiders, though those I could just, well, smash. We continued walking and I noticed some things that were off. 

Each door was marked with a strange piece of origami, save for the ones that lead to actual rooms in the school. I had Edward mark down each entrance, there was one underneath the choir room stands, another in the cafeteria’s kitchen (it was really hard explaining to the lunch ladies how I ended up there, especially since, y’know, they don’t speak english.)

And, y’know, the closets of every single teacher. Every single one. That was the scariest one, for a number of reasons. First, the doors were set up so that only the person on our end would know it’s even there, there’s likely a lot of teachers and students who don’t know they’re being watched. Maybe I’ve been watching.

But the scariest part? We were going down. The floor we walked slowly spiraled like a ramp until we were below ground. The air seemed the hottest there. And at the very bottom, the last room left to explore, there was perhaps the worst room of them all. 

The door seemed to be made of figurative red flags, in big teacher-ish bubble letters reading “CHRONOS” the way a teacher’s name would be written. There was a little blue newsletter, with an agenda I didn’t care to read, because I knew enough. 

We were now entering the cave of the dragon, entering a place where we were at tactical disadvantage. 

Sounds fun, am I right?

The room is weird, even for Athens. A bunch of chairs were stacked on top of each other, surrounded by tables. That took up well over half of the room, though I could imagine someone like Flynn or Xander laying down on the table and fidgeting with something. On the cabinets, there were stacks upon stacks of notebooks, all in crates, likely having belonged to former students. There was a desk set up, where I imagined Sebastian would sit, likely because there was a vintage computer setup. Edward began to steal every single notebook. Every single one of them. His satchel was now overflowing. 

Edward smiled and handed me something. “Here’s a map.” He said. 

I smiled too. “Hold onto it for me, would you?” 

“No can do.” 

He looked at his satchel, “I found what I was looking for.” 

“So is that it? You’re just gonna go?” 

“Not exactly. We’ll meet again, Ximena Strohm. Don’t know where, don’t know when. Good luck.” 

He walked away, leaving his equipment behind for me. 

Gee, thanks Edward. I began to rummage through the room. I’m more productive on my own, I don’t need him. I don’t need anyone. 

I’m the great Ximena Strohm. 

I don’t need anyone. 

After around forty minutes or so of searching, the door shut. Looks like my death fantasy is about to come true. I ran to it, and attempted to open it. No luck there. I turned around, and there he was. Picking at his teeth, his legs crossed on the desk. 

“Phenomenal performance, darling. You come onto my property, rummage through my stuff, free my spiders from their widdle cages, and expect me not to catch on? You really think I wouldn’t know, did you? Do you truly think so little of me, Ximena?” 

He stood up, and man, his posture was still awful, though he recomposed himself, and I quickly realized that he now towered over me. Well that’s just nice, he’s grown so much.

“Ximena, I- I have a reputation to uphold. Understood? So if I were to slip up like this, my henchmen, well, they wouldn’t exactly trust my authority anymore, now would they?” He shivered, “Ximena, deary,” his face seemed much more wild, full of expression, and his tongue twisted with each word in a frenzied panic, “I’m the one in charge, the mastermind of all this, and my plans need to come to a fruition, there’s people who I need to back, people who, no matter how much they deny it, need me.” 

He wasn’t making any sense, even for a villain monologue. 

“Please, I- I need your help. They don’t think I’m… a… a competent leader, they’re starting to turn against me, Ximena. Ximena. Please, Ximena. Just… please. You don’t know what’s at stake hear, Ximena.” 

He somehow smiled and frowned at the same time, which wasn’t a good look.  He extended his hand. I felt almost bad for him, and time seemed to rewind, like I was standing once more in that Halloween night. 

“Join me… Ximena,” he says, and I don’t know if it’s my memories or his own words, the lines between time blurred. I could save Sebastian, just as I could’ve way back when. But as it all comes back to me, I realize in these halls, in this labyrinth- both the physical one and the one that rests in my mind, the one that recalls all my darkest fears as I write these- that there’s no saving Sebastian, not here at least. Once a fruit goes bad, you can’t fix that, can you?

I walk away. 

“Ximena, please! I- I need you Ximena!” But I’m already walking. I find an exit, a ladder, and crawl up it. 

I’m somehow in the courtyard, covered in mulch. The sun’s going down. I lean against the exit, pondering all that’s happened.

Sebastian’s become a monster, a monster I have to defeat. There’s no hope left for brining Astley back, best I close that book, too. 

But there is one thing left for me to do. I find Lina and Dennis in the bus line.

Ximena’s comment: This stupid virus! God, we were slated to end Seb on… what is it now? Two months ago! But lookie here, NY is practically closed off. I’m stuck with Xander and Xena. I haven’t verbally spoken in three weeks.

  1. Noice we could just rename the ROU

    Zerf bows EU

  2. Peyton’s reddit addiction and zerf bows have now become an ROU staple. I already have all the running jokes planned out

  3. did this get promoted to a main story?

  4. makes sense tho sice its pretty important

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