The fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling are harsh and bright, causing the twins to shut their eyes once the black bags are taken off their heads. Staring at their bare feet, they are surprised to find that they have not been tied to the chairs. The only thing stopping them from moving are flexible resistance bands wrapped around their ankles. With a few experimental movements, the siblings manage to free their legs, which worries them more than if they were tightly strapped down. A loud scream from behind causes them to jump, but they cling to the chairs out of fear. They finally get the courage to look around and discover they are in the library, all of the shelves having been cleared of books. The carpeting has been rolled away to expose the feather-covered linoleum beneath and there are tarps covering the tiled section. A quartet of cops stand near the doors, which have been chained shut and painted black. Ahead of the twins is a strange collection of flowery sheets that are covering something that is oddly shaped and dangling from the ceiling. The only parts of the mystery object that they can see are chains that have been bolted to the crossbeams and an enormous hand crank. Raising their heads higher, they realize there are hundreds of ravens quietly sitting on the shelves and they can hear more flying about on the upper floors.
A door slams shut behind the prisoners, who rush to get the flimsy restraints back on their legs. The resistance bands are grabbed and tossed away before they can finish, the cafeteria worker stopping to pat the twins on the cheeks. Aurora’s mouth falls open when she sees her lab professor step out of the shadows, her expression copied by Apollo at the sight of the school psychologist. More members of the campus staff walk out of the stacks and take their place around the cleared floor. The siblings do not recognize everyone, but the glint in every set of eyes makes them fearful that every move they have made has been meticulously watched. Their nerves are strained as their minds race for an explanation, both of them silently praying it is another dream. A mild acceptance has fallen over the pair by the time Professor Soleman and Charlene come down a nearby staircase and walk to the center of the circle. The administrator removes her jacket and places it on the floor, allowing her to kneel in front of the prisoners and place her hands against their stomachs.
“All of the pieces are here and have ripened,” Charlene says as Professor Soleman walks behind the siblings. She holds up a hand to stop him from touching them, the man obediently stepping away. “We’re only minutes away from the ritual. The world will become right again because a real goddess will be reborn. Aren’t you two happy to have such a pivotal role in history?”
“It would help if we knew what was going on,” Apollo replies, shoving Charlene’s hand away. Seeing that his sister is shivering, he kicks the woman back and jumps to his feet in case the professor attacks. “You people have been watching us since we got here. We demand to know why. Is this about Dawn Addison? My sister and I have nothing to do with some dead hotel owner.”
“Actually, you do, but none of us are in a position to explain,” Professor Soleman states while cleaning his glasses. He takes Apollo’s seat and leans back until the front legs are off the floor. “Mr. Porter was very good at investigating, which is one of the reasons we had to make things along. The last thing we wanted is for one of the pieces to move beyond our reach. After all, we’ve worked for eighteen years to make sure everything came to us. The perfect programs and scholarships for bait. Placing expendable guidance counselors in the high schools was the hardest part. Yet, our savior wanted it done. Did you know that all of us were in Heaven’s Nest when it collapsed?”
Charlene rushes her companion and knocks the chair over, the man’s head thudding against the floor. “That is not for you to say. My job is to hold the records while yours is to give my orders to everyone else. Now, where was he? Ah, yes. We were in Heaven’s Nest and our protector made sure we lived. All of us were chosen to do her bidding and assist in her rebirth, which hit a little snag at the beginning. As you can see-”
Without warning, Charlene’s teeth fall out and she gurgles out whatever she was going to say. Falling to her knees, she spits out blood while trying to put the pieces back. The twins back away, Apollo helping Aurora move until she snaps out of her stupor. Hearing footsteps on the stairs, they turn around expecting to see the woman from their nightmares. Instead of Dawn, it is Marcy walking backwards without holding the railing. The librarian’s hair gets redder with every step and she grows a little in height due to a faint curve in her spine disappearing. Her black dress bends and shifts until it is a pair of pants and a t-shirt, both of which have a police insignia on the back. Flipping up her hair, the woman’s hands come back into view with a polished handgun and a rusty badge. Placing them on her waist, which has no belt, Marcy turns around and hops onto the railing. Her green and blue eyes glint in the light, giving them a golden hue around the edges. Leaping over the circle, she lands behind the twins and lunges forward to drape her arms over their shoulders.
“These pesky followers have no patience, do they?” the librarian asks while licking her lips and purring. Looking from Apollo to Aurora, she sees fear and confusion in their eyes, which makes her sigh. “I’m not Dawn, but I am the one who can answer your questions. My name is Gemma Cooke. Tensing up means you’ve heard of me. I was the one hunting our dear and foolish savior until she snapped like a little twig. Not a day has gone by without me wishing I walked away, but nothing I can do about it now. You see, she did die that day. Only a monster like Dawn Addison isn’t one to let that stop her. She’s been riding my brain ever since and pushing me to put all of this together. It’s such an interesting sensation. I despise every speck of her existence and wish she would erase herself. Yet, I also refuse to live without her and want to see her whole again. Perhaps this is what madness is for those who weren’t born to survive such trials.”
“Tell us why we’re here!” Aurora demands, regaining her strength. She freezes when she feels a gun press against her chin, the click of the hammer making her want to cry. “Please don’t do anything hasty. It’s obvious you need us alive and mobile. Otherwise, you would have tied us up or killed us. Did you kill our friends?”
“One question and demand at a time,” Gemma explains as she releases the twins. Bending down in front of Charlene, she waves Professor Soleman over to help the woman put her teeth back in her mouth. “Such obedient sheep, but why wouldn’t they be since they were spared and have been promised power? When Dawn returns, she will know what she truly is. Unlike before when she thought Corvus was the master. The woman will still be the maddest thing in the world, but her powers will be controlled. All she’s missing is her body. Our first mistake was trying to have me use her powers to rebuild it. That failed and only accomplished . . . removing pieces from the original. Not our fault since we didn’t know where the body was. Toothless Tammy over here is the one who stole it and united the others. I was only too happy to take over and have them do my dirty work in finding the pieces. This is where I ask you if you believe in reincarnation.”
Apollo opens his mouth to answer, which causes the woman to inch closer to him. “At this point, I’m willing to believe anything. Although, it doesn’t sound like this has anything to do with reincarnation. More like resurrection, which failed? Unless you mean one of us is the reincarnation of Dawn Addison.”
“Pretty smart for someone who pays more attention to clouds than people,” the red-haired woman snaps, her eyes momentarily blinking out of synch with each other. Shaking her head clear, Gemma strikes Professor Soleman in the stomach to make him double over and she perches herself on his back. “Move and I kill you twice. As I said, these idiots were messing with the body when we tried our resurrection. The result is that six parts were reincarnated in children that were already born. Your friends in the mythology club had her brain, heart, lungs, kidney, and liver instead of their own. Those are actually inside me to help us find them and watch to make sure they ripen properly. As for you and your sister, you’re holding Dawn’s soul as well as your own. We’ll be taking all of the parts back, so don’t be happy or get attached.”
“Don’t you have part of her soul too?” Aurora asks, stepping between Gemma and her brother.
“I have most of it, which I will gladly hand over for my freedom.”
“Then, can’t we do the same?”
“Because that’s far too boring for such a big event.”
“No. I’m normal and Dawn is insane, but she’s in my head, which makes me insane too.”
“Screw you and the time for talking is over.”
Gemma violently shoves the twins back into their seats before clapping her hands over her head. The followers hurry to take down the floral sheets and connect the end of the thinnest chain to the hand crank. When most of the coverings are down, Aurora and Apollo see that their five friends are hanging from hooks. They are still alive, but unconscious, the only movements being their shallow breathing and occasional twitch. With a groan, Thomas tries to lift his head, but is immediately injected with another dose of tranquilizer. Only one sheet remains, which Gemma half-heartedly skips over to and yanks off with no ceremony. The followers cheer at the sight of Dawn Addison, the lifeless corpse naked and suspended by padded chains tenderly wrapped around her shoulders. Her skull and ribcage have been opened and there are holes in her stomach to expose gaps where the organs should be. The thinnest chains run from the students and to the wounds before coiling together into the one ending at the hand crank. Picking up a crooked chalice, Gemma walks around the six bodies and flicks sugary water on their feet.
Once all of the preparations are done, the crowd attempts to swarm the area and are driven away by the ravens. The birds circle the sacrifices and angrily peck at anyone that gets too close for the liking. Gemma is the only one allowed to stay within reach of the bodies, her grinning face moving throughout the flock. She stops at the crank and begins to turn it, the creaking drowned out by the ravens’ song. The chain is gradually retracted and it takes the connected organs out of the students, the bones splintering like rotten wood. Once free of the shuddering victims, the parts fly into Dawn and her wounds are stitched together by the metal links. They turn hot and fuses to the skin, which shifts like there are worms underneath. With a loud snap, the remaining chains burst and the brown-haired woman falls onto her feet where she stands looking down at the floor.
“All we need to do is add the-” Gemma starts to announce as the ravens swarm the fresh corpses. She scowls at the empty chairs sitting behind the followers, the twins having escaped during the ritual. “Did anybody think about watching them? We went over this every weekend for the last ten years! All of you are a severe disappointment to this beloved institution. You know how this is going to work. A sweet reward to the one who brings me the souls. Blah blah blah. Move it!”