An emergency general assembly of the students was called within that day in the basic scholar and basic program training halls. Emergency general faculty assemblies were also called within those halls.
The questions demanded immediate answers.
– Who is the young woman in the flyers?
Most likely Rowan of southeast, fire program trainee, second year basic program training.
– Does anyone have information on what happened to her? What created the pictured scene?
No one had information.
– Who is responsible for the flyers?
No one wanted to admit responsibility. Although many looked at each other, watched other trainees, sideglanced others with caution.
The trainee assemblies were told in no uncertain terms: Such activity is considered a criminal offense, not merely a violation of trainee guidelines. The defense committee besides the police have been informed. Random information trances may be conducted, random searches for memory jewels may be done within the next few days.
In the faculty assemblies, the Metalworks group was a name raised among them, but there was no solid proof of their involvement. The known members would be called in for questioning.
The usual targets of the group disappeared from classes soon after the flyers were released. Many classes were missing nearly half of the trainees.
Chie faced the crowd that filled the dining room of her uncle’s house. It had swelled to twice the regular number, and her poor aunt did not have enough to serve them all.
Everyone asked the same thing, and Chie had to give the only answer she could. She did not know where Rowan was, but she was almost sure Eloise of the Metalworks had her. The police were conducting searches throughout the capital. But until there was certainty of the situation, no one had informed Rowan’s relatives in the southeast. Yes, they were aware that time was running out, but there was not much they could do.
Chie shouted above the whispers and mumbling. “We need to maintain the pressure on the police and the defense! We have to keep them aware of this! This is the only chance we will get, to inform the adults of the problems within the training halls! We know it to be true, we have to make them see it! Now that they do, we have keep up the pressure!”
Ren raised his hand. “It’s not as easy as that, Chie. Especially now that Rowan’s been taken.”
“Why?” she asked. She raised her spectacles over her sandy hair and continued. “We can’t just depend on one person! Everyone has to take up the situation now!”
Ren sighed. “It’s all well and good, all your talk, and without you we wouldn’t even have a chance. But, we really need a plan. First, an organized way to get back Rowan. Second, a sure way to stop trance program trainee Johann during the concert performance. Third, a definite way to confirm Eloise’s involvement in all our problems.”
Chie stopped, considered, agreed. “How do we do this?”
Ren smiled, glad to be useful. He sat down again. “We need a large spread of paper to put on the table and the wall. Also, divide the trainees here by location and by program type.”
He would no longer be afraid of her. He would help end her rule. In the process, he will get Rowan back.
His eyes narrowed, his jaw clamped shut. Suddenly Chie felt a tightness, an anger, a wrath she never saw before.
“We will make this plan perfect,” he declared. “There will be no mistakes. We will take her down, so low she will never rise again. She will pay.”
It frightened the scholar trainee.
“I will make her feel everything she has done, I will.”
“Sereno!” Chie cried out.
Ren raised one crutch, ready to strike. “Shut up. You did not lose your legs and your future to a bully.”
Ren did not go to the training halls. He did not appear for work. He remained at Chie’s aunt’s house, planning and plotting.
When he was not there, he was wandering the capital, asking for any and all leads.
When he was not outside, he was at that dining table, a large piece of paper above it, full of scribbles in four ink colors and ten crayon colors.
The music programming hall’s annual trainee concert was in two days. It was one of the few events where most trainees were present. Since Eloise of the capital had connections with the elite — a rather well-known fact that also helped her maintain her grip on the trainees — she was sure to attend. Similarly, her boyfriend and Rowan’s friend Johann of southeast will be performing at the concert. Between them, Rowan would probably be bought there or near the area.
It would be the only time to get Rowan back.
Ren sat before the drafts and pored over them. He had plotted out where each person should be at the concert, as Chie had suggested them to be. He had asked where masters Beika, Lan, Soji, and Marceau would be during the event and plotted them in as well.
There would be no mistakes. They would take her down. They would not let her win anything.
“Don’t you want to have some dinner?” Chie asked.
Ren continued to scribble and draw arrows over the sheets of paper, mumbling and muttering over them.
“Sereno! You really have to tell me what’s wrong!” Chie said.
Ren slammed his hands loudly on the desk, made the pencils and paperweights jump up. It made her jump up as well.
“You what to know what’s wrong with me. You really want to know.”
“If it’s making you like this, yes!”
He leaned with both hands on the table and glared at Chie.
“If and when we get Rowan back, she won’t be the same. You’ve lost your champion for good. Your fighter is gone. You’re never getting her back. THAT is what Ely does. It is what she did to me. Now she has done it to another person. It stops here, and it stops now.” He pounded a fist onto the table. “Do you understand, Chie?”
Chie was lost for words. She stared at the floor.
“She’s gone to us, Chie. She won’t be the same.” He grit his teeth as two drops fell onto the paper. “I can’t unsee it. Why did it have to be Rowan, why.”
Chie slowly stepped closer to him. She reached out and embraced him from behind, holding him at the waist. She leaned her head on his back.
“She won’t be the same, but we’ll get her back,” Chie said.