Jan 27, 2023 1:19 PM
approach other students! make friends! commit homicide! (it's probably a little early for that.)
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The cafeteria is, actually, not worse than a lot of school cafeterias. It has scruffy floor tiles, long tables, solid-looking walls, a moderately high ceiling with beams and ventilation grates which the smart kids are standing clear of, the food line (currently closed, it's after lunch and not yet dinner) against one wall, the tray busing rotating with ominous clacking in a corner. The older students are all there, to guard the new freshmen and get them water and collect their care packages from them. There are some tearful sibling reunions. There are some more-tearful instances of younger children shouting a name the older ones don't recognize. 

Some of the more diligent and organized upperclassmen are handing out paper cups of water to every shell-shocked freshman as they wander in, and herding them to the center so there'll be space for the rest of them. 

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Water! Water is life! Water is the most delicious thing Annisa has ever tasted! She gulps down two cups and then makes herself stop because she'll just throw it up if she drinks too much. The highest bidders for shares of her weight limit were Beijing and Shanghai students, but Annisa doesn't speak Mandarin and it's been apparent since she was six that it'd be a bad idea to try to get her to learn, so the introductions wouldn't be worth anything; instead, they advertised across India, Indonesia, Korea which has a decent English-speaking contingent, and Australia, and she even has one letter for an American though they mostly distribute their letters within their own enclaves and not-quite-enclave alliances.

She is a dignified, competent near-adult and not a pathetic scared little kid. She takes a deep breath, and then plunges into the crowd, calling "Lee Seo-Jun? Leela Menon?"

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Annaka looks like shit. Julia resolves immediately to never look that awful, even if she is literally being eaten alive. Annaka's hair has split ends and her clothes are slightly ill-fitted and there's a healing bruise on one cheek that she hasn't even covered over with foundation - she's not wearing makeup at all, actually, even though Julia knows she went in with the same enchanted kind as Julia - and she's thin but not even in an attractive Italian model way, just in a way that emphasizes every imperfection in her bone structure. 

 

"What happened to you?" she says, pulling out the croissants to hand over. "Silas's got your care package, wherever he got to -"

"It's good to see you, Julie," Annaka says, taking the croissants and tucking them away in her own backpack. "How's Teddy, how're Mom and Dad - do you know who made it out from graduation -"

The grads got back very shortly before induction; Julia honestly hadn't been paying that much attention. Her parents rushed the first one back to demand news of Annaka and got the news that she was alive and then went back to focusing on Julia's packing. "It looked like everyone was happy-crying?" she says. "We were doing final weigh-ins, though. Dad says be careful at graduation. I don't think he thinks you're an idiot, I think he's an idiot. - are you being an idiot? You look terrible."

" - the bruise? There was an explosion in alchemy, it's only a bruise because I'm good at shielding."

"Don't we have healing magic for that? Chloe's got the first aid kit refills if you're out..."

"...I'm not going to use healing magic for a bruise."

"Is it some kind of stupid Scholomance toughness thing?" Julia says suspiciously. 

"I might get hurt worse than that and want the good stuff then. Or I might want to leave it for my little sister, who I don't trust to take care of herself."

"That's rich," says Julia. "You don't trust me to take care of myself, while you look like you forgot what taking care of yourself even means at some point? What happened to your nails?" They're ragged. "Why aren't you wearing makeup?"

"First day of school isn't very dangerous, the cleansing just ran and everything down in the graduation hall is busy digesting. I wear it when I need it."

 

"I don't want to live like that," Julia says. "Have you got any advice that isn't "run around like a Dickens orphan covered in soot"-"

"Yeah. See how you're standing under a ventilation grate? Don't do that. Check the undersides of the tables before you sit down..."

 

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Edmund meets up with his enclave mates in the hallways - Nigel gives him the supplies, Ella gives him some clothes to shove in his bag, Adrian gives him the little box of sweets he'd assembled. (It's a waste of weight, but it's important to live instead of just surviving.) "Thanks, all," Edmund says airily, "and Nigel in particular, for whom I would take a bullet in a heartbeat."

Then he gets to the cafeteria itself, and sees Peter, and he breaks into a sprint because. Well. Peter.

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Ghyslaine doesn't quite mean to cut such a striking figure, but she's wearing her best enchanted hunting leathers and walking with the effortless poise she's been training into herself since she could walk at all, and her hair is tightly braided halfway down her back, and she has noticed how clearly this sets her apart from the crowd and decided to play it up a little and see what happens. She graciously accepts a cup of water and takes measured sips so as not to break the illusion.

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Here's an obvious muggleborn wandering around and randomly making eye contact or saying 'hey', trying to get a feel for the room and the factions.

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Hmm, hmm. What to do. He handed off his letters and smiled friendly-like at their recipients and said some charming words that didn't actually pass through his brain on the way to his mouth, but then it was necessary to gracefully exit those conversations before friendly and helpful could turn into annoying clingy freshman, leaving him once again at odds. A lot of people seem to have put down their backpacks before coming to the cafeteria, so Lysander doesn't stick out without one, which is probably good. The heavy hammerpike on his belt might, especially since he moves with the casual grace of someone who has absolutely practiced using it as both a tool and a weapon. He glances at the girl in the hunting outfit, tamps down a wildly inappropriate urge to ask her to spar because that is a training exercise and this is now officially real life, and goes to try to make friends with Paris. (Freshman year isn't for picking out individual interesting people, mostly; it's for cultivating a known reputation for being friendly and helpful and exactly the amount of competent where people want him as a sidekick and definitely not as a rival, serious ally they need to have expectations of, etcetera.) 

He waves cheerily at the muggleborn bravely greeting people on his way by, though. This is a good behavior and should be incentivized. 

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She stumbles into the cafeteria and looks around for her siblings. Some upperclassman - not Alexios, too white (She does spend an embarassingly long second squinting at him to be sure of this) - puts a paper cup into her hand and she stares at in confusion until she realizes what it is and gulps the water down. She chokes and coughs and he starts patting her on the back which she's pretty sure she's not supposed to allow but she can't talk while she's coughing and he doesn't stop when she tries to wave him away, (probably because in practice this just means her arm flops vaguely in his direction) so she's stuck until Maryam rescues her from the kind older boy of the sort she's been assured will lead her perilously into sin and ruin - or maybe it's Safiya leading her along, she could tell them apart before but it's been years and she's not exactly at her best right now and oh look here she is with the rest of her family (Except for Aishah who she will not see again in this life and she would be tearing up right now except that the water hasn't made it that far yet).

After some more water and part of a candy bar Alexios got from the snack machines she is conscious enough to answer questions about who made it through graduation and realise that - oh, blindness, she didn't take down her room number. Nothing for it now, God will lead her back to it or He won't. She stops to look around and see if she can recognize anyone from her walk stumble to the cafeteria.

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"I have a letter for Hazel Blair," she says. She has other letters, too, but she can hand those out later.

Her sister is a senior now. When no one immediately speaks up, she starts looking around for older students. "Does anyone know Hazel Blair? She's my sister--"

Someone senior-looking catches her on the arm. "--Bloodclinger got her last year."

She clenches her fists and tries not to cry and eventually manages to pull out the other letters she's supposed to deliver and read off their names and, finally, meet up with Jeremy to exchange supplies.

 

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Ribo doesn't have anything specifically for anyone so she just takes in the general ambiance and accepts water from a senior. She wanders about looking for anyone who seems friendly.

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Masozi reaches the cafeteria, tense and fully on guard, all his senses alert. He needs no prompting to avoid standing under the ventilation grates or approaching any objects that might harbour concealed spaces for nasties to hide in. He briefly makes eye contact with any kids who look his way, but presumably everyone here is tense and realizes they're likely to be in danger, and won't want the distraction of chitchat. 

Some children are handing over letters they brought in to older kids. Masozi stomps down a pang of grief, and reminds himself that if he survives and makes it out of here, his baby sister will still only be eight. She will grow up having no idea that magic is real, surrounded by mundane people whose anti-belief will, if he's lucky, keep the monsters at bay for long enough that he can go back for her. 

(And not just for her, but he feels even less able to think about that, right now.) 

He accepts a cup of water from an older kid and doesn't ask where he can get more to fill his rescued collapsible-plastic water bottle, which was a real find. They're clearly very busy and will want to tell students all the important things at once, for efficiency. 

 

...Some of the children look really confused, though. Masozi wonders if they're here by - well, not by accident, but maybe it's like what would have happened if the Johannesburg girl died and he wasn't in the city to know about it, but the school gave him that seat anyway. And some of them are asking questions in English. He makes sure to linger nearby where he can overhear those conversations. And watches the stupid ceiling grates because way too many of the others aren't

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The cafeteria is extremely - well, no, actually, it's not that suspicious, it's sort of suspiciously un-suspicious, compared to the room she came in at.

Everyone here is a kid, about her age or a couple years older, it looks like. School, not hospital. And most of them don't look as confused as she feels, although several of them look significantly more distraught. The kids filtering into the cafeteria mostly have shaved or very short hair, even the girls, although this seems a lot less true of the kids who were already here. That's - that doesn't fit with the alien theory at all, actually, why would the kids who just arrived be weirder in some way than the kids who are already here? Especially if it's observably not because of the transporter, since she definitely still has all of her hair?

An older boy hands her a paper cup full of water, which she guesses is good for the having thrown up, and then ushers her towards the middle of the room before she can ask him if he, like, knows where this is. She's having a little bit of trouble getting words out, or picking a person to ask questions of, because there are so many, and they all seem to know what they're doing and be involved in private dramas of their own.

She waits for a couple minutes to see if anyone is going to explain anything. ...no one seems to be explaining anything to her. Okay. Maybe she can find one person, and try very hard to get some words out. Given that it's really possibly a matter of life and death, and all. That's - probably the sort of circumstance under which she should be able to get some words out.

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First, he identifies the other students from Dubai. So far, they're standing together like a pack of lemmings. Good. Next, he tries to identify kids from the other MENA enclaves. He wants to cultivate those relationships; his parents have maintained them somewhat, but it's up to him, now. He can't just rely on his name. He smiles and waves at all of the older students. The ones from Dubai recognize him, of course; every family in the enclave knows about Ghassan Al-Maroun, an only child. It's a disadvantage for his parents, of course, but an enormous advantage for him. He's inheriting the best of what they could give him.

The Dubai upperclassmen gather around him first, since they know he's the one with the letter. He brandishes it, reciting the semi-memorized well-wishes using the limited prompts on the page. He has to improvise in the case of one family, whose prompts are just 'please, please, come home' and 'we're praying for you'. Your mother loves you, your younger sister misses you, your older brother started a business...are you eating well, don't forget to plan ahead, here's how to sabotage another student who doesn't deserve their spot...it's about what you would expect. The juniors and seniors pretend not to be emotionally affected by this, mostly, as they should, but he can see a few sophomores who lack that discipline; they'll probably die before the year is out. He tries not to let that opinion show, and they all thank him.

When he's finished with that, he looks around for any MENA or Shanghai enclavers who look friendly and any indies who radiate competence (if he's lucky, he can secure any diamonds in the rough before anyone else does).

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She downs two cups of water and then yells "Petersburg", safer than yelling names, and when they spot her fights her way across the crowd. There's twelve of them in the school and four new kids they're crowding around, so she just hands over her letters and promises to tell them what she has memorized when they have more time and it's not so crowded it's rude to speak a rarer language. One of the freshmen is in her hall, so they trade room numbers even though he's far enough away they wouldn't really make each other good company for the walk to lunch, and both new girls are nearly on the opposite side of the school.

"- Jesus fuck," swears one of the kids suddenly, and then the news about Chicago is going around the group and yeah, okay, she thought the poor girl in pyjamas had been a fluke but she looks around and there's at least three mundie-looking kids that she can make out. All she can tell the Petersburg enclavers is that she hadn't heard anything and thought that Chicago has ten slots to give out but wasn't sure.

No use asking the mundies, but there's a group that looks American standing around and she makes her way towards it before she can redirect her curiosity to something more relevant. No use, anyway, if news had gone out in time to make it here they would have distributed the seats somehow.

 

She shakes off the wasted time and looks around. Someone prepared but not enclave, Anya had said, to watch her back at least a little while they get their bearings and settle into stabler groups.

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Theun's more combobulated by the time he reaches the cafeteria, and the clusters of probably-Americans have people who are totally lost. Multiple. One's in PJs.

...You poor bastards.

What happened? He hears muttering. 'Chicago'. No one's here, and there should be nearly a dozen. Part of him wants to say 'good riddance', but... Being an entitled ass doesn't earn death, and he hasn't met an enclave kid worse than that yet.

He shouldn't try to protect the mundy kids. He should not. He does not have the slack.

...Maybe he can explain things, though. That's cheap.

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Teresa finds the cousins first, and drops off letters. A couple hugs to ones she remembers more fondly, but she isn't that close, and her brother just graduated.

"Any of the other freshlings look interesting?", she asks. Luca saw a black-nailed Chinese girl come in, and an African boy with impressive menace to him, but the most interesting was a girl with a braid down her back and leather cut like armor.

Outshining her on poise and danger, at the moment, which is a lot more forgivable if she's a potential ally. Perhaps she should have a conversation.

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It doesn't take Jean long to find the little knot of Parisians. He has messages for all of them, mostly memorized, some too long to deliver right now. A few of the older students want their packages immediately, but most of them are willing to wait for him to unpack in the safety of his own room, where nothing will get lost or stolen in the crowd.

Then it's time to socialize with people who aren't in his enclave, and whom he therefore doesn't have a guaranteed in with. There's no sense in letting everyone else get in that crucial first trauma-bonding without him.

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There are so many people here. Camillo is going to forget someone's name, or pronounce it wrong no matter how many times he tries, or get two of the Asian kids mixed up, and mortally offend someone such that even his enclave dumps him, and then he's going to die.

Camillo accepts a paper cone of water, and then three more, because hydration is important. Also he's probably going to cry later, which makes hydration even more important. One of the older Tejanos hugs him, which is very nice, even though he makes the obligatory offended noises about it. Another reminds him about the letters and packages, and he only has a brief panicked moment where he thinks he left them back home before he locates them.

Okay. Next step is making friends. Time to locate ... some awkward-looking people who aren't talking to anyone, who speak English, and who are sufficiently distinctive-looking that he has a shot in hell at recognizing them again. No problem.

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Z has...a lot of mail to hand out. And there's a lot of people in here.

He chugs as much water as they'll give him, and then heads out to circulate through the crowd with his bundle of letters, calling names and peering around the room to see if anyone looks like a Colin Parsons or a Cezara Albescu.

He keeps an eye out for the other friendless kids, floating out on the outskirts of the room, trying to pick out somewhere to start making friends. And, separately, for trouble.

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Heads turn as a Polynesian girl entirely too tall to be a freshman enters the cafeteria wearing nothing but... well, nothing. She looks around, singles out the obvious maleficer, and wades toward her. "Hey! You!"

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Michel gulps eagerly at the water, then turns to look around. He can't really tell who the enclavers are yet. But he probably has a few days before he has to make offers.

He follows directions to the huddle and looks around trying to catch a friendly face.

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Adam makes his way to his enclave-mates first. Talia smiles at him and pulls him into a hug—he's tempted to scold her for showing weakness, but he remembers she has the slack to get away with it. He starts handing out his letters and gifts, then sticks around for a few minutes chatting before Talia asks him if he's going to go make new friends, or if she has to push him.

"And for God's sake," she reminds him, "try not to look like you're sizing people up to see which of you can kill the other faster. You can be quite charming when you try, so try."

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Damn, there sure are people making an entrance. Braids-and-leather, queen bee - New York? probably, sounded American - and now a naked, muscled giant. Plus a dozen mundanes. 

Teresa was expecting to make an impression, she practiced that nearly as much as her languages. First impressions are the best time to do some general-purpose cowing of people who are, on paper, her equals, put her thumb on the scale, and reputation is precious.

But that's clearly a lost cause today. Poise, practice, and malefice just isn't enough to beat out this nonsense.

Queen bee's from a big enclave so she won't give Teresa the time of day. Naked giant is leaving with - damn, there is an aura on that one. Braids is still hanging around, but in demand.

Hmm, who else... ooh, that one's got interesting scars, and delivering mail like he needs a patron. Pale girl and a - brother? - going around trading for the hair of the doomed... She'll find someone interesting.

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Jada drops off the letters that are the price of her entry first. She makes sure to mention that she knows healing spells and would be willing to offer her services to the enclave; the boy who accepted her letters on behalf of his enclave-mates dismisses her with a "we'll think about it". She wraps Frank in a hug and exclaims that she was so worried for him. Frank doesn't bother to scold her for being too obvious about caring about him. They're family, it's already obvious. He introduces her to his friends—language nerd Owen who will do great things for the world if he survives, maintenance track Maria who would rather do enclavers' shit work than move back in with her horrible family after she graduates, his girlfriend Kamala who's an obvious maleficer but swears she hasn't killed anyone and is only doing it to befriend the scariest nastiest enclavers so she can betray them spectacularly later, slacker Kyle who's a year older than the rest of them and definitely going to die but is at least having a better time than anyone else while he's here...

After a little chat with each of them, Jada heads out to get to know the kids in her own year.

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Can you get in debt from taking a cup of water? Vi watches a few students take cups before accepting one. 

She spots Cam and calls her name. Cam takes a moment to recognize Vi, and looks confused maybe, but she's not freaking out. Cam probably has questions about this situation, but she'll ask them somewhere other than a cafeteria full of people Vi's spending four years with. (Cam is sensible!) Vi gives her the letter and the candy; Cam hugs her before she leaves.

That could have gone worse. Vi still needs to figure out the entry level stuff-- who to trade with and who has good information and who to avoid. Maybe some artificer types too; if you go to the shop together you're safer from mals. She'll try to suss out who looks like they're own, but not obviously sketchy or doomed.

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Angie met Zed on the way - they're at the end of her hall, only three doors down, which is a stroke of luck unasked for - so the two of them enter the cafeteria together. Angie takes a cup of water, doesn’t try to pass it off to Zed - they wouldn't take it, and Angie needs it as much as they do - and sips it carefully as she scans the room for Alex, and for Sara, and doesn't look for Clara or Robyn, who have been dead for over a year. 

Zed finds them, both of them together, and Angie hands Sara her letter and package and hugs her tight, dumps most of Alex's things on him so she can stop carrying around 40 extra lbs, and then, once Zed has done the same, grabs hold of both them and her brother for some quiet conversation and people watching. 

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