‘Om Mani Padme Hm’
The words flashed in Serph’s mind, pulsating and bringing him from the comfort of nothingness. The words held some kind of familiarity to him, a significance he couldn’t quite recall that instilled in him a twinge of sorrow. His eyes fluttered open and he awoke to a song he felt he had heard many times and yet never before- perhaps in some other life.
‘--On the heaven,
The earth the spirit
Light brings glory and grace--’
The source of it, a young girl with shortly trimmed black hair, looked over at him and smiled. Her voice, and the oddly familiar song, faded from his memory, and he could only stare back wordlessly. His eyes were drawn to the strange looking tattoo on her right cheek, before her words snapped them back up to meet hers.
“You’ve been asleep for awhile. How are you feeling?” she said. Serph nodded in response. That’s not really a question that can be replied to with a nod.
He wasn’t very talkative, but she seemed to understand. Serph looked around the room, everything was blindingly white and state-of-the-art. The blackboard was digital, and written on it was the phrase ‘Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly’ in white, contrasting the black interface. Even the school tables were white with neat black interfaces, besides that...just behind the girl, the windows were barricaded. Cool and calm as usual, Serph gestured toward the window.
She looked behind herself, and frowned. “Ah yes. I haven’t left this room since it’s a little scary in here but...All the windows are probably the same…” Cameras dangled from the ceiling, he briefly wondered if it was all part of some kind of variety show… He looked up again at Sera, whose eyes were downcast.
Serph scooted his chair a little closer and placed a hand on her shoulder, giving her a reassuring smile. He didn’t even know her name and yet...He felt he knew her as well as he knew himself. She briefly stared at him, and as if she could sense his thoughts, the girl spoke. “My name is Sera. It’s nice to meet you!”
Serph nodded and stood up. “Serph.” he said. His voice was lovely and honey smooth, but he kept his words concise. Still facing Sera, he pointed a thumb behind himself toward the door.
“I was afraid to go out there before but…” she turned to smile at Serph brightly. “I think I’ll be safer with you around.” She stood up then, her opposite hand on her forearm, eyes cast down. She looked up at him again briefly. “Cool hair by the way, I don’t think I’d be able to pull it off...the silver looks really nice!”
Wait, Silver…? That didn’t sound right. ...And yet it didn’t really feel like it was wrong either.
“Must’ve taken a lot of courage to get that tattoo on your face too. Most places don’t even let high schoolers get tattoos!” Tattoo on your face? Serph looked at Sera quizzically.
Her eyebrows furrowed, and she cocked her head to the side. “You know, the one on your left cheek!’ Serph frowned, but quickly realized something was amiss.
Serph gently put his hand to Sera’s right cheek. “You have one too.”
She froze, shocked, and immediately put her hand on her cheek. She traced the outline of the odd-looking mark, feeling a distinct sensation under her fingertips, unlike anything she could recognize. “...I don’t remember getting this… Do you think the people who locked us in here gave us these?”
When Serph didn’t reply, she let her hand fall to her side, and continued. “Maybe they’ll wash off...I hope they do. I guess we can worry about that later...for now we should go find a way out.”
Serph nodded and turned to the door, he then noticed...Noble Samsara Academy…? The symbol for the prestigious school was written on the door. He opened the door and walked out with Sera following closely behind him. Serph felt nostalgic, but didn’t know why.
As unlikely as it was that the main doors are open, it seemed like a good first place to look. Serph followed the signs through the winding school hallways, although his body already seemed to know his way around. He didn’t think much of it, and focused instead on Sera as she made one sided conversation, Serph listening intently and responding whenever necessary. Turn after turn they navigated the labyrinthine school, all the corridors identical except for the helpful digital indicators and arrows that hung from above. ‘
‘Do you think we’ll find a way out of here?’ Sera asked, walking behind Serph. He stopped to face her and smiled, his smile a comforting embrace. He didn’t say a single word, but he was able to quell Sera’s fears, if only momentarily.
After various wrong turns and an accidental loop or two, they arrived at the main hall of the school, at which there were two things waiting for them: an enormous barricaded and locked door, old and grey contrasting the pristine white room, with a lotus sloppily graffiti’d onto it, and...more students.
A colorful assortment of people awaited them, both figuratively and literally.
Upon entering, there was a strong woman with bright pink hair flowing down in several braids. She was standing confidently right in the center, and beside her was a tall gaunt woman with forest green hair and sad, downcast matching green eyes with a bright red teardrop underneath. They didn’t seem to notice Sera and Serph come in, having a seemingly one sided conversation.
A man with wild violet hair curling down to his shoulders stood by himself in a far end of the room, scanning the room just as Serph was. He made brief eye contact with Serph and grinned. Serph quickly looked away. He had a red star tattoo on his eye, it looked fake to Serph.
There was a man with grey, almost platinum blonde hair standing uncomfortably by himself in the center left. He looked very mature to say the least. He seemed annoyed, as if this entire situation was just a minor inconvenience.
A rugged looking man with a mop of red hair leaned against a wall in the far right side. He had fierce, piercing red eyes and seemed angry. Or was that just his face…?
Near the ‘door’, a gangly tall man with swept back teal hair was conversing with someone With him was a raven haired woman who stood with her hands in her lab coat pockets. Something about her was intimidating, though the other man didn’t really seem bothered. Serph noticed the man put his fingers to the bridge of his nose while speaking and his confusion which followed when he did.
Especially apart from everyone else, a rather nervous man with messy orange hair and a green headband stood in a corner by the entrance to the hall. Goodness, he was shaking like a leaf, his fingers gripping the hem of his green bomber jacket as his eyes darted around the room suspiciously.
A portly man with orange-brown dreads was shifting his gaze, looking around and observing the situation. He looked quite angry, which made sense given their odd situation.
By the door on the left side, a young woman with short grey hair peaking out from underneath a cream sunhat- more befitting someone much older than her- stood with her hands folded primly. She was wearing sunglasses indoors...How pretentious.
Right in front of the lock, a strong, heavily built man with dark blue hair stood with his arms crossed, fuming. Serph gathered that he probably tried opening the door using sheer strength...Foolish.
There was a tall stoic looking man with long red-orange hair by the door on the right side. He seemed to be pretty calm considering the circumstances.
There was one more and he seemed to be walking toward--
“Ey’! Did you guys just wake up too?”
Standing before them was a lithe young man with sky blue dreads tied in gold bangles, smiling brightly. He seemed pretty upbeat despite their situation, or was he just putting up a good face?
He grinned at Sera and gave a cheerful little salute. “My names Cielo, the Ultimate Aviationist!” ‘Ultimate…?’ Serph thought.
“Great to meet you guys!” he continued. These weren’t exactly ‘great’ circumstances, but Serph appreciated the sentiment. Sera seemed to be in a better mood at least.
“I’m Sera, and this is Serph!” Sera gestured. “...Although he doesn’t really talk much.”
Cielo nodded in understanding. “That’s no problem, I can talk enough for the three of us!” He winked and gestured to his cheek in reference to their newfound markings. “Love the ink by the way!”
Serph was still stuck on the phrase ‘Ultimates’, and once again, as if she could sense what he was thinking--
“Oh- I, I’m the Ultimate Seer!” Seer? Serph shook his head in confusion, Cielo seemed a little shocked.
“Wait- you don’t have an Ultimate?! Or- or...Do you just not remember it?”
“I don’t know” Serph responded.
Cielo rubbed the back of his head, and after a moment, he shrugged. “Well, don’t worry ‘bout it, my memory from before I got here‘s a little hazy too.” Serph just shook his head again.
“That’s no problemo brudda! You’ll probably remember it once we get out of here! The others are already trying to think of ways to get out, mainly miss sunshine and moss head over there.” Cielo pointed to the mean looking dark haired woman and her teal haired companion. “They’re pretty smart but not the most friendly… Angel yelled at me for being too loud earlier!” Cielo scratched his head and laughed awkwardly.
“Angel…?” Sera repeated the name quietly to herself. Cielo didn’t seem to hear.
“-But Seer huh? That sounds cool, does it mean you can see the future sis?” Cielo asked to break the silence.
Sera shifted uncomfortably a little. “Hmm, it’s not really like in the movies or anything like that, it’s more like….a feeling I get, an intuition of things to come, y’know?”
Cielo didn’t quite understand, but he was excited about it nonetheless. After they chatted about movies for awhile, Cielo changed the topic. “Why don’t you introduce yourselves to everyone? It’s kind of depressing in here, ja? Sure would help lighten the mood at least.”
Sera didn’t seem too keen on talking to ‘Angel’, so Serph had decided he’d introduce himself to her by himself later. He walked over to the pink haired woman. She emanated kindness but at the same time her demeanor was very...resolute, confident even. A deep contrast to her companion who stood proudly and yet looked so melancholy.
Sera was so shy. “...Hello...My name is Sera and I’m the Ultimate Seer-- your hair is really pretty…” she was almost inaudible. Noticing her timidness, the pink haired woman looked at her and smiled.
“Thank you very much! My name is Argilla, and this is Jinana. I’m the Ultimate Activist and my friend here--” Argilla stopped to glimpse at her companion again. The green haired woman was lost in thought.
“-My friend here is Jinana, the Ultimate Poet. I hope we can be good friends. If anyone here bothers you, just let me know, alright Sera?” she ruffled Sera’s hair playfully. She had an aura of love and familiarity that permeated her words with Sera. Serph looked over at the green-haired woman, who simply watched them with a quiet eye. He remembered reading some of Jinana’s poetry online, it was pretty heavy stuff. It had a way of digging into you and making you feel deep sorrow.
“I’ve seen you on TV before, haven’t I?” Sera exclaimed. “You’re at lots of animal rights protests and even go as far as locking yourself in with endangered, sometimes dangerous animals to protect them! They say you can turn a lion into a housecat!’ Sera seemed much more energetic now. Argilla grinned.
“Every life is important, that’s what I always say! If no one else will fight for them, why can’t it be me!” Serph noticed Jinana smile for the first time since meeting her, albeit briefly.
After some pleasant conversation between Argilla and Sera, Jinana spoke. "There doesn’t seem to be an obvious way out right now, but...let’s focus on finding an escape regardless.” Jinana was a very no nonsense woman and she was a tad gloomy but… she didn’t seem like a bad person at least. Argilla was very talkative and passionate, it was a wonder how they got along so well.
Sera and Serph walked up to the man with violet hair, and before they could even open their mouths he spoke, looking past them and avoiding eye contact.
"Tch, I didn’t know this place was a daycare." It’s not like they exactly wanted to be here. Serph could feel Argilla’s eyes on them, and the man quickly changed his tune.
"Name’s Bat. I’m the Ultimate Soloist." Sera asked him what that was, and he seemed annoyed.
"I play music. I play the saxophone. I play by myself. Anymore questions?" Sera looked dejected. She told him her ultimate and they quickly excused themselves. What a rude man. They had both heard his music before, who would’ve thought such beautiful music could come from such a sour person? Last they heard of him he started making rock music or something and his fanbase plummeted.
After their uncomfortable encounter with Bat, they decided to introduce themselves to the grey haired young woman. She bowed her head slightly and courteously when they approached her and introduced herself without prompt.
"Good afternoon, my name is Margot Cuvier. It’s a pleasure to meet you both-- I suppose I should introduce my Ultimate, I’m the Ultimate Politician." The name was familiar to Sera and Serph. She was well known for her work throughout the world as a prodigy who rose by her own merits and not just the wealth of her family.
Sera was a little intimidated. Margot had impeccable manners but she was such an important person, that it was like meeting a celebrity. She stuttered out her name and Ultimate and explained Serph’s situation. Margot, sensing her anxiety, responded in turn.
"Do not worry child, I won’t bite. Talk to me as you would any classmate, okay dear?" Sera smiled, comforted by Margot’s words. Margot asked her if she could remember anything, as she was trying to piece together why they were all in this situation. She then explained no one else can remember much either, beyond the phrase ‘Om Mani Padme Hm’ which must have some significance. She mentioned she and ‘Angel’ were trying to figure out what exactly happened, but didn’t have more information that what she told them.
After, they decided to talk to the portly man, mostly to get it over with since he didn’t seem like he wanted to talk to anyone. Sera opened her mouth to speak and--
"My name’s Mick, Ultimate Architect. If you’ve ever heard the name ‘Slug’, you’ve heard of me. Now go bother someone else."
Sera was a little hurt, but nonetheless ignored his attempt to get her to leave and still introduced herself and Serph. Serph was annoyed at Mick’s treatment of Sera and stood behind her, glaring at him, like an older brother defending his sibling. Mick looked at them both, and sighed, though he was still glaring at them, his voice softened up a little, at least.
"Whoever built this door and lock knows their shit. It could survive a nuclear strike and stay standing just like the day it was built. Omega kept trying to break it open with his bare hands like some kind of idiot and eventually got angry and gave up." ‘Omega’ must be the blue haired man fuming by the door. Mick went on about the structural benefits of the building and the various hidden paths he deduced there could be before Sera excused herself.
The blue haired man still seemed angry so they figured it would be best to wait until he was a little calmer, so they went to the red-orange haired man who...just shook more the closer they got to him. Poor thing. Sera introduced herself and Serph and he just stared at them nervously, and after what felt like an eternity of silence, he spoke up.
"H-Harley. I’m Harley. I’m the Ultimate Investigator…" He wrung his hands as he spoke.
Sera’s eyes lit up. "Ultimate Investigator?! Does that mean you can figure out what’s going on?!" He shook his head and looked down, speaking quietly.
"Unfortunately not...I’m the uh...Ultimate Paranormal Investigator. I’m kind of useless…" Sera felt bad for bringing it up but quickly changed the topic. He didn’t seem all that interested in the paranormal so much as terribly afraid of it. Maybe it’s comforting for him to know more about the things he can’t see instead of being in the dark about it?
With shaky hands he signed goodbye to Serph. Ah, he knows Sign Language, maybe he and Serph can be friends?
They next went to the red haired man, who kept eyeing them both since they arrived, not with malice but with curiosity. Perhaps startled by their approach, he spoke rather brusquely. "Fuck do you want?" Lovely.
Sera didn’t seem all that intimidated by him, his eyes belied his words. "Hello, my name is Sera and I’m the Ultimate Seer, and this is my friend Serph!" Friend? They just met, but it did feel right though.
The man looked away, "Heat O’Brien. I’m the Ultimate Athlete…Hey quiet guy-- Serph or whatever, wanna arm wrestle?" An arm wrestling match with the Ultimate Athlete didn’t quite sound fair, even if Serph was confident in his strength. "Later." he replied.
Heat looked him in the eyes and grinned wildly. "Short and to the point. I like that." He held his hand out and he and Serph shook hands. Sera seemed happy about it.
Neither Sera nor Serph were very into sports but the name ‘Heat O’Brien’ was basically a household name. He excelled in every sport he took part in, he basically had recruiters breaking down his walls. Track, Rugby, Football, Baseball, Wrestling, you name it and Heat has some kind of trophy for it.
"I don’t really give much of a fuck about sports per se, I just really like winning." Well said. At least he’s upfront about it. He promised to teach Sera self defense techniques and reminded Serph about their future arm wrestling match and they excused themselves.
The pair then went to introduce themselves to the white-blonde man, who seemed to be lost in thought. He didn’t notice them coming and pulled a flask out of his coat-- Sera gasped. He heard her and turned to look at them and flashed a lazy smile.
"Hey there, I’m Roland and I’m uhh...I’m the Ultimate Bartender." He stressed the word ‘bartender heavily, probably to calm Sera down.
"B-But isn’t that illegal? We’re all in high school!" Roland shrugged.
"I flunked a grade or two. It’s technically legal." After Sera finished fretting over the ethics of underage drinking, she was finally calm enough to actually introduce them both.
"Sera and Serph... I’ll be sure to remember that. Sera Serph Sera Serph Sera Serph…Got it." He talked to Serph a little about the whiskey he had in his flask and how it was of especially good quality, much to Sera’s discomfort. Serph excused them both for Sera’s sanity.
The blue haired man seemed dejected but calm, so they finally got a chance to approach him. He was sitting by the door with his knee up casually and when he noticed them approaching, he tilted his head up in greeting.
"Varin Omega, Ultimate Soldier. You here to try the door too?" Serph and Sera shook their head no in unison and he sighed in response. "Goddamn door, wait til I get my hands on whoever locked us in this place I swear I’ll--"
"My name is Sera and I’m the Ultimate Seer, and this is Serph!" Varin looked at them quizzically. "What in the sam hell is a Seer? Nevermind that, can it help us get out of here?" Sera shook her head dejectedly.
"Feh." Varin responded. He wasn’t very friendly. An Ultimate Soldier...He’s probably seen unspeakable things, Serph thought. He must be very strong.
Serph was already socially exhausted, but there still remained a few people left to introduce themselves to. They went to the man with the long orange-red hair, who didn’t seem to notice them, but once he did he quickly changed his demeanor. He smiled.
"My name is Lupa, and I’m the Ultimate Camp Counselor. I suppose you wouldn’t expect that kind of title from someone like me." Sera seemed comfortable around him, and she introduced herself and Serph.
"I’ll try to think of some way to help you-- Serph was it? Recall your talent. It’ll come to you soon, I’m sure of it." He gave Sera lots of advice and talked endlessly about his younger brother, he seems to care about him immensely. If anyone can find a way out of here, it would be Lupa.
Serph had offered to introduce himself to ‘Jenna Angel’ by himself for Sera’s comfort, but Sera insisted on joining in. How scary could she be anyway? They learned that she could be very scary, in fact. Without even turning to face them, she spoke.
"Are you here to waste my time with petulant introductions, or are you going to offer anything productive and help Gale and I find a way out?" Sera seemed shaken but still spoke, albeit quietly.
"I’m Sera and...and this is Serph...I’m the Ultimate Seer but I can’t really um... use my power and he uhh...can’t remember his talent…"
Jenna sighed and faced them. "Jenna Angel, Ultimate Bioengineer. If that’s all you need and you don’t have anything to offer you may go now." Her companion was stone faced, but didn’t seem unfriendly. He spoke.
"My name is Da-- Gale, Ultimate Archivist." What was he going to say…? Nevermind that. Sera seemed a little confused.
"What is an Archivist?" she asked. Jenna rolled her eyes and spoke up. "It means he knows everything, now either make yourself useful, little miss prophet, or run along."
Gale glared at her, or at least it looked like a glare. His face wasn’t very expressive. "If there’s some information at the tip of your tongue and you just can’t remember it, let me know and I can help you figure it out. History, mathematics, literature, science, I know all recorded information in every subject." Gale explained.
"He’s an encyclopedia but with a heart, at least I think he has one." Jenna mocked, and then turned to look at her companion with folded arms. "Don’t you find it strange that Serph can’t remember his talent? Did he have one to begin with? Is he here by mistake? I can’t help but to wonder. And you, Seraphita, how do we know you even have so called ‘seer’ powers and didn’t just make it up to get into the school?"
Saved by the bell quite literally, the PA System went off, and an unfamiliar voice rang through the school.
"All students please assemble in the auditorium for an announcement."
Jenna was annoyed to be interrupted, but was even more annoyed to be reminded that she was trapped in a school. Serph spoke up.
"I...think we should all go. We may get some answers."
"And here I had you pegged as a mute." Jenna retorted. Does that woman ever have anything nice to say?
After lots of discussion and caution, everyone had agreed to go to the auditorium. Everyone made their way out of the room at their own pace, back into the maze-like academy. Hushed whispers could be heard all around, and the anxiety was palpable. Far ahead of the pack was Serph and Sera, until they finally arrived at two enormous push doors that looked like they belonged in a hospital, like most of the school did in general, as well as some of the students (Harley). Serph pushed the doors open and, along with Sera, entered the painfully bright-white room.
The auditorium was immense, with the school insignia of a lotus on the floor of it. Equally massive to match the scale was a huge set of black velvet curtains with a white trim at the top and bottom, contrasting the sickeningly white room. Once everyone arrived, silence fell and deafened the room, until--
Beep beep beep….krrrrrrshhhhhhhhhhhhh
Dial up sounds? It was deafening, everyone was trying to cover their ears, well barring Bat who seemed used to the loud, cacophonous noise. After what felt like an eternity but in reality was just forty-five seconds, the sounds stopped, and in it’s place, a rather victorious sounding trumpet played, and out came from behind the curtain...a black housecat wearing a collar with a little mouth bell with matching ebony and ivory inlay. Kind of anticlimactic.
The cat climbed the stepladder to the podium and ‘spoke’, through a speaker in it’s collar maybe. "Meow. Welcome to your School Life of Mutual Killing. I’m your favorite quantum uncertainty, Schrodinger." School Life of Mutual Killing?
Heat was the first to speak up. “Fuck you mean ‘Mutual Killing’? How about you shut your damn mouth before I show you a quantum uncertainty pussy!" Does he ever think before he speaks?
"Meow. I haven’t opened my mouth since I arrived, but you are correct, I am in fact a pussy." Schrodinger responded, monotone as before.
Bat chimed in next, speaking over the chaos taking over the room. "One, can we stop saying pussy, two, what the fuck is going on?"
"Is there something wrong with pussy?” Argilla interjected. “Typical. So much as mention the word and men go into a tizzy, right Jinana?" Jinana groaned quietly.
Schrodinger licked his paw and scratched his ear before speaking. "Meow. Let me explain. In order to reach Nirvana, you must kill one of your fellow students and survive a class trial without being caught. If you are correctly accused by your classmates, you are branded the blackened and you are punished. However, if you survive the class trial without being accused...All your classmates are punished instead, and you are free to achieve Nirvana."
Jenna spoke up next, her eyes fierce and defiant. "This is preposterous. You can’t possibly expect us to simply go along with this do you? You think we’d just start killing each other because you said so?"
"Yeah it sounds stupid as fuck! Besides, it’d be unfair. Everyone here except me and like, maybe Heat and Lupa are weak as shit!" Varin explained.
"Yeah! -Hey wait, maybe? Who you callin’ weak blueberry pubes!" Heat yelled back.
"You heard me firecrotch!" Varin responded. Lupa rubbed his temples.
"How vulgar…" Margot said under her breath.
"Meow. That’s why I’ve prepared a motivation to encourage a healthy, fun killing game. If a murder happens...You’ll all be free to go outside!" You could hear a tinge of excitement in Schrodinger’s monotone voice.
"There’s nothing healthy or fun about this!" Harley interjected.
"I’m with firecrotch lite!" Varin yelled out. Serph covered Sera’s ears for the time being.
"Can you think of a joke that doesn’t involve genitalia?" Gale added. Roland nodded solemnly.
"It’s not like we need you to let us out while I’m around, I can find us a way out without your help! If I can do one thing, it’s find escape routes!" Mick hollered at the cat.
"That’s right brudda! We don’t need you, Shrewdingo or whatever! We’ll get out together!" Cielo jumped in.
Schrodinger closed his eyes and looked down. "Meow. Oh no. I have been thrwarted by the power of vague acquaintanceship, my one weakness. Self destruct in 3…"
Harley shrieked like a little girl and hid behind Sera of all people. Everyone started scrambling and--
"Self destruct in three millennia." Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
"Meow. Anyways, there’s no way out. Either you kill someone, or enjoy the rest of your days in this state of the art academy. There’s no shortage of food, and even if there was, this school is self sustained. You could live here forever, or at least until you get bored and die in a group suicide." Schrodinger said.
"Group suicide doesn’t sound too bad at this point, my head can’t take much more of all this noise." Roland added.
"Hey count me in!" Bat replied.
"You shouldn’t joke about suicide!" Sera blurted out.
"We’re trapped in a school being forced to kill each other and you’re concerned about the ethics of a hypothetical group suicide?" Jenna retorted.
During the commotion, it seemed like Schrodinger made his exit, as he was nowhere to be found.
"It...Doesn’t seem as if the cat was lying. We really are trapped here...Perhaps we should make the best of the situation, we apparently have no shortage of food or supplies, there was even a fully stocked infirmary." Gale said.
Mick was peeved by that. "Speak for yourself, there’s no building I can’t find a way out of, you can bet your ass I’ll get out of here, but feel free to stay here by yourself, freak."
Gale only touched his temple in response and didn’t speak.
Lupa interjected. "I...Agree with Mick. I want to get out of here as soon as possible, and I’d rather not stay here much longer than I need to be."
"It doesn’t matter to me either way. Would make it easier if we had booze though." Roland added. Sera pouted and made an upset noise at the mention of alcohol.
"What did we do...to deserve this…" Jinana spoke up for the first time in awhile. No one responded, and the room became solemn.
Serph’s face was placid as always, but inside he was touched by Jinana’s words. He wasn’t particularly afraid of the events transpiring around them, there was little Serph was truly afraid of. He was unsure of what fate had in store for him, but there was one thing he was certain of-- he wouldn’t let himself succumb to this killing game. Not just him, not him nor Sera nor any of the others will succumb to this killing game.