Whenever the bell rang, that meant everyone had to go back to their dorm rooms. Wren was in the middle of a training session when the bell rang for the third time that day. She groaned and her instructor gave her a prompt expression as though silently telling her not to argue. It seemed as though the bell system was broken, but Wren didn’t have much of a choice. She put her fists down and headed out of the training arena.
As she left the Combat Room, her friend Allen emerged out of the Defense Room. They greeted each other with silence. When the bell rang, everyone was to go straight to their room, no talking. This was set in place in case there were any emergencies but Wren knew, after so many times the bell had been rung, this was no emergency. Someone was either pulling the alarm or it was busted.
The two made it to the end of the hall. Allen held the door open for Wren to enter the staircase. They weren’t allowed to take the elevator either. Wren knew this made sense but her dorm was on the seventh floor. In case someone else happened to be walking in that same staircase, Allen and Wren remained silent as they walked up the seven flights of stairs. Now that Wren really thought about it, she found it odd they weren’t running into anyone else heading to their rooms. The Academy was huge and had hundreds of students. Surely, she and Allen weren’t the only two out in training?
When they made it to the seventh floor, Wren exited to the left and Allen to the right. Girls and boys were allowed on the same floor, but girls rooms and boys room were in separate hallways. The students were assigned to a room by age so that they could make friends while attending The Academy. Students who attended The Academy were always there for years. Wren had learned the hard way when she first arrived that in order to survive The Academy and stay sane, you needed to a couple of good friends by your side. She had one piece of advice for any newbie who arrived at The Academy: be friends with your roommate. You’ll see them much more often than you think you will.
Wren placed her thumb print on the keypad outside her room. It took about five seconds for it to scan and she heard the door click open. She pushed it forward, entering her bedroom. The door clicked shut and locked behind her.
“What took you so long?” Victoria leaped off her bed and ran to her roommate.
Victoria was a tall girl with skinny legs and dangling arms. The Academy especially worked on strength training for her, but the truth was that Victoria was more of a defense person. She even had a hard time being stealthy. When Victoria stepped away from the hug, she pulled her long hair into a tight, high ponytail. “Where have you been?”
“I was called to training early this morning. I’ve been going back and forth between that to finish my session and here because of that stupid bell.” Wren walked to the other side of the room and sat down on the foot of her bed. “Allen was in the Defense Room while I was in the Combat Room.”
Victoria narrowed her eyes. “I feel like you’ve been in the Combat Room a lot lately.”
“You think?” Wren grunted. She was sick and tired of fighting. It was annoying to perform the same battle techniques each day for hours on end. She didn’t understand why the instructors insisted on her practicing every day. She never noticed any of the other students down there other than Allen who was always in the Defense Room. If anything, the roles should have been swapped because Allen was much stronger than Wren.
Victoria frowned. “They haven’t called me down in a while. I’m afraid I’m going to get kicked out.”
Wren sighed. She was exhausted from training on and off all day – all month, really – she wasn’t in the mood to comfort her friend. “I doubt you’ll get kicked out.”
“They haven’t called me to train in two weeks. All I’ve done is attend class and come straight back here for homework,” Victoria countered.
That reminded Wren she had homework. She hadn’t had time to do it because of training, but that was something else she needed to do before class in… two days? What day was it? With all the training her days have become the same and they were all blurring together.
“I did your homework if that’s what you’re suddenly worried about.”
Wren looked up at Victoria who stared back with a soft smile. Wren let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks, but you know I hate it when you do that.”
“You haven’t had time. You’re going to be run into the ground. I also wanted to make sure you wouldn’t get stuck doing it last minute. When you have to stay up late to finish homework that means I can’t sleep either,” Victoria explained, sitting down on the bed beside her friend.
Wren didn’t know what else to say. Victoria was right. Whenever Wren was called to train so much she’d always lose time to get her work done for her Study classes. Victoria would end up suffering along with her because she couldn’t sleep with Wren typing on the computer or Wren would need help with something – Victoria was smart with all their Study classes. That’s where she truly excelled.
“I don’t think you’re going to get kicked out,” Wren continued. “I think the instructors know your strengths and weaknesses. A big strength of yours are the Study classes. I think that’s why they’ve been making you go there more often.”
“I guess,” Victoria sighed. “But it’s boring and I want to learn more about fighting and stuff. Isn’t that why we’re all here in the first place?”
Wren remained silent. She didn’t know why they were here. When her parents told her she was headed to a boarding school for high school, this was the last thing she imagined. She thought it would be like college, but just high school students. She had never heard of The Academy until her parents sprang it on her a month before school started. Wren cast her gaze outside the window. She wondered how her parents were doing. She had been attending The Academy for four months now and she had yet to receive any word from them. She had written them a few letters, but Wren wasn’t sure if they made it to her parents at all.
Allen appeared at the window and waved. Wren rolled her eyes – he was going to get them all in trouble.
“What’s he doing?” Victoria gasped.
“Being an idiot,” Wren said, walking over to the window. She unlocked it and helped her friend into the room.
“You’re lucky you didn’t get caught scaling the outside walls,” Victoria scolded.
Allen shrugged with a proud grin. “I’ve done it so many times. I know where all the security cameras are.”
“We have security cameras?” Victoria looked at Wren. “I don’t think I ever noticed.”
“They’re not obvious. It’s kind of the point,” Wren replied.
“How do you guys know about this?”
Allen and Wren glanced at one another, almost as though they were silently trying to decide if they should include Victoria in on their secrets about The Academy.
“Why am I out of the loop?” Victoria asked. She glared at the both of them putting her hands on her hips. “I thought we were all friends here?”
“We are,” Wren reassured her. “It’s just that Allen and I have been able to explore a bit more of The Academy than you have so we know some more stuff than you.”
“Why haven’t you told me?”
“We didn’t want to involve you.” Allen piped up. “Things have been weird and suspicious around here. You seem to really enjoy The Academy so we didn’t want to burst your bubble.”
Victoria narrowed her eyes in confusion. She looked at Wren. “Suspicious how? What’s he talking about?”
Wren wasn’t sure if she should say, but there was no turning back now. Besides, it would be great to finally include Victoria in on what they knew. Although, she was rarely ever allowed to leave her dorm room so Wren knew Victoria wouldn’t be much help when it came to investigating.
“You know how our classes and training used to be diverse but now they’ve gotten repetitive? You’re always in Studies, I’m Combat, and Allen is always in Defense training?” Wren began.
Allen stepped forward. “We think the instructors are planning something. Why wouldn’t they be diverse about our training and academics? They’re all mindless and barely have any personality at all and they weren’t like that when I first arrived at The Academy. I know this place pretty well.”
“Scaling walls?” Victoria replied.
“I’ve been here for 18 months,” Allen said.
Victoria held up her hands in defense. “I know, I was just trying to crack a small joke. So, what do you guys think is going on?”
“We don’t know, but here are hundreds of students attending The Academy and we’ve barely seen any of them. Whenever the bell goes off the halls are always packed with students headed back to their dorms,” Allen explained.
Victoria sighed. “So, you guys think something suspicious is happening here and you decided to climb through our window to our bedroom?”
“The windows are the only things that aren’t connected to the security system,” Wren clarified.
“But you said they have security cameras around the place that people can’t see right?” Victoria added. “The Academy is way too smart to not have the windows wired to something, especially when they’re trying to contain a bunch of students. There’s probably a camera by the window.”
“That’s not okay if they put a camera in the window,” Wren said with a harsh tone. She walked over to the window to inspect. The Academy shouldn’t be allowed to look through the dorm rooms at all times.
Victoria shook her head. “Of course not. But they probably have cameras on the outside of the building so they can see into the courtyards but also,” she looked at Allen, “to see if there are any students entering or leaving through windows.”
Allen swallowed a lump in his throat. He looked at Wren. “I have to admit, I never thought about that.”
Wren stared at him horrified. “We got sloppy.”
A knock – more like a loud boom – came at the door.
The three friends froze. Wren looked at Allen. Did he stay and hide somewhere in the room? Did he jump out of the window for a five-second head start before Wren opened the door to let the instructors in?
“Allen, we know you’re in there,” came a stern voice from the hall.
Wren and Victoria gave Allen sympathetic looks. He put his hand out motioning for them to step back and to not panic. He reached for the door and opened it. There were five instructors standing on the other side. Wren didn’t recognize any of them and she assumed they must have all worked with security.
The one in the middle, directly in front of the door, coaxed Allen forward with a silent wag of his finger. Without looking back at his friends, he obeyed walking with the instructors as they promptly slammed the door shut.
Victoria let out a breath as soon as she and Wren were alone. She put a hand on her chest. “I thought for sure we were all in trouble. What do you think is going to happen to Allen? They’re just escorting him back to his dorm room… right?”
Wren shook her head. “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” She stepped forward reaching for the door.
She didn’t listen to Victoria though. She opened the door and was startled by five more instructors on the other side. Wren stepped back, leaving the door wide open. The instructors were all different from the ones who took Allen away. Were they there the whole time? Were they guarding the room?
At least, that was what Wren thought until she noticed the one in the middle lower his fist. She assumed he was just about to knock. He glared at her, most likely knowing exactly what she was planning on doing. But he turned his firm gaze to her roommate.
“Victoria,” he said.
All the breath escaped Victoria, but she stepped forward looking brave.
“No!” Wren stood in between the two of them. “Victoria didn’t ask Allen to break the rules and come here. If you’re going to take someone else away, take me.”
The instructor stared at Wren with a gleam in his eyes. He promptly ignored her, looking past her and back at Victoria.
“Victoria,” he said again, this time in a harsh tone.
Victoria put a gentle hand on Wren shoulder for a brief moment as she passed by. “It’s okay,” she whispered.
Wren opened her mouth to say more but, just like Allen, Victoria stepped out into the hall and the door slammed in Wren’s face.
After waiting a moment, she tried to open the door but it was locked from the outside. Wren sighed in annoyance. It was hard to pull a fast one on the instructors. They took Victoria and locked Wren in so that she couldn’t follow. She walked over to her bed and sat down, staring at the door. She assumed they took Allen and Victoria to be punished for breaking the dorm rules. Wren could only assume the same would happen to her and five different instructors would come take her away.
So, she waited.
But no one came for her.
Wren awoke the following morning to a quiet room. Normally she’d wake up to the sounds of Victoria getting ready for her various Study classes or hearing her wander around the room in attempt to keep herself busy quietly while she waited for Wren to wake up. There was no one in the room this morning. It was just Wren which meant the instructors never brought Victoria back to their dorm. She sat up in her bed wondering if Allen ever made it back to his own dorm.
She stumbled out of her bed and began to get ready for the day. She had fallen asleep in her uniform from the day before. This wasn’t the first time that happened, but the instructors always noticed. It didn’t matter how clean or dirty it was. So, she started to dress herself in a different uniform that looked exactly the same as all the rest. Hopefully, Victoria was in another dorm somewhere at The Academy. Wren couldn’t imagine why the instructors wouldn’t bring her back to this room. All of her things were still in the dorm as well. So, there was no way Victoria had gotten kicked out.
Wren tossed her dirty uniform down the laundry shoot. That was one of the many jobs students could get once they got old enough to have a job as well as keep going with their training at The Academy. Wren often dreamed of having a job – maybe not laundry – but she would have loved to get out of this room for something other than training. That’s all she had been doing lately and she was growing tired of it.
The sun began to rise which meant she needed to be out of her dorm and where ever she needed to be soon. Wren walked over to the door where a small tablet hung on the wall. She tapped it on and looked at her schedule for the day – it changed everyday, though lately the instructors have been making her train all the time after Study class. She sighed, looking at the email.
The instructors didn’t even put Study class on her list. She was supposed to go to the Combat Room five times throughout the day with only a 30-minute break in between.
Was this punishment for last night? What did they do to Victoria and Allen? Wren was so confused. The worst part of it all was that she couldn’t ask. If she went into the Combat Room and asked whichever instructor she had, they’d ignore her. The training area of The Academy was strictly for training, no talking. The only talking that was allowed was from the instructor to correct their form.
She looked at the door. Wren pressed her lips together. They had locked her into the room last night. Would she be able to get to her training? She reached for the door handle and pressed it down, pulling it open slightly.
Okay, so someone had come by, most likely when she was asleep, and unlocked the door. Maybe they unlocked the door and needed Wren for something but noticed she was asleep and left? No, they must have just unlocked the door and that’s it. There was no way they would let her sleep after a long day, especially if they needed her for something. The needs of The Academy always trumped the needs of the students.
When she stepped out into the hall, a few other students were emerging from their dorms. They too were dressed in uniforms, some carrying books, some without. It seemed as though a lot of them were going to training because there were fewer students carrying books for their Study classes. Wren hated sitting in the classroom, but she viewed that as relaxing at this point. She enjoyed training, but she was tired and wanted a break. She didn’t dare ask for one though. The last time a student asked for a break in training (or so Wren heard) the instructors never let that student train again taking it as a sign that the student wasn’t strong enough to carry on with it. The student disappeared about a week later. The instructors told their roommate she was sent back home, but rumors spread quickly and no one truly thought she was sent home because of that. That was about a month after Wren arrived at The Academy and no one still hasn’t seen or heard from that student.
It was nice to see other students coming out of their dorms. The previous day it seemed as though she, Allen, and Victoria were the only students in the entire building. When the bell rang, no one else marched back to their dorms and Wren assumed it was because they were already in their dorms. Why she and Allen were still training, she didn’t know why. It seemed as though things were back to normal though. The students had come alive again and were carrying out their routines and headed to where their assigned schedules told them to go.
Wren stepped into the hall with three other students. She hoped Allen would be in the Defense Room while she was in the Combat Room. She’s at least see him arrive or see him leave once the bell rang later in the day. She wanted confirmation he was alright. She also hoped, if she saw Allen, he would know what happened to Victoria.
She thought about asking one of the three students in the elevator, but when she opened her mouth, she decided against it. There was no talking allowed in the hallways and even though they were in an elevator, someone was bound to hear them. There were cameras everywhere.
Wren noticed all three students carried books and she suppressed a sigh. She was the only one going to the basement for training it seemed.
After dropping off the other students on their respective floors, Wren stood in the middle of the elevator alone until it reached the basement. She was alone with her thoughts still wondering where Allen and Victoria had gone to.
The elevator dropped her off at the basement and she headed down the hall in silence making her way to the Combat Room. She passed the Weapon Room and while she couldn’t see if there was anyone in there due to the lack of windows and metal door, she didn’t hear anything. The Combat Room was before the Defense Room so Wren couldn’t try to tell if Allen was already in his training. At least, she assumed that’s where he’d be. He had been stuck in a training loop just as she had.
She wasn’t allowed to dilly-dally though. If Wren was a fraction later than she was supposed to be for training, then she would be in huge trouble with her instructor. At least, that’s what she heard.
It was hard. Wren had only been at The Academy for four months and she had heard a lot of things about The Academy in general as well as the instructors. She believed most of it, especially from Allen who had been here for almost two years. It was hard not to believe what the other students said about it. She had seen some things as well which made her believe all the rumors, though she hadn’t seen anything as bad as students disappearing. But even she had a funny feeling about the place and could tell that not everything was normal.
Wren didn’t even know what normal was for The Academy.
She entered the Combat Room and her instructor was training another student. Wren froze in the doorway. Had she read her schedule wrong? Was she not supposed to be here yet? Was she needed in another area of training? Whatever the case was, she was already late now. She was in trouble for sure.
She sighed, defeated. Her mind was so focused on what had happened to Victoria and Allen that she must have missed the mark somewhere. But what was Wren to do now? It would take her far too long to make it back up to her dorm to check her schedule again. She was already late to where ever she was supposed to be, so she was going to be in trouble no matter what. She might as well stay there and let the instructor be confused about it with her.
Wren stepped to the side watching the instructor and the other student duke it out with one another. She had never seen this other student before, but he was good. The instructor was barely getting a hit in on this student. She narrowed her eyes at him, but she didn’t think she’d seen him before. He didn’t look familiar at all. He must have been a bit older than she was so his dorm was on another floor.
Something else was off though. Wren and all the other students – it didn’t matter their age or what floor their dorm was on – began and ended their day at the same time. It was odd to her that she and Allen seemed to be the only ones left training when the bell rang last night, but now this student was already in the middle of a heated battle in the Combat Room. He must have started his training at least 20 minutes ago. Training always lasted at least an hour, too. Maybe she was where she was supposed to be and this student had actually been down here for a lot longer.
Wren shook her head to herself. She was officially confused and that was that.
Before she knew it, the two had stopped battling. Both the instructor and student breathed heavily. (Which further confirmed to Wren that not all the instructors were robots. She still had her suspicions though.) The two bowed to each other and then engaged in conversation, which shocked Wren.
While she couldn’t hear what they were saying, the student had begun the conversation. That wasn’t allowed. The students weren’t allowed to speak at all and that included asking questions or responding to feedback or direction. The instructor nodded his head listening to the student intently before replying.
Wren watched closely as the two looked at wrist watches on their arms. She narrowed her eyes again. Watches weren’t allowed. She didn’t know why, but she figured it was because it could get ripped off in training. Or maybe The Academy didn’t want the students to know what time it was all the time. The bell was supposed to be their clock.
She took a step forward. She didn’t want them to know she was there – because it was painfully obvious they hadn’t noticed her yet – but she wanted to hear what they were saying.
Wren knew it was none of her business but there were some weird things going on lately. Both of her friends were taken by the instructors the night before and haven’t been seen or heard from since and now an instructor and a student were engaged in Combat Room earlier than training was supposed to begin and now they were speaking to one another when that wasn’t allowed either. Not to mention the watches. Wren was prepared to admit to herself that the watches had nothing to do with anything, but she didn’t want to be too careful.
There was something going on and she wanted to know what it was and why.