“Shit’s about to get real,” Phoenix muttered as we pulled into the school parking lot and saw all the teachers’ cars still there, even though it was long past the time that most of them went home.  I expected as much, seeing how we’d left seven escaped prisoners to fend for themselves.

I bit my lip and looked nervously at Griffin in the seat next to me as Jaxson steered the stolen Camaro into a parking spot.  Shutting off the engine, Jaxson opened his door and got out, then held out a hand to help me climb out of the tiny backseat.

My sweat-slicked hand reached for his, and my fingers trembled at the electricity that sizzled between us.  He squeezed tighter, and I instantly pulled away from him, even though my first instinct was to squeeze back.

My feelings for Jaxson were complicated, just like the rest of my life.

Phoenix came around the front of the car just in time to see the exchange and scowled at Jaxson, then clasped my hand in his, pulling me closer.  Griffin nudged in between me and Jaxson on the other side.  The twins and I fell into step naturally, like we’d been a threesome forever, even though we’d only gone public a few weeks ago.

Jaxson just rolled his eyes and headed off in front of us towards the school building.  Once we got inside, the tension between us was immediately swallowed up in the chaos.

Students and teachers crowded around a group of people in the hallway, jabbering and firing off questions.  The strangers looked confused and out of place in a world that had abandoned them.  My heart pained at the absence of one of them.

A tall, lanky man with raven black hair, an older version of Jaxson, waved his hands in the air and tried to calm the riot as his wife clung to him.  “Listen!  We’ll tell you everything we know if you just settle down and give us some space!”

The crowd rumbled some more, and Jaxson pushed his way through it and approached his father and mother.

“Back off, people!  They don’t need you attacking them!  Everybody go to the gym and sit down, and we’ll explain everything.”  His voice boomed over them, and the crowd gradually dissipated as people turned and headed for the gymnasium.

A few minutes later, the entire population of Magna Virtus Academy, sans our leader, Anders Grant, had congregated in the gym and was anxiously awaiting an explanation for the sudden appearance of seven strangers who claimed to be escaped prisoners.

Jaxson took the stage where Anders usually stood, directing school meetings, and waited patiently with his hands on his hips for the crowd to quiet.  The ex-prisoners hovered around him.  Tall and toned, with long, raven black hair and piercing blue eyes, dressed all in black as usual, his presence was commanding.  When the noise settled, he finally started speaking.

“This is my father, Mark Merritt,” Jaxson stretched out his hands towards the man who looked just like him, “and this is my mother, Lucinda.  A few weeks ago, I snuck out of school because I hadn’t seen them in several years, and Anders wouldn’t let me go visit them.  When I got to their house, I discovered it was empty, and had been for a long time.”

The crowd murmured a little bit at that, but Jaxson continued.  “Anders promised me they were fine, but he wouldn’t tell me where they were, and I was worried about them.  I found out that Griffin and Phoenix’s parents had gone missing ten years ago, and Lexus’ mom had disappeared when she was a baby.  We decided to do some snooping, see if we could figure out what had happened to all of them.”

More whispers and rumblings.  The air stifled with tension that rose from the crowd like waves of heat.

“We broke into Anders’ office and found an access panel in the floor, and when we unlocked it, we discovered it led to a set of rooms, hidden the basement of this school…”  He paused, giving the tension a chance to ratchet up even higher.  “It was a prison, where Anders was keeping eight people captive.”

A collective gasp rose up from the agitated crowd, and voices overlapped each other in discord as they tried to come to grips with what Jaxson was saying.  Jaxson waited a few seconds for them to settle, but there was no quieting them, so instead he just spoke louder.

“Anders used these people’s gifts against them, wiping their memories and brainwashing them into compliance.  We set them free, and Anders came after us and threatened to kill us.  We fought him, but he managed to escape, and he took a hostage, Lexus’ mother.  We chased after him, but we lost him.  He won’t come back here, but if he ever does, I’ll kill him.”

The noise took over the gymnasium, echoing off the concrete walls in an ear-piercing cacophony.  Jaxson gave up on trying to speak and stepped back while Mr. Thorn, the upper-level Conduit teacher headed towards the front.

“Settle down, everyone!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs, and the noise level decreased a tiny bit.  “The other teachers and I will look into these… allegations, and make sure that everyone is kept safe.  For now, I want everyone in their rooms!”

It took several more commands, but the students eventually migrated out of the gymnasium and into the halls.  The boys and I stayed, the escapees by our side.

“Take me to this prison,” Mr. Thorn demanded.