Shadow School Ch. 03byRedHotLadybug©
Cameron eyed the large stone structure she was approaching with a nervous fascination. She was entering what she knew was some sort of secret society of educators. The brochure had been very vague, offering just enough that you were curious about the school but not enough to tell what all of this was about.
She hadn't applied for this college, yet they had already accepted her. Offered her a scholarship even. Which meant someone was interested in her attendance. But who? Why? She'd like to think that it was something she'd done but she couldn't think of what. She was an average student, but not the smartest. She didn't play sports. She wasn't very active in school clubs. And with thirty-two hundred students at her school, she couldn't imagine how she stood out enough to be one of twenty one girls chosen to compete for the scholarship.
Whatever the cause, she was here, and her parents were interested in the place as well. Maybe not as much as the other schools, especially Stanford, where her mother had sorority connections, but the scholarship offer was enough to entice them to this event.
With one last look at the campus, she noted that the statue in front of this building was a woman in a toga. Further down was a knight, and two more statues she couldn't make out. From this vantage point she realized that all seven statues were evenly placed in a semi-circle facing the cathedral. She wondered who they were.
Not wanting to cause a buildup in the line of attendees, Cameron turned back to the few steps at the entrance of VanMeter Hall. As the group of girls and their parents walked into the large foyer, they were met with a team of young men and women armed with clipboards.
Louis turned to the group to stop them. "These are your escorts for the next two days. They will answer questions for you and take you to your designated meetings. Each one will step forward and call your name, have a brief moment with you here in the foyer, then everyone will be taken into the Gaius Germanicus Theatre for the opening ceremony." Louis turned to the first girl, a pretty young woman with strawberry blonde ringlets curling down past her shoulders. "Elise..." he gestured for her to find the girl whose family she would be paired with.
Elise stepped up beside Louis and smiled. "Bridget Monroe?"
A tall girl with straight black hair stepped forward as well as her parents. Elise grinned at them before leading them a few steps away, where they began shaking hands and speaking in hushed voices.
"Devin Buckley?" a barrel-chested young man asked. His charges stepped forward and they all went off to another corner.
It went like that for the next few minutes. Cameron waited patiently for her name to be called. Kristie was the first among their group of three however, her name called by a petite blonde with chunky glasses and her hair pulled tightly back into a ponytail. Another name was called, then...
"Cameron Ellis?" a caramel-skinned young woman with bright green eyes that did not match her other features -- making them all the more stunning -- nodded with a genuine smile on her lips when Cameron stepped forward. "I'm Mahi. Will you follow me please?"
Cameron's dad squeezed her shoulder lightly in encouragement as they began to follow Mahi to a marble column just beyond the remainder of the group. She glanced back over her shoulder to see Melanie watching her. It was the first time the girl had made eye contact. She offered a brief smile then looked away, leaving Cameron wondering if that was the start of an apology. She turned back to Mahi.
"Welcome to our campus, I hope your drive was successful." Mahi's voice sounded rich with the flavors of India. "Again, my name is Mahi, and I will be your escort for the duration of your stay."
Everyone was introduced and some light chatting took place before the green-eyed girl got down to business. "Here are your packets." She handed over sleek black folders to Cameron's parents, and a crimson one to Cameron. "Inside you'll find all you need to know about what will happen during your stay. They ask us to warn all candidates not to get their hopes up about the scholarship since only one in seven girls will receive it. We do want each girl here to attend, and not choose another school based on rejection. It's simply a perk, should you decide to attend SVMC."
Cameron's mother winked at her. She clearly thought Cameron already had the perk coming to her.
"We also ask that you do not speak of our college openly to anyone as it is a select society of scholars who chose your family specifically. We have connections with other institutions where you will be immediately accepted, which you will hear about later. Trust me. It is worth it. Once you get out into the real world, networking will be your playground." Mahi winked at Cameron.
Cameron felt the grip of her father's hand on her shoulder give her another squeeze. Well, that got his vote. Her mother was next.
As if reading her thoughts, Mahi smiled to Cameron's mother conspiratorially. "There's a wonderful women's society here as well, and if she wins the scholarship, Cameron will be inducted into a very specific group of girls. If she excels in this group, she will be considered one of the top women in the college during her time here. These top scholars take an annual trip to Washington to meet with dignitaries from all over the world, and there's even a breakfast with the First Lady."
"Well!" Her mother said on an exhale.
Now all Cameron had to do was win the scholarship.
Melanie had watched both Kristie and Cameron leave with their respective guides. Soon she was left standing with just another girl. It was then that she realized there was only one more campus escort remaining and two girls to choose from.
"Tamara Stolz?" the young man with mocha skin and bulging muscles asked. The other girl and her family followed the guide only a few steps before stopping.
"And Miss Melanie Carver." Louis said, stepping forward. For one brief moment of panic Melanie thought she was going to be dismissed. "I am your guide for the duration of your stay."
This, of course, pleased her parents as well, since they were probably thinking the same thing she was about being the last called. Now that they were being guided by the man that was the obvious leader of the escorts, it seemed to make them both swell with pride.
Her father stepped forward and shook Louis' hand, and her mother followed suit. Louis looked to Melanie. He had the same eyes as Gavin. And the same last name. Did that mean Gavin was here? Oh God.
"Do you like what you see so far?" Louis asked.
"Oh, it's gorgeous," her mother replied. "And that cathedral!"
"Ah yes, you will find many religions here at SVMC, predominately Catholic, but Protestant as well and a sprinkling of others. We encourage students to follow the path they choose, though as you can see, we have only so much space here in the mountains so the cathedral is home to all religions requiring a building."
"Some don't use it then?" Her father inquired.
"Well the Druids prefer to practice their faith surrounded by nature so they have a sacred circle further into the forest, but yes, just a little over half of the groups use the building. Now, as for the studies..." Louis handed each of them folders with materials inside explaining various departments as well as an itinerary for their stay, their room number in Wesir House, and what to expect when meeting with the board members.
Throughout the discussion, Melanie found it hard to focus. She couldn't get over how much Louis looked like Gavin, but Gavin wasn't French, and Louis looked to be several years older than her ex. Everything sounded too good to be true, however, and she was either about to pass up a wonderful opportunity because of a boy or she was about to get scammed. There had to be a catch.
Escorts began taking the students and their parents into the opening assembly which was in a gorgeous theatre made to look like something out of Ancient Rome. Gaius Germanicus. Why did that name sound familiar? Probably because of Julius Caesar, but then those names got passed around to so many children in the Caesar family that it could be anyone within the first few hundred years of the empire.
Looking up, Melanie noticed several people sitting in the private box seats of the theatre, clad in some kind of ceremonial robes. In each box there were one or two people dressed in crimson red, and one in all black. The ones in black had hoods on so their faces could not be seen. Good Lord they took this ceremony stuff seriously. It was probably branch of the Freemasons or something. She was at the point where she wouldn't be surprised if someone walked out onto the stage and introduced himself as the Grand Poobah.
When the lights dimmed, it was actually a girl who took the podium first, a young woman with a bright face, and surprisingly perfect white teeth. She welcomed the assembly and introduced herself as Jessica Wellington, one of the current seniors who received the Shacrow Seven Scholarship four years ago. She spoke of the wonderful things the university had taught her, the experiences she had been given, and the privilege of being the head girl of the Sokar House. She spoke of her plans to continue her education at Harvard, where she had been accepted immediately, and how each girl in the room had the same chances if they applied themselves.
Next was another girl, this one a senior from Waldemar House. She introduced herself as Maya Gregory, and spoke of the arts at SVMC like it was one of the premiere art schools of the country. She was thankful for the life she was given and the path she had chosen to pursue based on her experience at the school.
The third girl was a junior of Roanoke House named Linney Feinburg. She spoke of the way nature played a part in the schools atmosphere, and the use of sustainable resources to make the school more agreeable to the environment around them. She challenged girls to explore the trails surrounding the school, and to participate on their summer hike on the Appalachian Trail if they felt up for a journey during the summer if they were physically up to it.
With the end her speech, Linney introduced the President of the College, Julian Arinson. He was a man of older years, his wavy golden hair flecked with white. He spoke of school pride, and how SVMC was one of the oldest institutions on the continent, having remained a secret among friends over centuries since its development in the 1600s. He spoke of the achievements of their former students, several that Melanie even recognized as men of history, famous women, two who were movie stars, and how it was possible that someone in this very room could be the next great success.
He spoke of diversity, how all religions were able to practice here in harmony, how the college was founded for the purpose of educating women as well as men, and accepted students no matter the color of their skin. He spoke of the fragile trust they placed on individuals who learned of their institution, and how it was because of their closed-lipped regard that the school was able to sustain this way of life over the centuries.
He then welcomed all of the young women in the room to join that tradition. Melanie had to hand it to the guy. He was a great public speaker. But then, so was Hitler. She felt like someone being coerced into loving a great idea, without knowing the truth behind the scenes.
She glanced up at the boxes holding the robed figures. Though Melanie couldn't see their faces, she got the feeling one of them returned her stare. She was seriously beginning to think this was a bad idea. But as she dropped her gaze, she saw the gleam of hope in her parents eyes and knew they were just as determined as she had been earlier to get their daughter into this school. And to get the scholarship. Her heart sunk as she realized turning this school down now would be a huge disappointment.
Begrudgingly, she turned to listen to the new speaker. Louis had taken the stage again and was telling everyone that each girl would meet for ten minutes with the President before being introduced to a Head of House that was interested in them. They would have a brief interview with the Head before being directed to the banquet hall for an evening meal.
"Meanwhile, parents, please follow your escorts to your rooms where they will wait to take you to the meeting with the Board of Directors." Louis gestured to guides lining the walls and they filed out into the foyer as the parents began to exit the auditorium. "Ladies, I will leave you in the hands of seven house representatives, each who will take you to your meeting at the designated time. Meanwhile feel free to remain here in the theatre until you are called." He smiled to everyone, then... Melanie caught a quick flicker of his eyes up to the box seats above. The robed figures were standing and filing out into the upper halls of the balcony.
What no chanting?
It didn't take long before the black robbed figures reappeared, this time on stage and minus their companions dressed in red. Once they were all lined up together, their hands reached up to their hoods to remove their hoods as if on cue.
Each one was a young woman. Melanie recognized Linney Feinburg among them.
"Welcome distinguished daughters of man, to an initiation in which seven of you will be chosen to be part of a prestigious tradition of Shacrow Van Meter University." The first girl in the line, an average-looking girl with auburn hair, had stepped forward.
A shorter girl with chin-length black curls was next. "In the next few hours you will be evaluated based on personality, elegance, and manners befitting one of our prestigious circle."
Melanie wanted to snort with laughter. This was ridiculous.
The next girl, dark-skinned with her hair cut so short it was barely there, stepped forward. "Your parents will undergo evaluation as well, to assure good bloodlines and proper upbringing. Each woman chosen MUST be a lady."
What the hell? They made her sound like she was a horse or something. What did bloodlines have to do with it? Especially after all of that diversity talk. Melanie fought the urge to roll her eyes. Instead, she looked over at Cameron, then Kristie. What did she have in common with them that could answer that question?
"Present yourself to your elders to the best of your ability, but remember to be yourself. It is you they are inviting into the circle, it is you who will emerge with the best of connections. It is you, who will succeed." The words came from a girl with soft brown hair that was swept up on top of her head in some kind of beaded banana clip. Who wore those these days?
It was Linney's turn. "Consider all that you hear today and respect the old traditions. Though they may be out of style or foreign to your every day of life, but the rewards are great for those who strive to keep them sacred."
Okay now it was borderline cult talk. Seriously, why hasn't Cameron or Kristie turned to give her the "what the hell?" face. Looking at all the girls scattered throughout the first few rows of the theatre, no one was turning their heads.
A pretty Asian girl stepped forward then, her glossy black hair disappearing into the cloak she wore. "Think seriously about your goals in life and ask yourself this question. "If I could do anything, what would it be?"
The last girl, the one with white-blonde hair, said, "Because that dream can become a reality if you become one of the Seven in your year." She turned, breaking the line, to face the girls standing side by side. "Houses, announce yourself as open to the acceptance of a new member in your family." The girl got back into line.
Melanie watched, hardly breathing, as the houses sounded off. Sokar. Harvard.
Wait... Harvard? Like the University?
Okay what the...
Oh... Melanie got it as the last two names were sounded out. She had always been quick with puzzles and wordplay.
Melanie looked at all seven girls. S-H-A-C-R-O-W. The name was not really a name after all. It was seven names. Which meant... this whole seven thing was probably as old as the university itself. If that were the case, it must not be as bad as she thought; otherwise some mass-suicide or strange occurances would have been splashed all over the news like with any other cult that got out of hand. This one was hundreds of years old.
Looking around the room, Melanie began to wonder how many of the other girls figured it out. She noticed Kristie lower her head momentarily, but it was back up soon after, looking at the girls on stage. If only she could see her face... what was the girl thinking?
The last girl in the row girl stepped forward again, this time several steps away from the others. "Tamara Stolz. You have been chosen to meet with the President. Do you accept?
Melanie had been told by Louis how to reply so she expected it when it came. The Stoltz girl stood and said "Yes" before making her way down the row of seats. The cloaked girl who called her name came down front to a set of steps leading to a side exit. Together, the girls went through the door.
The Asian girl was next. "Bridget Monroe. You have been chosen to meet with the President. Do you accept?" The girl, Bridget, giggled nervously as she stood then answered the same "Yes" before exiting her row to follow the girl in the cloak out the door.
And so it went. Melanie watched each of the cloaked girls step forward and announce some random name before going out with them until was just one girl left on stage; the one with the auburn hair from Sokar House.
Melanie watched Kristie stand before the girl was even finished with her question.
"You have been chosen to meet with the President. Do you accept?"
Some of the girls in the room gasped quietly and those who hadn't turned to see Kristie did now. The girl on the stage had started to step forward but froze, her eyes wide. Catching herself, she stepped forward and asked again. "Do you accept?"
Kristie ran her hands through her hair. "Yes, but I have some questions."
The girl on the stage simply looked at her, then smiled. "I'll be happy to answer your questions as we walk to the President's House. Do you accept?"
Kristie paused for only a moment before answering, "Yes."
The girl on stage began to move forward again, turning to go down the steps as Kristie grabbed her bag. Melanie watched Kristie glance over to Cameron who shrugged then nodded. Kristie offered a bemused smirk before hurrying down the row of theatre seats to the exit.
Cameron waited until the door was closed to look at Melanie. When it became obvious that they were left to mingle like Louis said earlier, Melanie debated going to sit with her classmate. She should tell Cameron her worries about what was going on, but that would mean describing what happened with Gavin, then Trevor. To warn the other girl, Melanie would have to begin with a long-overdue apology and tell her more than she wanted Cameron to know.
Kristie walked beside the cloaked girl from Sokar House for a few moments in utter silence. Then the girl spoke. "You couldn't have just said what you were supposed to say and ask the questions now?" The girl kept her face forward.
Kristie chose her words carefully. "No offense, but that sounded like some sort of sorority ritual and I'm not exactly the sorority type." That earned her a glance. "The rest sounded a little... I dunno... all that bloodline talk was weird."
Kristie was trying so hard to be diplomatic but how did you ask awkward questions without being awkward? "Excuse me, are you a cult?" Yeah that'd go over well.