Broken Before Use
CRASH. BANG. SWIP. THWACK. SHOOP. THWACK. CRACK. WHIRR. CREAK. SPLUTTER…
I choked out a noise of frustration as I watched my mechanical training partner grind to a halt. This wasn’t the first time I’d managed to break the damn thing. And to make matters worse the only person who could fix it was currently too busy to accommodate my needs. In a sudden burst of energy I kicked the thing hard with my right foot. The wooden casing crashed against the ground. The sound of it caused me to grit my teeth and I allowed another grunt of agitation to escape me. I hated being cut off in the middle of training at the best of times and right now we were hardly in the best of times.
In disgust I folded my arms and glared around at the half finished dolls filling every single shelf. There was something their eyes which made me feel as if they were watching me with scornful judgement. And no matter which way I looked I could feel their lifeless gazes picking at me.
‘I hate you.’ I pulled my fingers back through my shoulder length wiry black hair. ‘I hate all of you! Dolls are the most stupid invention ever. I hate you all so much.’
‘Now we both know that’s not true.’ An amused voice sounded from behind me. ‘And somehow I’m not sure your father will appreciate you messing up his workshop like this.’
‘Step-Father,’ I corrected her as I turned round towards her. ‘And this is also my training room, so I can do what I like with it.’
Her pretty face twisted into a devilish smirk as her almost exotic brown eyes gave me a playful once over. She then flicked some of her dark brown curls back from her face and took on a fighting stance.
‘What are you doing?’ I frowned.
‘You wanna train.’ She grinned. ‘And so do I, so why don’t we accommodate each other, since you knocked out Barn-be.’
‘You wanna take me on?’ I cocked an eyebrow at her.
‘Well not if you’re scared, of course Shorty.’ Her voice was traced with more than just a line of arrogant amusement. ‘After all, if you were a few years older you might be a match for me.’
‘If I were a few years older you’d be dead in one blow.’ I folded my arms. ‘And don’t call me Shorty.’
‘But you are short even for your age.’ She poked a tongue out at me. ‘And if you have a problem with it why don’t we resolve it with a little sparring. Come on Shorty, you know you want to.’
‘I am not sparring with you.’ I turned away from her. ‘You are not worth my time.’
‘Oh don’t be so dull.’ She pulled off her black leather jacket and tossed it to one side. ‘Let’s go, mono on mono.’
‘I’m not going to fight you Jade.’ I shook my head. ‘You’re the best student we have right now and I’m not going to screw that up cuz you’re getting cocky.’
‘You really are no fun sometimes Obin.’ Jade huffed as she folded her arms across her tight white t-shirt. ‘You could have gone easy on me if you were really so worried.’
‘Yeah and then you’d have ripped on me for holding back.’ I turned away from her. ‘And you’d still accuse me of being no fun.’
‘And now you’re just being a perfect example of all the reason why I don’t hang around with younger men.’
‘Last I checked fifteen was too young to be considered a man.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘And why are you trying to hang around with me anyway?’
‘Because you…’ Jade laughed and cut herself off. ‘You’re right.’ She turned to leave. ‘I shouldn’t be here.’
‘Jade wait.’ I took a few steps towards her. ‘Don’t go.’
‘What reason do I have to stay here?’ She gave me a narrow look. ‘You won’t train with me and I sure as hell learn more from your father than I do from you anyway.’
‘Step-Father,’ I corrected her again, my voice toning with more agitation this time.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love my Step-Father. I did. And he was the only family I’d ever known. But I still held onto the belief I would be reunited with my real family one day and when I was my Step-Father would have to have a very clear place. Although in my mind I still hadn’t quite worked out what that place would be yet.
‘Whatever.’ Jade shrugged as she continued to watch me with narrowed eyes. ‘You’re still missing something.’
‘Yes.’ She nodded. ‘Don’t you remember what I said when we first met?’
‘When we first met?’ For a moment I couldn’t help but feel confused, then I realised what she was talking about and rolled my eyes. ‘I’m not missing…’
‘Obin?’ My Step-Father’s voice sounded from the top of the stairs leading into the workshop.
I glanced up and saw him hovering at the top. His eyes were watching me with a strange kind of anxiety as his waxy skin caught the light.
‘What is it?’ I automatically took a step towards him.
‘There’s been another attack.’
‘What?’ I gawked at him. ‘But I was so sure…’
‘Well apparently you weren’t sure enough.’
‘Or there were just more of them than either of you anticipated.’ Jade shot looks between us. ‘Maybe it’s time you let me and the others help. I mean, this is what you’re training us for, right?’
‘And here was me thinking this was all about making dolls.’ I smirked. ‘My mistake.’
‘What? Don’t you think I’m ready yet?’ Jade pulled herself up to her full height.
‘You, yeah,’ I agreed. ‘You’re more than ready. It’s the others I’m not so sure about.’
‘Then let me go out with you.’ Her face filled with her own brand of self-satisfied smile. ‘Surely you’ll be able to cover more ground that way.’
‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘You’re not coming out with me.’
‘Why not? You said yourself I’m more than ready to, so why can’t I?’
‘I have my reason.’
No matter where we went I always ended up having conversations like these. I was far too used to being guarded now so the words came out like automated responses.
‘Come on, please.’ Jade blinked at me. ‘You know...’
‘Stick to making dolls,’ I cut her off. ‘This is supposed to be a dolls workshop and not…’
‘Funny I thought it was both.’
‘Stop bickering, both of you.’ My Step-Father’s voice was tight. ‘Jade, Obin is right; you shouldn’t go out with him yet. I need you here to help me with the others and they should be arriving soon.’
‘That sounds like an excuse.’ Jade’s exotically tanned face pulled into a look of displeasure. ‘You don’t need me to help you with them. You just don’t want me going out with Obin. But in case you had forgotten, I’m eighteen and can do what I want.’
‘Jade…’ His tone became strained. ‘There are just some things you’re not ready to see yet.’
‘Things like what? Actual action? I’ll have to see that eventually you know. And I think I’m ready to handle it.’
‘I know you think you are, but now is not the time.’ My Step-Father’s gaze shifted towards me. ‘Get yourself ready to go. It’s starting to get dark now.’
‘Ah, to be a creature of the night.’ I threw my arms into a theatrical pose. ‘It’s such fun for us.’
‘You’re hardly a creature of the night Obin.’ Jade rolled her eyes. ‘Stop being so melodramatic.’
I shrugged and made my way out of the work shop into the adjoining basement room. This was where my Step-Father kept our supply of weapons. Not that I needed to take any with me; I just couldn’t risk Jade becoming suspicious. Jade knew much less about me than she realised and for once that was the way I wanted to keep it. So even if it meant taking unnecessary equipment with me on my night patrol then so be it. In this city my secret was my most precious commodity and I was determined to keep it that way.
It was early summer so dusk was much later in the day than it would have been otherwise. As such there were few people still out and the streets of Maio were strangely quiet. My Step-Father’s workshop was situated in the City Centre and was only a few streets up from the main shopping precinct. This gave believability to his day job and easy access to the city for me. For the first few weeks, whilst my Step-Father’s new recruits were learning their new day jobs, he’d come out with me in order to track and assess the situation personally. Then the flunky doll makers learnt there was more to their future careers than turning pieces of plastic into babies and they all started buckling down.
It was the same no matter what town, city or village we set up in. My Step-Father’s trainees never got into the swing of things until after the truth of their new duplicitous lives was revealed. It’s sad when I think about it, but by the time I was nine I had learnt the only thing which can impress school leavers more than the thought of earning money, was the thought of earning money and kicking butt every night. Not that I’m trying to stereotype here, of course. Not everyone we’d let into the inner sanctum of our grizzly reality wanted to be there. In respect of that they were allowed to just be doll makers, keeping our secret for us because that was enough of a thrill for them alone.
Thrill… I often find my mind dulling on that word. There is nothing thrilling about my existence anymore. I have no friends because I’ve moved around too much to be worth trying to make any. I’ve not been to school in about six years for pretty much the same reason. Not that my nocturnal lifestyle would have been suited to school life. I’m not sociable because I can’t be social. But then I was never the sort who could have just fitted in anyway. My Step-Father hadn’t wanted this existence for me, but I had insisted upon it. Light only knows why now though, I think I’m beginning to regret it. But somehow I doubt a ‘normal life’ would have been any more exciting for me. But then I doubt someone like me could have a ‘normal life’.
My footsteps echoed down along the dusk drawn streets as I made my way towards the folly in the city’s centre. Every place I’d been too seemed to have some kind of monument, statue or folly like structure somewhere in its centre which marked… something. Not that I ever truly understand what that something is. But it tends to fill the recruits’ eyes with a strange kind of pride whenever said monument is mentioned.
Not that any of them would admit to that, of course.
It never took me long to reach the folly and once it was in sight I did my usual visual assessment of it. It was a short, narrow tower-like structure made from formally white stone with decorative arches craved into it. At some point in the tower’s history someone had added clock-faces on all four sides just before its carved pointed roof. The unnecessary timepieces were high enough up to be out of reach of the average person but the tower itself was shorter than most of the surrounding buildings. Maio had undergone a massive renovation in the last ten years. Or at least that’s what the recruits kept telling me every time I brought up just how out of place the folly was amid the modern shopping complexes surrounding it. In my opinion the tower should have gone with the rest of the city’s history. But I guess it’s a testament to town pride and I have to admit they always keep it in near pristine condition.
As I got nearer to the folly I noticed a shadowy figure sitting on the roof just round to the left of the side I was approaching from. Not wanting to presume anything, I continued my approach. I was cautious enough to be ready for a sudden attack, but not wary enough to assume there would be one. Once I was within about a meter of the folly the shadowy figure rose to their feet and jumped off the roof. They then impressed me by executing a perfect landing.
‘Who are you?’ My voice lacked any trace of fear.
‘Just a visitor.’ Her voice had a thick accent although I couldn’t quite place where from. ‘I have some friends here. Well that is to say I had some friends here. Unfortunately it seems I must make some more.’
She pulled herself out of the shadows revealing the fire red tint of her limp Mohican, the liquid grey hue of her skin and the dark cat-like slits of her pupils. No matter how many Daynasen I came across they always insisted upon living up to some crude stereotype of themselves. It was like they enjoyed the theatrics of mortal misconception and found entertainment in expectation. This young woman was promising to be no exception.
The young woman was dressed in a flamboyant long sleeved top with a corset like bodice. Her skirt was ruffled short and in a matching velvet black and red to her top. Under that she wore three quarter length baggy leggings which hung over a pair of black and red stripped tights. She completed her ensemble with a pair of black doll shoes with a red trim. Okay, so she’d sassied up the image with her punkest take, but the overall appearance was typically gothic and classically Daynasen.
‘My, my, my.’ Her slit like pupils examined me carefully. ‘You are a pale one, aren’t you?’
At the mention of my white skin colour I couldn’t help but twitch my head in a sharp flinching spasm. I hate it when people commented on my appearance. And even more so when the person commenting hardly looks human themselves. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be entitled to a little curiosity. I just wish they would ask me about it and not imply questions through uninformed comments.
‘At least I’m not conveying a stereotype.’ I folded my arms and kept my cool. ‘You don’t have to look like that, you know.’
‘Oh I know that.’ Without warning her entire appearance changed into a serene looking blonde woman, with bright blue eyes and an almost goddess like dress sense. ‘But somehow there’s only one image which truly reflects my soul.’ She transformed back into her original appearance and her eyes probed me to see if I’d been at all impressed by her little display.
‘Your soul is a stereotype.’ I smirked at her, enjoying the annoyed look she shot back at me for my efforts.
‘And you’re saying yours is not?’ She indicated towards the long black leather trench coat, black shirt and jeans I was wearing. ‘I mean, I’ve seen just as many films as you have by the look of that violet tinting in your eyes. If I’m following the stereotype then so are you.’
‘Wait a minute; you think I’m a Daynasen?’ I couldn’t help but laugh. ‘Now is that because I’m not running in fear of you or because I know about the whole stereotyping thing?’
‘Daynasen?’ She frowned.
‘Oh great.’ I gave a frustrated sigh. ‘And here was me thinking you’d been one long enough to know what that means. Guess I was wrong.’
Without wanting to carry on this conversation any longer than I needed to, I allowed a wave of black-purple smoke to flutter around my left hand as my favourite axe Manifested itself. Once I could feel the solid form of its wooden handle I swung it up and it grasped between my two hands diagonally up in front of me.
‘And what exactly are you planning to do with that? Slay me?’
‘Slay you?’ I rolled my eyes. ‘Who do I look like, Buffy?’
‘Well if you’re not one of them and you’re not one of us, what exactly are you?’
‘The last person you’re ever likely to see.’ My head twitched again. ‘So if there’s anything you’ve ever wanted to know, best get it out of the way and ask me about it now. Cuz after this, you won’t be going anywhere ever again.’
‘Don’t be so sure.’ A male voice sounded from behind me moments before someone hit me hard in the back knocking the air out of me. ‘So you’re the little scrote that’s been targeting my hive.’
After a series of gasping coughs I somehow managed to regain my breath. Without hesitation I swirled round to confront the newcomer. To my amazement his whole being appeared set on breaking almost every known stereotype imaginable. He had a doll like perfection to him and was dressed from head to toe in pastel creams and whites. Even his dark hair appeared to have a hue of lightness about it as each curl hung perfectly in place.
My hands worked their way around the handle of my axe. There was an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach telling me I was the one who was supposed to look the way he did. I didn’t like that thought.
‘So you break the stereotype.’ The words were out of my mouth before I even realised I’d spoken. ‘I guess this will be more fun for me.’
‘Who are you?’ The guy folded his arms in a manner almost too calm for the situation at hand. ‘I would like to know the name of the one I’m about to kill.’
‘Funny, I was just thinking the exact same thing.’ I couldn’t help but smirk at him.
‘Well I asked you first.’ He flicked his gaze over me. ‘And I assume you were brought up with enough manners to know what that means.’
‘You asked first, so I should answer first.’ I twisted the grip I had on my axe, more than aware the female was still lurking behind me. ‘Well I guess it’s only fair for you to know the name of your destroyer. It’s Obin. Obin Johnson.’
At that he chuckled almost in a knowing manner, bearing his fangs to me as he did.
‘The Doll Maker’s son.’ He nodded with a deep kind of certainty. ‘You’re the Doll Maker’s son.’
‘Step-son,’ I corrected him. ‘Now as you’re such a one for manners, I expect it’s time for you to tell me who you are.’
‘But of course.’ He bowed graciously, his manner resembling that of some foppish Jane Austin character. ‘The name’s Dixon. Dixon Blakely.’
‘Well now all that formality is out of the way, I guess it’s time we got down to business.’ I prepared myself for a fight.
‘Isn’t your business making dolls?’ The female jumped on my back in a vain attempt to catch me off-guard.
It was just a shame for her I’d been anticipating her movements well enough to know what was coming. In one swift move I managed to send her flying off of me and in the direction of Dixon. Dixon managed to dodge her flying body and allowed her to continue on her undignified path straight into the side of Waterstones.
‘You’ll have to forgive Rebecca.’ Dixon held my gaze in an enticing manner. ‘She’s rather new at this and has still to learn a thing or two about our trade.’
‘You trade in death?’ I gave him a more than disgusted look.
‘But of course my young friend, don’t you?’
For a moment I hesitated. I knew what he was trying to get at. That it was my trade to kill creatures like him. But his statement had hit more nerves than he’d intended and no reply I could give would truly be the right one.
‘I’ve been raised to protect and not to destroy.’ My head twitched at my own choice of words. ‘And if protecting people means taking out scum like you then so be it. I can live with that.’
‘Raised to protect and not to destroy?’ Dixon echoed my words, finding an unintentional meaning in them. ‘Now that is an interesting phrase. Tell me, what would it be like if you had been raised to destroy and not to protect?’
‘That’s a dangerous question to ask.’ I again tightened my grip on my weapon as something about Dixon made me more and more agitated. ‘And not one you’d want answered anytime soon.’
Again Dixon laughed. His laughter rolled out of him making every nerve in my body twitch with tension. It’s not my job to hate creatures like him, but sometimes the hatred makes it easier.
‘You’re trying to intimidate me, aren’t you?’
‘What on Earth gave you that idea?’ My head ticked with an almost mechanical kind of agitation.
‘You’re choice of words Obin Johnson.’ Dixon smiled at me as though everything about this situation was ordinary. ‘I can see you are a very interesting fellow. Maybe a little too interesting to destroy right now.’
‘Are you too cowardly to take me on?’ I again readied myself to attack. ‘Because I have no problems fighting you.
‘Oh don’t mistake this for fear. Taking you on would give me so much pleasure, but I fear that pleasure would be too brief if I were to do it right now. I want to play with you a little first Obin Johnson. I hope you can understand that.’
‘Play?’ I had to fight against every instinct in my body to stop myself from losing control at that word. ‘Yes.’ I tried to keep my voice sounding normal. ‘I would enjoy that.’
‘A boy after my own heart.’ Dixon laughed again. ‘Maybe when all this is done I will make you one of my own.’
‘I’ve no intention of becoming a Daynasen.’ A chill ran through me as I met his gaze. ‘I do, however, have every intention of winning this game.’
‘Game?’ Dixon echoed my word. ‘You make it sound so… easy.’
‘It is.’ My voice crackled as my head again ticked of its own accord. ‘But that doesn’t mean to say it won’t be fun.’
‘I’ll hold you to that.’ He smirked. ‘Rebecca, come.’
With that they both disappeared and I was left trying to work out what the hell had just happened. I allowed my weapon to disappear and gripped my hands to the side of my head. For a few moments I pushed all thoughts I might have away and massaged my temples.
‘I will not be like that.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘I will not give in. I will be better than them. I will not be like that…’
Even as I was saying it to myself I knew I was falling. It was a sensation I’d had on more than one occasion before and almost impossible to resist.
‘I will not give in.’ I clenched my hands into fists and pulled them away from my head. ‘I will not give in. Not this time. Not again.’
From somewhere nearby I heard the hissing of a couple of cats. Everything in me went onto auto-pilot. If I couldn’t resist the temptation then maybe I could make it less bad. After all, who would miss a couple of street cats? I’d probably be doing the world a favour if I…
‘Obin.’ My Step-Father’s voice sounded from beside me as his hand gripped onto my raised right wrist. ‘You are stronger than this.’
‘I know…’ My eyes glanced up towards the carving knife I was now holding. ‘I just couldn’t… resist.’
The knife disappeared again and he released my arm. I gave a heavy sigh and allowed it to fall to my side. For a few long moments there was silence between us. I could almost hear what my Step-Father was thinking and knew he was more than disappointed in me. I was disappointed in me. I didn’t think I could be swayed so easily by so little.
‘That Dixon’s something else.’ I lowered my gaze.
‘What?’ My Step-Father eyed me up.
‘Their leader. His name is Dixon and there’s something about him that’s just… I don’t know how to explain it, but…’
‘Maybe you’re going to need help taking him out,’ my Step-Father cut me off. ‘If he’s going to cause you to become like this every time you meet him… We can’t risk… anything you know that.’
‘I know.’ I felt more than ashamed. ‘But you still need to train the others, how can you come out with me each night.’
‘I wasn’t thinking me Obin.’
‘Jade.’ I gritted my teeth at the thought. ‘You want Jade to come out with me?’
‘She’ll have to take over from you sooner or later Obin, so why not start her off now when you can keep an eye on her?’
‘It’s not keeping an eye on her I’m worried about. It’s her keeping an eye on me.’
‘Then you’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t figure it out then, won’t you?’
‘I guess…’ I squirmed knowing how unsuccessful I’d been at keeping my secret from recruits in the past. ‘But…’ I hesitated.
‘Why were you out here in the first place?’ I met his gaze. ‘Has something happened?’
‘Yes.’ My Step-Father nodded with nervous repetition. ‘Yes, something has.’
‘What is it?’ I felt more than a little concerned by his numb reaction.
For a long time my Step-Father was silent. I could see his whole face struggling with the thought of having to tell me. For a moment I almost believed maybe I wouldn’t get to know. That he would ask me to drop it or expect me to ask him to. Then his lips pressed together in anticipation of a word as he took a deep breath in.
‘Mary’s Vail.’ My Step-Father’s expression was a cross between fear and anger. ‘I’ve been called back to Mary’s Vail.’
‘Mary’s Vail?’ Despite my Step-Father’s horrified reaction I found a smile pulling its way across my lips.
Mary’s Vail was my Step-Father’s home town. It was the place where his existence had begun twice and the first place on Earth I had been taken after leaving Giya. For me the idea of going to Mary’s Vail could only be topped by one thing.
‘Are they there?’ I found myself unable to keep my excitement at bay.
My Step-Father’s eyes gave me a cold once over. It was a look I’d seen him use a thousand times before. One which told me it was best not to pursue my question any further. I gave a heavy sigh as deep routed disappointment set it.
‘We’re never going to go to where they are, are we?’
‘You shouldn’t be so desperate to find them.’ My Step-Father’s voice was tight. ‘It will only cause you to go through hell and back. And I can’t guarantee it will be worth it.’
‘But I have a mother and father out there. And at least one younger sibling.’ I knew I was being childish but I couldn’t help it. ‘I have a family who didn’t intentionally abandon me. Who were taken from me by force. Who miss me as much as I miss them.’
‘You can’t miss what you’ve never had.’
‘Yes you can.’ I lowered my gaze. ‘It’s like a dull aching. A certain knowledge not everything is as it should be. Like the vacant stare of a doll where you know life should be. It’s not that I don’t love you.’ I shot my Step-Father a guilty look. ‘I do, you’re the best parent I could ever have hoped for. But…’
‘I understand you know.’ He held a hand up to stop me. ‘Your mother, Rob and I have a similar kind of bond. I miss both of them like you wouldn’t believe. But that doesn’t mean I can… or should ever find them again. And… and we both know I can never find Rob again.’
For a few moments I allowed myself to fall into a muted silence. I knew my Step-Father was right. That I shouldn’t be fighting so hard to find something which might disappoint me. But I couldn’t help it. They were the only thing giving my life any meaning. And even if it was the last thing I ever did I knew I would find them all again and unite us as one big happy family.
‘We can’t leave here until the situation is under control, of course.’ My Step-Father gave a clearing cough. ‘Although we’ll have to make sure we do that as quickly as possible. This is one of those situations where it’ll be best for us to arrive before the trouble starts rather than after.’
‘But we always arrive after if we can help it.’ I frowned. ‘You said it was less suspicious that way.’
‘It’ll be suspicious no matter when we show up in that town Obin.’ He shook his head. ‘So the only difference we can make here is insuring the safety of a few more lives. It’s just my misfortune there are innocences living there now.’ My Step-Father’s tone became dry. ‘I wouldn’t rush else.’
The bitterness in his voice stung me on more than one level. I knew how he felt about Mary’s Vail better than anyone. And I knew why. But even I still couldn’t understand my Step-Father’s strong feelings of resentment towards the place which brought him into existence twice.
‘We should get back.’ My Step-Father broke the prolonged silence between us. ‘It’s time we got Jade kitted up and out on the hunt with you.’
‘What, now? Couldn’t I finish on my own tonight and then have her join me tomorrow?’
‘No.’ His voice sounded more than grave.
‘But…’ I tried to protest.
‘You trust me, don’t you Obin?’
‘What?’ I frowned. ‘Of course.’
‘Then don’t question my orders. And remember to only use those weapons you picked up before you left tonight. I mean it this time Obin. She mustn’t know…’
‘I know.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘That’s why I don’t want her to come at all, remember?’
‘What I remember is unimportant.’ My Step-Father narrowed his gaze on me as we started making our way back to his shop. ‘What’s important is that we get this mess wrapped up as quickly as possible. We’re already three weeks over deadline as it is.’
‘I know.’ I averted my gaze. ‘But there is just far too many of them. Much more than anyone bothered to warn us about. It’s like they’re breeding or something.’
‘Well then clearly giving you a team mate will only speed up the process.’
‘Or slow it down because she’s not good enough to stop herself from getting killed. I hate working with recruits who don’t know what they are yet.’
‘All the recruits are approaching the point where they’ll start to figure these things out for themselves Obin. Maybe one night with you will do it for Jade.’
‘You’ve figured out what Jade is, haven’t you?’ I studied my Step-Father’s body language.
‘What makes you say that?’
‘You wouldn’t be so confident about her if you hadn’t. So what is she?’
‘Not everyone we train ends up being something fantastic Obin. We’ve had a lot of Standing Mortals in the past.’
‘Please don’t tell me Jade is Standing.’ I groaned. ‘They’re the worst to work with.’
‘Oh I don’t know. They’re more interesting than you might think.’ My Step-Father shrugged. ‘They take a lot more work, admittedly, because things don’t tend to come so naturally to them. They don’t have that nice innate sense of knowledge those who didn’t realise they weren’t Standing have. And they can be more… unpredictable in their reaction to… situations like this. But that just makes them…’
‘Pains in the neck,’ I cut him off. ‘Because I have to pretend to be Standing around them in order to give them some kind of ego trip of false hope. A three year old could look at me and tell you I was not Standing. And I don’t know of a single Standing recruit who has yet to fall for it.’
‘But at least with the Standing there’s no pressure for you to reveal what you really are.’ There was something telling about my Step-Father’s tone. ‘It’s easier for you to keep your secret with them.’
‘I’m not so sure.’ I huffed and folded my arms. ‘I mean, what’s the point in pretending to be something you not. Especially when they all know you’re not…’
‘Because they need to believe Standing can achieve the right kind of greatness.’ It was clear he was getting impatient with my negative attitude. ‘If they think you’re Standing or that you at least don’t know any better, then they’ll believe they have what it takes buried within.’
‘Like hell they will.’ I came to an abrupt stop and forced my Step-Father to do the same. ‘We treat the Standing like idiots and tell them they’re the most important thing to their home town. We should just tell them the truth. I mean take the bunch of moronic recruits you have at the moment. Not one of them is even close to considering the idea they might be something other than Standing. Never mind exploring the possibility. You really need to do something with them.’
‘What do you want me to do exactly? Hold a gun to their heads and tell them that unless they buck their ideas up soon or prove themselves to be anything other than Standing there’s not a snowballs chance in hell they’ll be able to save this town when we leave?’
‘That’s if we ever get the chance to leave with the rate these damn Daynasen keep multiplying.’ My head twitched. ‘I know we have urgent business in Mary’s Vail, but I also know you’re far from anxious to get there. I doubt you have any problem at all with these recruits taking forever and a day to get with the program. But I get this feeling that unless those recruits start performing miracles within the next three days we are never going to leave Maio.’
‘Maybe not all of them have to.’ My Step-Father averted his gaze.
‘What do you mean?’
Well we don’t always wait until all the recruits are ready before we leave. Normally if we have a promising leader... I mean, there’s Jade, she could…’
‘Oh hell no,’ I cut him off.
I didn’t like shouting my Step-Father down like this, but I had to draw a line somewhere.
‘Why not? We both know she’s more than capable of taking over their training and keeping this city’s problem under control. Or at least she will be after she gets a little hands on. And if needs be once we’re done in Mary’s Vail we can always come back.’
‘You make it sound like what’s about to happen in Mary’s Vail is worse than what’s going on here. And somehow I find that hard to believe.’
‘Well you shouldn’t…’ My Step-Father turned his gaze away. ‘I’m not even beginning to overreact here, despite what you might be thinking.’
‘Why? What’s about to happen in Mary’s Vail?’
‘You won’t like the answer to that.’
‘Tell me.’ I gritted my teeth and prepared myself for the worst.
‘The Sayu.’ My Step-Father breathed out the words as the air in his lungs had been compressed. ‘The Sayu are coming.’
The rest of the journey back to our shop-home was in silence. There was little more we could say to each other. We both knew the severity of the threat dawning on Mary’s Vail. All we could really hope for now was a quick stabilisation of Maio. The sooner we could leave things here in the hands of our recruits the better. We entered the workshop-training area and my eyes were drawn towards Jade. There was no doubt she was one of the best recruits we’d ever had. There was no doubt in my mind she had to have come from some extraordinary breed and when she figured that out for herself she would only get better.
Jade fascinated me. Not in any kind of a sexual way, but in the way you might find a shiny diamond in a sea of charcoal fascinating. There was no doubt in my mind we’d never trained anyone like Jade before. It was one of the reasons she was so many leagues ahead of the other Maio recruits. But in the same way Jade’s natural ability fascinated me it also repelled me. Jade was too good to be believed sometimes. It was why I had to keep her at arm’s length. Because something told me the second she got too close she would see me for what I really was. And even those who knew my secret didn’t truly know my secret. It scared me to think it but with Jade I didn’t see how half measures could be possible.
‘Jade.’ My Step-Father’s waxy face filled with a tense kind of smile as he focused his attention on her. ‘You have your wish.’
‘What?’ For a moment Jade frowned in confusion, then her eyes lit up with excitement. ‘You mean I can…?’
‘Go get your choice of weapons and get ready for your first hunt.’
Jade let out a squeal of excitement and made her way towards the weapons’ room. The other recruits clapped her and sent up an impressed cheer. They all knew she was better than they were and they loved her for it. My Step-Father was right. Jade was going to make the perfect leader when we left. She already had the respect and admiration of the other recruits and not one single one of them would argue with the idea of her being left in charge. I just wished the idea didn’t irritate me so much.
After about five minutes Jade immerge from the weapons room with a crossbow and arrow pack strapped to her back and a dagger belted to her waist. Something in her eyes told me she’d been waiting a long time for the chance to do this and had given so much pre-thought to her weaponry there was no hesitation. No doubt. My stomach shifted in an uncomfortable manner. Jade wasn’t supposed to be this prepared.
‘You really know how to unsettle me.’ The words came out of me in a low murmur and I was glad to see no one had overheard them.
‘Right, Jade I want to make this clear to you. Obin is in command, understand?’ My Step-Father folded his arms as his gaze locked with hers. ‘You will follow his orders to the letter. He knows this game a lot better than you do, so trust him and he will do the right thing by us all.’
‘Of course.’ Jade smiled and her eyes twinkling with an excitement I hoped didn’t contradict her words.
‘Once you have left here Obin will explain the current situation to you.’ My Step-Father’s gaze remained serious. ‘Although I warn you now he is at liberty to with hold any information he so chooses.’
‘You mean I get to know the facts, but not necessarily the whole story?’
‘I know that might seem a little harsh to you Jade, but it’s the prerogative of a leader. Something you will no doubt learn for yourself once we’ve left here.’
‘I understand.’ Jade nodded. ‘So can we leave now?’
‘Of course.’ My Step-Father dipped himself out of the way so we could pass. ‘Just take care out there, okay. Both of you.’
Once outside again Jade let out another excited squeal. It was clear this was more than just a dream come true for her. This was everything.
‘So Obin?’ Jade turned her sights on me. ‘Exactly what are we up against?’
‘You already know it’s an infestation of Daynasen.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘Unless you’ve forgotten everything my Step-Father told you guys the first time the truth was revealed to you.’
‘Oh no.’ She shook her head. ‘I definitely didn’t forget that this was about v…’
‘Daynasen,’ I cut her off, refusing to allow her use any other word for them.
‘Why are you so insistent they’re referred to by that name?’ Jade moved forward and forced me into the indignity of following her. ‘I mean, they’re the same thing no matter what name you use for them, aren’t they?’
‘Yes. But we’ve been told to teach you by the correct classification.’
‘Why? The classification system seems so… retarded.’ Jade turned her gaze away as if she knew something about it I didn’t.
‘It is retarded.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘But we won’t be allowed to train chumps like you if we don’t.’
‘Look, it’s just the way it has to be, okay?’ I pulled myself ahead of her and led the way back towards the folly.
‘So, are you going to tell me why your Step-Father thinks you need back up or not?’
‘I’ve met their leader.’ I figured a small amount of truth at this stage would be a good thing. ‘From my experience it means we must be pretty close to unearthing why they’re little group is so… numerous.’
‘And that’s why you need back up?’
‘Taking them out one on one is nothing when you have as much experience as I do. But we’re searching for their nest now. The numbers will start becoming a little uneven.’
‘Oh, I see.’ I could sense the smirky grin plastered across Jade’s face. ‘They’re too much for you to handle alone.’
‘So what’s their leader like?’ Jade pulled herself into step beside me.
For a few moments I was silent as an image of the guy appeared in my head. For some reason the thought of Dixon caused me to flame with embarrassment. I gave a nervous cough and hoped my cheeks didn’t appear as hot as they felt. I had no idea why my body had reacted in such a way.
‘He’s not a stereotype.’ I tried to appear calmer than I felt. ‘Or at least not a stereotype of a Daynasen.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean...’ I squirmed. ‘I mean he looked like a doll.’
‘I don’t understand.’ Jade frowned. ‘Do you mean he looked…?’
‘Not that type of doll,’ I cut her off before she could finish her statement. ‘A different kind. A kind I hope you never have to face.’
‘Then are you sure he wasn’t one?’
‘Wasn’t one what?’
‘One of your more dangerous dolls?’ Jade gave an awkward sounding laugh.
‘He couldn’t be.’ I shook my head. ‘His teeth were like Daynasen and his eyes were the wrong colour. And anyway he was male.’
‘So that makes it almost impossible for him to be one.’
‘Because they’re nearly all female.’
‘Nearly all.’ Jade grinned as she picked up on my choice of words. ‘That doesn’t mean there are no males just very few male and could leave us with the possibility that he is one. And the teeth and eye thing is just because he’s also a Daynasen.’
‘You can’t get a hybrid like that,’ I refuted. ‘It’s impossible.’
‘Because one kind would destroy the other before either had a chance to become both.’
‘What, do you mean the two kinds are mortal enemies?’
‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘I mean the other kind… the dolls would destroy anything in their path in the name of fun long before considering the idea of creating a hybrid. And they most certainly wouldn’t create a male hybrid.’
‘What do they have against males exactly?’ Jade frowned.
‘It’s a long story.’ I shrugged. ‘Way too complicated to explain. All you need to know is that this guy can’t possibly be a hybrid of the two. He is Daynasen and only Daynasen. Is that clear?’
‘As clear as your distain for the dolls.’ Her expression puckered into a strange kind of pout. ‘And just how bad are they exactly?’
‘Worse than anything you could possibly imagine.’ I shifted my gaze away from her. ‘They’re like a nightmare in sheep’s clothing. Like poison in a birthday cake. Nothing is sacred to them. They destroy everything because they can destroy everything. Trust me even dealing with a hive of a hundred Daynasen would still be a walk in the park to dealing with just one of those dolls.’ I shuddered at the thought of what awaited us in Mary’s Vail. ‘You really don’t want to deal with the dolls. No one should ever want to deal with them.’
We made several long unsuccessful sweeps of the city centre before deciding the rising sun was a good enough reason to temporarily halt our search. We both knew there was no way we’d find the Daynasen’s nest in the daylight. Or at least I knew it and I just had to hope Jade had enough sense about her to realise it too. From the looks of her I could only guess at her exhaustion. Jade’s face was drawn as if several lifetimes had been drained out of her. I know it wasn’t exactly compassionate of me, but something about seeing Jade this tired pulled a smile at the corner of my lips. I didn’t need sleep in the same way she did. I didn’t need sleep the same way most breeds did. It was nice to know the perfect Jade wasn’t as perfect as she would like.
‘You live near here, don’t you?’ I kept my voice soft as we made our way past several blocks of flats.
‘Yeah.’ Jade attempted to rub some of the exhaustion from her face. ‘Just round the corner, why?’
‘You need sleep.’ I cocked an eyebrow at her. ‘And I’m going to make sure you get it.’
‘Aren’t you a little young to be taking me to bed?’
‘Who said anything about taking you to bed?’ I felt almost disgusted by the suggestion as I led her in the direction of her place. ‘I just wanna make sure you get home okay.’
‘Don’t we have to report into your Step-Father?’ Her words lacked any kind of conviction.
‘You leave that to me. I have to go back and see him anyway. You need to sleep.’
Without making any further sounds of protest, Jade staggered away from me and up one of the flights of steps towards a dark brown wooden front door. The outside of the building was Georgian in style and had been renovated into flats about the same time as the tower blocks behind it had come into being. For a moment I couldn’t help but frown to myself. I had known for a while Jade lived in this area but I’d always assumed it had been in one of the family friendly tower blocks. Something didn’t feel right. I watched her unlock the main door and half drop herself inside. It was clear to me Jade was ridiculously tired and for a moment I found myself reassessing all other thoughts I’d had about her origins.
I stood for a full half hour watching the closed set of wooden doors, wondering if something… anything would happen to reveal some kind of truth to me. There was nothing. I gave a heavy sigh and turned. It was clear it was going to take a lot more than one night for me to learn what I needed to know about Jade Hamilton. Without any further delays I made my way home. I had no hatred of the sunlight, none of my kind did, but I still preferred not to be out in it. There was something less challenging about going about your business during the daytime. There were times when the thought of being out during the day for any reason left me so unnerved I had to wonder about my want of a normal life. How could I have a normal life when nothing about me was normal?
When I reached the back of our shop I made my way up the staircase towards the flat my Step-Father and I shared. He would still be awake when I got in. That much I was certain of, because he needed much less sleep than I did. So I didn’t worry about making a quiet approach. It was better that he heard me coming or at least that’s what I normally thought.
‘Not like you to pull such a late one Obin.’ My Step-Father’s voice greeted from another room the second I entered the flat. ‘Jade more enthusiastic than I anticipated?’
‘I guess.’ I shrugged without conviction. ‘But I think it was more that we were so unsuccessful neither of us felt right about returning home till we had something to show for it.’
‘And do you?’ He popped his waxy head round one of the doorways.
‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘Nothing, sorry.’
‘Oh well.’ My Step-Father sighed. ‘There’s always tomorrow night. And the shop will be opening soon.’
‘So time to make myself scarce then.’ I rolled my eyes.
None of my Step-Father’s customers ever knew I existed. We had to make sure of that for more than one reason. The first was because they would demand to know why a fifteen year old wasn’t in school. And the second was because my Step-Father wasn’t my legal guardian. Don’t get me wrong. If he could have been then he would have been. It’s just there’s a certain amount of red tape hanging around a dead man trying to adopt a child who doesn’t exist, especially in a reality like this one where the general population are ignorant about what’s really going on anyway. That’s why no one really noticed my disappearance from school records. And even if they did notice, it would have been nearly impossible for them to track us down. My Step-Father rarely left honest details about himself in any of the places we visited.
Visited… something about that word struck me as odd. We always seemed to be visiting places and never staying anywhere long enough to be living there. Just perpetually visiting. I gave a heavy sigh at the thought and made my way into my bedroom. A growing part of me just wanted a real home, with a real life and a real family. Just five minutes of normality to make everything I go through worth it.
It didn’t take me long to change into my nightclothes and climb into bed. I closed my eyes and tried to block out all negative thoughts. I knew I didn’t need to sleep, but that didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy sleeping when I could. I also knew the best way to keep out of sight during the day is to keep out of the world of the waking. So I’d become accustom to the habit of sleeping my daylight hours away. Or so I thought. Somewhere in my deep subconscious my mind had decided sleep today was out of the question. Some niggling little idea at the back of my mind forced vivid images to play themselves out in the backs of my eyelids.
It almost felt as though I was dreaming and yet everything felt far too… awake for that.
‘Obin Johnson.’ The striking image of Dixon Blakely forced its way into my mind, making my whole being ache. ‘I’ve waited a long time to find someone like you. Someone who truly understands what this world is coming to. You are going to be a more than interesting play-fellow.’
I wanted to reply, but my mind seemed to hold all words back. I knew somewhere in the rationality of my subconscious nothing I was seeing was real. This was all a dream. And because it was all a dream I didn’t need to reply to Dixon. But I wanted to. I badly wanted to.
‘I see you are in awe of me Obin Johnson.’ Dixon laughed as he appeared to enjoy my mental silence. ‘Well if I were you I’d be in awe of me too. I am so very something to be in awe of, don’t you think?’
Again I wanted to reply. To argue back. To defend myself. But my mind wouldn’t let me and my mental stupor droned on.
‘Truth be known Obin Johnson, I am in awe of you too. You have such strong resolve and determination. I don’t think I have ever met a creature like you before. What are you?’
At that my whole being flipped into reverse. I no longer wanted to answer his question, yet the part of my mind which had been holding me back needed to answer. The urge was so strong it was overwhelming and it frightened me.
‘I… I am…’ I fought against myself. ‘I… I am… I am… I am…’
I felt a scream of protest build up within me. I couldn’t tell him what I was. I wouldn’t. Dream or no dream I couldn’t tell him my secret.
‘NO!’ I screamed as I bolted myself into a sitting position.
The image of Dixon vanished from my mind as I stared around my room. The light was beginning to dim outside and flashing a glance towards my alarm clock I was amazed to note I’d been out all day. It was strange. I was so sure I’d been awake. I swallowed hard and ran my fingers back through my hair, before swinging myself out of bed and out into the kitchen. As I made myself something to eat I couldn’t help but notice at how badly my hands were shaking. I had never known anything which had made me feel like this before and I was certain I didn’t like it.
‘You want a game Dixon.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘I’ll give you a game. But we’ll be playing by my rules, you hear me? Not yours.’
As soon as I’d finished eating I’d Manifested my favourite weapons. I then strapped the axe to my back and holstered the carving knife to a sheath on my belt. There was no way I was going to face Dixon without being able to use my own weaponry and since my tagalong would make it impossible for me to Manifest them mid battle, it seemed appropriate for me to have them ready and waiting beforehand.
As I waited for dusk to become darker, I heard my Step-Father enter the flat. I moved out into the main living space and waited for him to lecture me on over sleeping. It wasn’t something I was guilty of doing very often, but it was amongst the few vices he’d pull me up on. To my surprise he was accompanied by Jade, who was also kitted up for our night on the hunt. For a few moments a long silence expanded between the three of us, then Jade gave an almost nervous laugh and took a step towards me.
‘I’ve never seen that one before.’ Jade indicated towards the axe on my back. ‘Where’d it come from?’
‘My own personal collection.’ I shrugged, it was about as close to the truth as you could get whilst still lying.
‘I guess you must think a lot of this Daynasen leader then.’ Her eyes crinkled with excitement. ‘Why else would you be using your own, instead of the standard equipment?’
‘He’s something else alright.’ I was not willing to admit there was more to it than that. ‘And the faster we get this out of the way, the better. You ready?’
‘I’m starting to think I was born ready.’ Jade grinned.
Inside my stomach knotted. I hated the way she kept doing things like that. It was like she needed me to know she knew how extraordinary she was. As if she was just pretending to be clueless about her true identity. Jade made me feel like I should hate her and yet at the same time…
‘Oh you know what I mean.’ Jade rolled her eyes at the look I wasn’t even aware was on my face.
‘Yeah.’ I grimaced. ‘Knowing what you mean is exactly what I’m worried about.’
‘Obin.’ My Step-Father’s voice filled with a warning tone. ‘Do we really need to get into this again?’
‘Get into what again?’ Jade blinked from one of us to the other. ‘Have you two been talking about me behind my back?’
‘Yes.’ I folded my arms.
‘No,’ my father countered over of me.
The expression on Jade’s face deepened into a frown. It was clear she was more than a little confused by us. Either that or she was good at faking a confused reaction. There was something about the look in her eyes which bothered me but I wasn’t sure what it was.
‘Is there something I should be concerned about here?’ Jade’s voice was almost dully serious. ‘I mean, I’m not putting either of you out or giving you any serious concern, am I?’
‘It doesn’t matter Jade.’ I tried to play it cool. ‘We’ve got Daynasen to hunt down, remember?’
‘Oh yes, I remember.’ She pressed her lips together. ‘But that doesn’t mean I can just let this go. Am I really worrying you that much?’
‘You’re not worrying either of us.’ My Step-Father shot her one of his famous reassuring smiles. ‘Or at least you’re not worrying me in any sense of the word. You’re the best student I’ve ever had and I’m proud of that fact.’
‘But I am concerning Obin?’ Jade’s gaze turned towards me. ‘Have I done something to make you suspicious of me?’
‘He’s just jealous.’ My Step-Father gave me no opportunity to admit the truth. ‘He’s used to being considered the best and you’re giving him more than a run for his money.’
‘Oh I see.’ Her grin turned into a knowingly amused one. ‘Well, then we should get going. Else I might just prove to be better than you alone and you wouldn’t want that now, would you?’
I groaned at her pathetic attempt of a taunt and made my way towards the front door. I was determined to force her into follow me before she had a chance to play leader. If Jade was going to be arrogant about it then I wasn’t going to enlighten her with the truth. Although telling her the truth would be more trouble than it was worth anyway.
For the time of year we were in dusk had decided to settle in at an abnormal rate. Something in the air told me rain was on the way and all either of us could really do was pray that it held off until morning. There was nothing more depressing than suffering through British rain on a midnight hunt. It was worse still during the summer when you would hope the weather to hold out a little. But then any smart person would have worked out British weather holds out for no one and the true miracle would be in an impossibly rainless summer.
‘Maybe we should try the outer city today.’ Jade’s voice attempted to sound less excited than it was. ‘I mean, we got nowhere with the inner city, right? So maybe their nest is somewhere a little further out.’
‘All the attacks have been inner city though.’ I didn’t want her thinking she knew more than me. ‘Are you suggesting these Daynasen are taking the bus in for a friendly city feeding fest?’
‘No, I’m not saying that.’ Jade shook her head. ‘I mean, I’m not thinking they’re that far outside of the city centre. I’m just saying they’re not nesting slap bang in the middle of it either. And even if they are living out there somewhere, can’t Daynasen move at incredible speed?’
‘Only after they’ve eaten.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘I thought you would have known better than to follow movie logic by now.’
‘Movie logic wouldn’t call them Daynasen.’ Jade spoke with a tone which more than grated with me.
Everything about her right then annoyed me. I just wished she would hurry up and reveal whatever she needed to reveal about herself. At least then I could use her breed to judge her by.
‘We’ve gone over this.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘Daynasen is their proper classification.’
‘Yeah, but it doesn’t make sense.’
‘What do you mean?’ I couldn’t help but frown.
‘Well Daynasen translates into dead otherworldly, right?’
‘Right.’ I still wasn’t sure what she was getting at.
‘And whereas I would agree they were dead and otherworldly, wouldn’t dead otherworldly be a better title for a zombie?’
For a moment I couldn’t help but hesitate, then a loud laugh crept out of me. I know it was wrong of me but I loved moments like this. It made me feel superior to her. Not that I needed to feel superior to her to get some kind of kick, but it at least stopped me from hating her so much.
‘What’s so funny?’ Jade pouted. ‘Zombies do exist, don’t they?’
‘Not quite in the sense you’re thinking.’ I grinned as my laughter died down. ‘But yeah.’
‘So what’s so funny in thinking Daynasen would be a better name for them and not for…’
‘Because that’s not how things work,’ I cut her off. ‘The classification system isn’t based on what the most appropriate name for whatever is or at least it hasn’t been for a long time. Things are named in the order they’re first brought before the Council.’
‘Are you saying that zombies are a newer occurrence?’
‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘They’re the older one.’
‘So then why aren’t they Daynasen then?’
‘Because they’re Nethher Sen.’ I couldn’t help but smirk in amusement. ‘That’s why.’
For about ten minutes we continued to make our way through the city centre and out towards the outskirts. As we walked Jade continued to pout. It was clear she was unimpressed with my explanation and wanted to re-approach me for a better one. Not that she’d have the guts too. Jade was way too stubborn to admit to looking like an idiot under any circumstances and re-approaching me now would only end with her looking foolish for it. And I couldn’t help but feel amused by that knowledge.
‘You know you might wanna try looking like you enjoy being here.’ I couldn’t help but smirk as I broke the silence between us. ‘Unless of course you want the Daynasen to think you’re here out of protest. Maybe we could lead them into believing I’m using you as bait or something.’
‘You can’t even try to be funny without failing miserably, can you Obin?’ Jade shot me a look. ‘I mean, you must be about the least funny person I know.’
‘Oh no, I’m funny.’ I disagreed with her. ‘You just have to like stalking innocent people at night to appreciate it.’
‘Are you saying you’re the stand-up comic for all things that go bump?’
‘Well someone has to be.’ I enjoyed taunting her; it made me feel more secure somehow.
‘Well it would take some unwholesome Demon to appreciate you I suppose.’ Jade’s voice dripped with more than a tone of bitter sarcasm. ‘So I guess it doesn’t surprise me.’
‘Great.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘You think I’m unwholesome now.’
‘Well aren’t you?’ As Jade spoke so did another.
‘Show yourself Rebecca.’ The voice was familiar enough for me to identify it right off and the words almost curled themselves off of my lips. ‘I know it’s you.’
‘Do you know all your Demons on a first name bases or just the ones you like?’ Jade tensed as Rebecca dropped herself out of the shadows.
‘More like just the ones who introduce themselves.’ I mimicked her low tone. ‘Or have themselves introduced to me.’
‘Who is she?’ Rebecca indicated towards Jade. ‘Your girlfriend?’
‘I don’t think so.’ I rolled my eyes, not really caring whether or not I insulted Jade in the process. ‘She’s barely even a friend.’
‘So what’s the little tagalong doing with you then?’
‘She’s my… team mate.’ I saw no reason in lying about it. ‘She’s here because my Step-Father thinks she needs a little firsthand experience against your kind.’
‘Oh does she now?’ Rebecca sized Jade up. ‘Shame, she’d make a great addition to my inner circle.’
‘You have an inner circle?’ Jade’s voice choked out the words out in amusement. ‘You? Really? Don’t make me laugh.’
At that Rebecca let out a loud, almost predictable hiss. It was clear she liked playing up to the idea of the stereotype even if she would never admit to it herself. I spent a few moments running my eyes over her. Rebecca was dressed in the same Gothic Punk Doll outfit she had on the night before but there was something about the way she was holding herself which felt different. My focus on her narrowed as I noted what looked like fresh scratches just visible around the neck line of her corset style top. I was certain they hadn’t been there the night before but I didn’t care enough to give them any kind of weight.
‘Did you just spit all over me?’ Jade pretended to wipe invisible saliva off of her face. ‘That is so disgusting. Didn’t anyone ever teach you manners?’
‘I’d be careful what you say girly.’ Rebecca began advancing on her. ‘This isn’t some made for TV movie where the last girl always survives. This is the real world and you’re nothing more than the next girl.’
‘I don’t think so.’ Jade prepared herself for an attack and for a moment I couldn’t help but feel impressed by her calmness. ‘You see, I don’t plan on ever being just some girl.’
Without waiting for any further invitation, Rebecca lunged at Jade. In the same instance Jade managed to spin herself out of the way. It was a stereotypical evasion move and if I hadn’t have shown her it myself I might have rolled my eyes to see it now. Instead a part of me swelled with pride to see her following my advice. I suppressed that feeling in order to keep an eye on the battle the girls had now engaged in. Both were more than agile and the battle was up to a higher standard than I would have expected, especially from Jade.
I was almost starting to believe Jade wasn’t going to need my help with this one, when Rebecca managed to get her pinned into a corner. I rolled my eyes with the predictability of it all and gave a heavy sigh. I drew my carving knife from its holster and made a slash at Rebecca’s right arm. The cut was deeper than I’d meant it to be, but it still managed to obtain the same affect and flip her attentions onto me.
‘Aw fuck.’ Rebecca gripped her left hand over the wound. ‘Jesus, what the hell are you?’
At that my heart almost skipped a beat. I’d hoped to avoid any inhuman references, at least whilst Jade was in earshot. From across Rebecca’s shoulder Jade was eyeing my up with curiosity and my whole stomach clenched into a tight ball.
‘I’m human.’ I gritted my teeth.
‘And I’m supposed to believe that?’
‘Yes.’ I glared into Rebecca’s eyes. ‘I am human.’
Rebecca laughed with deep amusement and for a moment almost appeared to forget about her wound. I couldn’t help but feel she was enjoying taunting me, but then again if I were in her place so would I.
‘Don’t tell me that little bit your with doesn’t know.’ Rebecca’s voice was almost too amused by the thought. ‘Oh how delicious and I don’t just mean in the tasty sense, although...’ She gave a brief glance in Jade’s direction.
‘I am human.’ I was not willing to let up on the falsified truth.
‘Uh-huh, a human can’t cause this kind of damage just by scratching me with their little knife.’ Rebecca indicated towards her wound. ‘I don’t even think the most naive person in the world would fall for that. And I don’t think you’re little friend is even remotely naive, do you?’
‘I am human.’
‘Oh no, you’re not.’ She laughed again. ‘And Dixon will be pleased by what I have to tell him, don’t you…’
Before she could finish her sentence there was a sharp thwanging sound and her whole body rocked with the force of something puncturing its way through her chest.
‘Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.’ Rebecca’s body drooped as she fell to her knees. ‘How much more stereo…’
All other words were cut off as her body fell into a stiff heap on the ground.
‘What, no dust?’ Jade’s voice forced my gaze up towards the crossbow she was holding.
‘This isn’t Buffy.’ I rolled my eyes.
‘I know, but I still thought…’
‘You haven’t defeated her, just put her into stasis.’ I shook my head feeling disgusted that she didn’t know the difference. ‘Some things still go by those more old fashioned rules.’
‘An axe to the neck ought to do it.’ I sheathed my knife and grabbed the axe from my back.
‘You mean you’re going to…’ Jade stared at me in horror. ‘Couldn’t we just stake her beneath some cross road?’
‘What and give her the time to revive?’ I cocked my eyebrow at her as I readied my axe for the blow.
‘I’m not going to let you do that.’ Jade placed a hand on the handle of the axe in order to stop me from making the chop.
‘Why not?’ I glared at her.
‘Because I don’t like the look it puts in your eyes, that’s why.’ She scowled. ‘So we’re going to find somewhere to stake her into the ground, okay?’
‘Okay.’ I found myself relenting. ‘But we don’t have long and if she revives…’
‘I’ll take the blame.’ Jade pulled herself up to her full height. ‘Don’t you worry about that.’
It took us nearly forty-five minutes to find a useable crossroad to bury our Daynasen under. I was feeling more than a little tense because I knew there was less than ten minutes to go before Rebecca would start to revive. And we hadn’t even started digging a hole for her yet.
‘Right.’ Jade glanced around at the quaint little residential area we were in. ‘How deep does this grave need to be?’
‘I’d be more worried about what we were going to dig it with myself.’ My voice toned with annoyance.
‘No problem.’ She flashed me one of her less than subtle smiles. ‘I’ll be right back.’
‘Yeah and by the time you are it’ll be too late to bother.’ I watched as she jumped over one of the low garden walls just up from where we were standing. ‘You should have just let me finish this one off.
I gave a heavy sigh and glanced around for something we could use to pin the body to the ground. I didn’t really think I’d find anything. I mean these kinds of cross roads don’t have big posts with arrow headed street names at the top of them. They don’t need to when the local street names are screwed to garden walls somewhere at one or the other end of the street. And as far as I could see it was all garden walls. No fences I could steal a bit of wood from.
I flexed my fingers a few times as I contemplated uses my axe to finish Rebecca off. The only good Daynasen was a dead Daynasen and it had been a few days since I’d taken one out. My hand was just reaching for the handle of my axe when Jade jumped back over the garden wall, carrying a shovel and what appeared to be a fence post.
‘They’re having work done out back and I’m sure they won’t miss it.’ Jade’s face pulled into a serious expression as I eyed up the fence post. ‘They always make allowances for these kinds of things, right?’
‘I guess so.’ I reached a hand out for the shovel she was holding and Jade tossed it over. ‘But some of these builders can be funny about things going missing on site. Trust me I’ve had enough lectures from my Step-Father about borrowing from builds.’
‘Well if there’s anything in the news tomorrow about a stolen fence post then I’ll just have to replace it to repay them for their good deed.’ Jade shrugged as her eyes turned towards Rebecca. ‘And it is a good deed, right? Keeping the Daynasen population down.’
‘Whatever.’ I rolled my eyes and started digging. ‘I’m more worried about what the neighbours will make of having a Daynasen buried between their streets. I doubt it’ll add value to the properties.’
‘Well if you’re quick none of them will ever know there is one buried there.’
‘We’ll know she’s buried here.’ I scowled as I continued digging. ‘And that’s bad enough.’
‘How is that bad enough?’ Jade’s voice toned between impatience and curiosity. ‘I mean, it’s not like we’re going to tell anyone. So who’s going to know?’
‘Someone could still be up in one of these houses, you know. They could be watching us with intense curiosity right now.’
‘If anyone were watching us right now they’d be on the phone to the police.’ I could hear the anxiety in Jade’s voice as I imagined her glancing around at the dark buildings. ‘They don’t know what it is we’re trying to bury here. They could think we’re covering up a murder. These streets would be filled with police cars before we even knew what was happening.’
‘At which point this whole exercise would become more than pointless.’ I rolled my eyes as I put the finishing touches to the hole. ‘Since the police would just unearth the body and release the damn girl.’ I pulled Rebecca into the shallow grave just as her body began to twitch with growing animation.
‘Shouldn’t the grave be a little deeper than this?’ Jade helped me adjust the body’s position in the hole.
‘We don’t have time.’ I shook my head. ‘This is deep enough. Now hand me that post of yours.’
Jade nodded and did as she was told. I placed down the shovel and grabbed the axe off of my back. I then turned the axe round so the flat head was facing downwards and used it to hammer the post into Rebecca’s chest. When the first hit went in Rebecca’s whole body twitch violently. For some reason this caused Jade to gasp in a mix of horror, shock and awed surprise. I rolled my eyes at her reaction and kept hammering. It was essential to get the post as far down into the ground below Rebecca as possible. There were two reasons for this. The first being to keep the post from being seen above ground. The second to make sure Rebecca was well and truly pinned down.
Once I was satisfied I’d achieved both objectives, I shovelled earth back into the grave. It took me almost as much time to fill the hole in as it had taken to dig it in the first place.
‘Do you think anyone will notice the ground here’s been recently dug?’ Jade’s head tilted in a curious manner as I patted the last of the earth into place.
‘Watch.’ I gave an impatient sigh as I handed her back the shovel.
It took a second but the ground concealing Rebecca’s body became filled with the same grass and flowers which covered the rest of small grassy area we were stood in. The coverage was seamless and it would have been impossible for even the most scrutinising of experts to tell the difference.
‘Wow.’ Jade breathed out in amazement. ‘Why does that happen?’
‘Who knows?’ I shrugged. ‘It just does.’
For a few long moments Jade stood there watching the neatly disguised grave. I got the sense she was mourning something. Or if not mourning it then at least contemplating it on a level which defeated me. And if I’m being honest it didn’t matter what the truth was because her whole attitude about it annoyed me.
‘You wanna return that shovel?’ I nudged her.
‘What?’ Jade blinked at me in surprise for a moment. ‘Oh, right.’ She gave a nervous laugh. ‘Yeah, I’ll put it back.’
Without waiting for a further invitation Jade jumped back over the wall and disappeared into the garden. Whilst she was gone, I returned my axe to the strapping on my back and stared down at the ground. A part of me wished we’d just finished Rebecca off in the manner I’d originally intended. After all, that was the only way to make sure she’d never come back. This solution would fall to pieces the second anyone uncovered Rebecca’s hiding place. An uncomfortable feeling of disgust rooted in my stomach. This wasn’t the first time I’d buried a Daynasen like this and every time I did someone always found them again.
But Jade was a new recruit. And until new recruits saw for themselves just how pointless this method was they couldn’t bring themselves to stomach the final solution. And even I had to admit it took me a long while to accept the only way to deal with any kind of Demon was to kill them. In fact if it wasn’t for the complete futility of all other solutions I might never have gotten over it. I knew Jade would learn to deal with it eventually and until she did I would just have to play along with her.
Or at least that’s what I had to tell myself. I gritted my teeth and tried to forget about the uncomfortable feeling I’d had when Jade had mentioned the look in my eyes. It had been commented on by a number of recruits I’d worked with before her. It always came right before they figured out the only part of my secret they ever got to know. I didn’t want Jade to even know that much about me.
I ran my fingers back through my wiry black hair. I knew Jade had her suspicions. And Rebecca’s words about me not being human had clearly struck a chord with Jade. There was something about the way Jade had yet to mention anything about it which made me squirm. I knew the conversation would have to come eventually and I didn’t know yet how far away from the truth I could keep her.
It seemed to take much longer for Jade to return than it had for her to fetch the shovel in the first place. By the time she got back I was edging to get moving again. It must have showed because Jade gave me a slow once over.
‘Let’s get back to our search then.’ Jade shot me a weak smile before heading off towards the inner city. ‘We’ve got another long walk ahead of us.’
‘I know.’ I half jumped into step beside her. ‘But isn’t there something we should talk about first?’
‘Like what?’ Jade fained disinterest.
‘Like what you’ve been so careful not to mention in the whole time we’ve been trying to bury Rebecca.’ I grabbed a hold of her arm and forced her to glance back towards me.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Her expression was tight and serious. ‘Can we just get back to our search please?’
‘Fine.’ I let go of her arm. ‘But you won’t be allowed to mention it again after this.’
‘I won’t want to.’ Jade’s voice sounded more than tense. ‘Because there’s nothing to mention.’
I don’t know why the thought of Jade not wanting to know anything unnerved me more than if she’d gushed out with questions I couldn’t answer, but it did. Maybe it was something to do with my experience with recruits and how they would jump on any opportunity to understand that which was other before and after they themselves discovered they were. And if there was one thing I knew with a great deal of certainty was other it was me.
But Jade seemed to be taking this like… I forced the thoughts down. I couldn’t keep doing that. I couldn’t keep questioning what she was before she had the opportunity to discover it for herself. Or at least before she acknowledged knowing any better. I squirmed as the questions I could suppress forced their way into the forefront of my consciousness. What if Jade already knew what she was? And what if her lack of questions for me came from an understanding she already had for what I was?
Somewhere between her not asking the questions which should have been there and me not wanting her to ask them was a painful silence. A part of her wished she would take back her lack of interest so I could take back my lack of protest. At that point I just wanted the silence to end. I wanted... I wasn’t sure. I just knew I didn’t like the silence. Just like I knew it would continue to stretch between us unless one of us made the first move.
As we made our way back in towards the inner city centre, Jade gave a more than awkward sounding laugh and flicked her gaze towards me. For half a second I almost believed she might be about to ask about Rebecca’s accusations. To question me about what I was. I’d always considered myself perceptive in situations like these, but for some reason this time I was way off.
‘Think the public loos will be unlocked at this hour?’ I could tell by the look on Jade’s face she took no pleasure in having to ask me that.
‘Arh what?’ I couldn’t help but exasperate with mild annoyance. ‘You’re kidding me, right?’
For a few moments Jade squirmed with clear embarrassment. Then she shrugged and acted as if she didn’t really care.
‘Guess you should go check then.’ I rolled my eyes and folded my arms. ‘But be quick about it. I’d hate for you to be caught with your pants down in the middle of a Daynasen attack.’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ Jade gave me a dismissive wave before jogging off in the direction of the public bathrooms.
Not wanting to seem pushy I remained where I was and took a seat on the narrow ledge like window outside of the old Woolworth’s building. The stars were out in force now and I couldn’t help but get the feeling like they were watching me. For the first time in a few hours my neck gave a painful tick. I groaned and rubbed my neck. The involuntary spasm in my neck had been there my whole life and was worse when I was stressed. Worse didn’t always mean more painful although the two often went hand in hand.
I lowered my arm and tried to forget about it. I’m good at that. I’m good at pushing away and forgetting all those things I don’t want to think about. It allows me to have a clearer head and rely on my natural instincts. Okay so I knew I couldn’t just give into those instincts and I wouldn’t. It was just at times like this when my brain felt as though it was working more than any other part of me I just wished…
‘You know, I’m pretty sure I sent someone out looking for you.’ Dixon’s voice broke out of one of the shadows around me. ‘You don’t happen to know what happened to her, do you?’
‘What makes you think I even know who you’re talking about Dixon?’ I managed to keep my voice level despite the strange feelings stirring within me.
‘Because I’m assuming you have a memory longer than a goldfish Obin Johnson.’
Dixon oozed himself out of the shadows to the left of me. For a few moments I found myself admiring his sleek almost angelic look. There was something about him which drew me in like nothing I’d ever known before. It disturbed me and in my discomfort I rose to me feet. I knew from the first note of his laugh Dixon had picked up on my discomfort. I swallowed hard and tried to recompose myself. My eyes met with Dixon’s and I prayed the signals I was giving off were not the ones I suspected.
‘Like what you see Obin Johnson?’ Dixon pulled himself into a theatrical pose.
‘Not exactly.’ I tried to keep my voice from betraying anything. ‘I was just trying to work out where your maker stamp is.’
‘What?’ Dixon’s face pulled into a confused frown.
‘Well, you are a doll, aren’t you?’ I tried to play him for a fool. ‘I mean, you sure look like one.’
‘A doll?’ He cocked his head. ‘What an odd thing to say.’
‘Why? I am the step-son of a doll maker, aren’t I?’
‘And you see dolls everywhere you go?’ Dixon sounded amused. ‘I can see you’re promising to be more fascinating than I could ever have imagine Obin Johnson.’
‘Well I hope I’m not too fascinating for you to play with.’ I strained to keep my voice level. ‘Because I do enjoy a good game.’
‘Oh really?’ He smirked at me. ‘I thought you might somehow. But before we begin our little game Obin Johnson, I have to know, what are you?’
‘I’m the step-son of a doll maker.’ I gritted my teeth against the memory of my bad dream.
‘Oh come on now, we both know you’re a lot more than that.’ Dixon shook his head. ‘You wouldn’t have been able to…’ He stopped himself and his lips pulled into a strange smile.
An uncomfortable sensation formed in the pit of my stomach. I got the feeling he was hinting at the idea my strange dream might have been more than just a strange dream. But what it was exactly… I shuddered and allowed my mind to go over all the things I knew about Daynasen, both from misconstrued popular culture and what I knew as actual facts. Somewhere between those pieces of information lay the bit I needed. The fact which explained or at least tried to explain if it was even possible for Dixon to…
‘You look tired Obin Johnson.’ Dixon interrupted my train of thought. ‘Did you have a bad day’s sleep?’
‘That’s none of your business.’ I pulled my axe off of my back and readied myself.
‘Oh but I think it is my business.’ Dixon rolled his head in a backwards arch along his shoulders for a moment. ‘After all, you and I are about to engage in a game together, aren’t we?’
‘And you need to know if I’m at some kind of disadvantage to you?’ I twisted the handle of my axe between my hands. ‘Well I can tell you now, disadvantaged or not, I am more than ready to play with you.’
It was an unintentional but as I spoke the last three words the level and tone of my voice altered. It made me sound like I had the voice box of a psychotic baby doll and the look on Dixon’s face told me he agreed. For a few moments I felt angry at myself for letting the change occur. Then I felt annoyed at Dixon for being so amused by it. My voice shouldn’t amuse him. It should terrify him.
‘What are you Obin Johnson?’ Dixon repeated his question. ‘And don’t tell me you’re just the step-son of a Doll Maker or else I’ll start believing you’re nothing more than one of his dolls.’
‘Believe what you like.’ I gritted my teeth and tried to keep my voice from sounding too abnormal.
‘The way you sound right now. The pitch. The tone. The almost synthetic edge your voice has I could easily believe you were a doll.’ Dixon appeared to be revelling in my discomfort.
‘I told you before, you can believe what you like.’ My voice was almost uncontrollable now. ‘But if I were you I’d start playing our game right now, before I completely lose my patience with you.’
‘But this game is all about patience Obin Johnson.’ He laughed as he melted back into the shadows. ‘Haven’t you worked that much out yet?’
I could feel myself losing control again. My dark nature had never been this easy to manipulate before, but there was something about Dixon which brought out the worst in me. With my axe still in my hand I swung it violently into the nearby shop window. The window shattered and angry sirens ripped across the still night air. An excited chuckle pushed its way out of me and I couldn’t help but smirk in gleeful anticipation. The sirens were bound to draw people to me. People who had no idea what I was capable of doing to them. People who would soon learn…
The shadow of one such person appeared to the right of me. There was something familiar about the way they moved, but in my current state I neither knew nor cared who it was. My chuckle turned into the manic laugh of a hysterical child. I swung my axe around me as though it were some sort of play thing. I didn’t care what damage I caused with it. If anything the knowledge it could cause damaged excited me further.
‘Have you come to play with me?’ My voice was somewhere halfway between a doll and a madman. ‘I like to play.’
‘Play?’ My victim sounded confused. ‘Obin, what’s wrong with you?’
A girlish giggle broke out of me as my head gave a sharp tick. My eyes examined my victim. I wanted to know all her weak points before I started my game. And I would start my game. I needed to.
‘That’s not the right answer.’ I stopped swinging my axe and allowed it to hang from my right hand like an extension of my arm. ‘Two more mistakes like that and you’ll be fit for the chopper. And that will be so sad… so soon…’
‘Obin?’ Her voice was less than level. ‘You’re not being funny, so just quit it, okay?’
‘Who said I was trying to be funny?’ I giggled again. ‘I’m trying to have fun.’
‘That’s strike two,’ I cut her off and bounced the flat side of my axe against my shin. ‘One more strike and you’re out.’
‘What?’ Her jaw dropped so far open I felt as though I was able to stare right down into her stomach. ‘But… but I didn’t…’
‘I make the rules here.’ I held the blade of my axe up towards her. ‘This is my game and you will play with me. Now… run.’
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘No I won’t run. Not until you tell me what the hell is going on here. What’s wrong with you?’
‘There’s nothing wrong with me. My you really should have run whilst you had the chance.’ I mocked a pout. ‘That’s strike three. Now it looks like I’ll just have to go ahead and kill you then. And there’s no fun in that.’
‘I’m not about to lie down and let you kill me.’ She drew a weapon of her own. ‘Either I’ll snap you out of this or I’ll kill you.’
‘Kill me?’ I gave another giggle. ‘You can try my play thing, but you won’t succeed.’
I took a swipe at her with my axe and she managed to dodge the blow with barely a hair’s breadth to spare. Something about her movement made a shiver of excitement roll through me. With one simple action she had turned herself from a play thing and into a playmate. But even playmates could only last for so long.
‘Nice move.’ I laughed and took another swipe at her. ‘Maybe you’re worth playing with after all.’
‘I’m not playing games with you.’ She continued to evade my blade. ‘Don’t you get it Obin? This isn’t a game.’
‘Didn’t I tell you I make the rules…?’
‘This isn’t a game!’
Somehow on the back turn of one of my swipes, she managed to land a heavy blow to the side of my face. Everything in my mind began ringing with the same strength as the sirens above me. My head ticked and my eyes blinked with an elongated slowness. For half a second reality was allowed to settle back into my mind. But half a second was all I needed to regain control. Both of my weapons evaporated with the same black smoke which had manifested them and my guilty gaze turned towards a more than upset looking Jade Hamilton.
‘I’m sorry.’ My face pulled with the weakness of my own apology. ‘I… I don’t know what came over me.’
‘Yeah, well...’ Jade narrowed her gaze on me and it was clear she’d made note of my evaporated weapons. ‘If I’d known it was so easy to knock some sense into you I would have done that a long time ago.’ She scowled. ‘You’re bleeding.’
‘What?’ I frowned and wiped the side of my face only to half flinch away from the wetness of the blood. ‘What the hell did you hit me with?’
Jade shrugged, hid something behind her back and pressed her lips together in a guilty manner.
‘It doesn’t matter.’ Jade edged away from me. ‘We should get you back to your place, to clean you up. Don’t want that blood attracting any uninvited guests.’
‘Yeah.’ I nodded as I allowed her to lead me in the direction of the doll shop. ‘I guess we don’t.’
For a long time we just walked along in silence. I knew by the time we got back to the flat the wound would be all but healed, leaving me with nothing more to do the wash the blood off of my face. But somehow that wasn’t the point. Somehow it had less to do with treating me and more to do with us both avoiding the obvious. The tension now was worse than before. I couldn’t stand her not wanting to know. It just felt so wrong.
‘I tried to kill you.’ I pulled myself to a stop and forced her to do the same. ‘Doesn’t that mean anything to you?’
Jade shrugged and kept her gaze averted away from me. It was clear there was something she wasn’t saying, I just wished I knew what it was.
‘Come on,’ I goaded her. ‘Shouldn’t you at least want to know why?’
‘Why?’ Jade let out a long sigh. ‘Knowing won’t change the fact that it happened.’
‘I know. But it will explain why it did.’
‘You think I want an explanation?’ Jade snapped at me. ‘Or is this more to do with the fact you’re suddenly so desperate to give one?’
‘What?’ I felt myself become defensive.
‘You think an explanation will solve everything, don’t you? Yet I know as well as you do that you can’t give one. And that’s not won’t give one. It’s CAN’T. So what’s the point?’
‘What makes you think I can’t tell you anything?’
‘Oh please.’ Jade rolled her eyes. ‘I do have more than two brain cells to rub together.’
‘Let’s just get back to yours.’
‘Obin.’ The look on Jade’s face carried as many warnings as her tone. ‘Can we please just get you cleaned up?’
‘Alright.’ I lowered my head. ‘If that’s what you want.’
To my surprise Jade took hold of my hand and pulled me forward. I found myself staring up at her in shock as a million questions burned into the front of my mind.
‘What are you?’ The words came out of me before I could stop them.
‘What?’ Jade gave a strange sounding laugh as she led me in through the back door of the shop.
‘I said, what are you?’
‘I heard what you said, I was just wondering what you meant by it.’
‘I meant, what are you?’ My voice tinged with desperation. ‘I want to know what you are.’
Jade didn’t answer my question. Instead she continued to pull me up into the flat, through the living space and into the kitchen. Jade then forced me to sit down on one of the less than comfortable metal breakfast bar stools and raided the cupboards searching for something. After about five minutes of searching she gave a frustrated huff and turned her gaze towards me.
‘Well, where is it?’
‘Where is what?’ I couldn’t help but frown.
‘Your first aid kit.’ Jade folded her arms. ‘You’ve got to have one somewhere.’
Jade made an even more put out sound of annoyance, rolled her eyes and made her way towards the sink. She then grabbed a whole load of kitchen roll and ran half of it under cold water. Once it was suitably wet she squeezed out the excess and brought it back to me.
‘If this scars it’s your own fault.’ Jade used the wet paper to clean the blood off of my face.
‘It won’t scar.’ I shifted my gaze away from her. ‘I don’t scar easily.’
‘Yeah, well this is still your fault.’ Jade pouted. ‘Don’t let whatever that was get into you like that again or next time it’ll be more than just your face which gets hurt.’
‘Okay, message received.’ I narrowed my gaze on her. ‘But you could at least answer my question.’
‘And what question would that be?’ Her voice toned with disinterest.
‘What happened to the cut?’ Jade cut me off mid sentence.
‘What?’ I started in confusion.
‘The cut to your face. The one which was bleeding. What happened to it?’
For a few moments everything in me bulked with hesitation. It had been clear from what she had been saying she didn’t know what I was, but something in me was still surprised by her surprise. Jade may have talked like someone who didn’t have a clue but she acted like someone who knew... something. Whatever that something was had lulled me in and left me unable to predict this reaction.
‘I told you I don’t scar.’ My voice sounding as lame as the statement felt.
‘This isn’t not scarring Obin.’ Jade’s eyes gazed into mine. ‘This is not wounding.’
‘I was wounded.’ I scowled. ‘There wouldn’t have been so much blood if you hadn’t broken the skin.’
‘Then where is the wound?’ She pressed her lips as her expression lacked any kind of amusement for the situation.
‘Maybe you’re not looking hard enough.’ I averted my gaze.
‘If I looked any harder I’d be able to see all of your individual pours.’ Jade glared. ‘There is no wound on your face Obin Johnson.’
‘Well you said you didn’t want to know.’ I pulled myself off of the stool and away from her. ‘You were the one who insisted on not knowing.’ I used my sleeve to dry my half cleaned face. ‘So you can’t come crying to me now just because I won’t answer you. Because you didn’t want to know.’
‘I didn’t want to know because I didn’t think you’d tell me.’ Jade’s voice was almost screeching. ‘I didn’t actually think that you would… urgh I don’t know.’
‘You didn’t want to know,’ I repeated my statement unable to think of anything else to say. ‘You didn’t want to know, so now… now you just have to live with not knowing.’
‘Or with trying to guess.’ Jade was calming down faster than I was. ‘Although if your Step-Father’s lectures are anything to go by then I already know nothing good heals that quickly. Although I was hardly under the misconception you were something entirely good… Not after you nearly tried to kill me.’
‘So what do you think I am then?’ I could feel myself almost starting to rant with panic. ‘Come on. It’s your turn to put everything you’ve learnt into practice. Identify me. Classify me. See how close you can get it.’
‘I don’t want to.’ Jade shook her head.
‘Because I don’t like the look you have in your eyes right now.’
‘Oh you’ll have to do so much better than that.’ I took a deep breath to try and calm myself.
I didn’t know why I was starting to get so easily rattled by everything. It wasn’t like me to lose control at every little thing. Yet I seemed to be doing just that more and more now. Something in me told me it had everything to do with Dixon Blakely. Something in me told me he was the one messing with more than just my head. But that same something wanted to suppress that thought. As if I couldn’t bear to think badly of him. As if…
‘I’m sorry.’ I managed to level myself out. ‘I’m not normally like this, but I’ve been feeling… unwell.’
‘Unwell?’ Jade repeated my choice of word without any conviction. ‘See that just makes you human.’
‘Of course I’m human.’ I shook my head. ‘We’re all human. The word you’re looking for is mortal. Feeling unwell makes me mortal.’
‘I prefer human somehow.’ Jade blinked at me and something in her eyes expression a deep concern for my wellbeing. ‘It something I can relate to.’
For a long few moments we both fell into silence. I got the feeling there was more she wanted to say. That all the curiosity I’d suspected was hidden within her was just brewing beneath the surface. At that moment in time I nether wanted to encourage or discourage that curiosity. It was enough just to know it was there.
‘I’m sorry I asked you what you were.’ I turned away from her. ‘I’ve just been a little…’
Before I could finish my sentence my Step-Father burst through the front door. His face was washed with a pale kind of horror. As his gaze lifted up to meet with mine, I noticed him take more than a few sickening gulps.
‘Obin, I didn’t expect you back so soon.’ My Step-Father’s eyes went from me, to Jade, then back again. ‘Is this some kind of bonding exercise?’
A part of me could sense what my Step-Father was thinking and my face flushed with heat.
‘We’re not slacking off.’ Jade’s voice was calm. ‘Obin got hurt, so I brought him here to clean him up.’
‘Oh…’ His tone sounded almost disappointed. ‘Well I guess that’s a different matter then. How’d he get hurt?’
‘I hit him.’ Something about Jade’s honesty was starting to get on my nerves.
‘You what?’ My Step-Father blinked at her. ‘Why?’
‘Something to do with him trying to kill me I think.’ She grinned. ‘I can’t really remember now.’
‘She doesn’t know what I am. She just knows what I’m not.’ I saved my Step-Father from any further confusion.
‘I guess that was inevitable.’ My Step-Father sighed. ‘You two should get back out there.’
‘Why?’ Jade tilted her head with curiosity. ‘There’s no rush, is there?’
‘We’ve been called onto the next assignment already.’ My Step-Father’s waxy lips pulled into a weak smile. ‘We have to wrap this up as soon as possible before the not so locals there get restless.’
‘You always get called on, don’t you?’ Jade looked more than a little disappointed.
‘It goes with the territory I’m afraid.’ He sighed again. ‘Now, you should get back out there.’
‘I’m not sure I want to.’ I shook my head as everything in me momentarily rolled in conflict.
‘I don’t… feel well.’ I pulled a face. ‘I just don’t feel well.’
After about ten minutes of idle chatter, my Step-Father sent Jade home. It was agreed it was much too risky for her to be out on her own yet and that one more night wouldn’t hurt that much. Almost as soon as she had gone, my Step-Father’s eyes surveyed me with a cool kind uncertainty. I could tell he was thinking my pitiful excuse was just that. But the way he was looking at me... It was as if he was trying to read my mind and somehow make sense of the things I could not explain.
The silence between us was as long as it was slow. I could tell my Step-Father was waiting for me to say something. I just wished I knew what it was he expected me to say. After what felt like an age I made a clearing cough and turned in the direction of my room.
‘I guess I should get to bed then.’
‘Obin.’ My Step-Father’s voice was almost too level.
I pressed my lips together and glanced back towards him. There was a stiff pause. I got the feeling whatever he was about to say next wouldn’t shock me, yet somehow I was still expecting the worst.
‘You don’t feel unwell.’ My Step-Father’s eyes met with mine. ‘You never feel unwell. It’s not possible for you to.’
‘So then why did you lie to her?’
I lowered my gaze and half turned my head away from him. I didn’t want to answer the question because I wasn’t sure what the answer was. In my head I felt as though there were a million possible truths, yet none of them were right. None of them were real somehow.
After a few long moments of silence I hung my head and shrugged.
‘Obin, what really happened out there?’
‘Dixon.’ My voice sounded strange even to me. ‘There’s… there’s something about him which... which brings out the worst in me.’
‘In what way?’
‘I’m not sure, it’s… hard to describe. It’s just… when I’m around him I feel like I’m losing control of myself.’
‘Does that frighten you?’ I could hear the concern in my Step-Father’s voice. ‘I know how unsettling that feeling can be and sometimes it’s the disturbance of the feeling which makes it worse.’
‘I don’t know.’ My voice sounded more muted than I’d meant it to. ‘I don’t know how it makes me feel. I just know…’ I hesitated; I didn’t really want to admit to the thoughts lurking in my brain.
‘You just know what?’ My Step-Father’s gaze narrowed on me.
‘I don’t know what I know.’ I gave my best frustrated sigh. ‘I just know I know something. And that something has something to do with Dixon. But beyond that...’ I gave a strange laugh. ‘I don’t even know if I hate him.’ I lifted my gaze up towards my Step-Father. ‘And I am meant to hate him, aren’t I? Or I’m at least not supposed to like him. Why do I feel like I like him?’
For a long few moments my Step-Father was silent. There was something about the look on his waxy face which suggested his brain was making connections mine could not. The silence droned on almost too long, half making me believe it just wasn’t going to end. My Step-Father then made a clearing cough and headed past me into the kitchen area. Something about the way he moved made me feel certain he wasn’t going to answer my question. The strange thing was that I didn’t know why.
‘You should get to bed.’ My Step-Father’s voice was level. ‘You’re going to have to start getting used to the regular person’s routine soon.’
‘What?’ I frowned. ‘Why?’
‘They’ve requested it.’ He sounded nervous. ‘They want you to attend school in Mary’s Vail. They’ll be sending you a timetable through and everything.’
‘You let them?’
‘They didn’t give me a choice.’ My Step-Father’s whole body became tense. ‘You’ll understand why when you get there.’
‘What?’ He blinked at me.
‘You said I’d understand why when I got there.’ I folded my arms. ‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Nothing.’ My Step-Father shook his head. ‘Forget I said anything.’
‘You’re keeping things from me.’ I felt hurt. ‘You promised me you’d never do that, remember?’
‘It’s not my choice…’
‘Of course it’s your choice.’ I glared. ‘You’re the one not letting me know.’
‘No.’ My Step-Father sighed. ‘You don’t understand. They’ve told me not to tell you.’
‘Oh fine.’ I huffed and took off in the direction of my room. ‘Blame it on them if you must.’
Before he could make any further sound of protest I slammed my bedroom door shut. It wasn’t like me to get like this with my Step-Father, but I couldn’t stand the thought of him keeping things from me. No matter what the reason for it.
But then I’m keeping things from him, I thought to myself. Or… at least I think I am.
I crashed down on my bed and spent a few moments staring up at the ceiling contemplating what was really going on. There was something about the situation I was in which made me feel trapped. Or at least trapped on an emotional level. I wasn’t used to feeling that way and the unknown always made me uncomfortable. A deep groan escaped me as I pulled at the roots of my hair. In that moment I hated the way it felt. I hated the way it looked. I hated how much it reminded me of the dolls down in my Step-Father’s workshop.
There was an unexpected tapping at my window. I glanced towards it and was certain for a split second I saw Dixon’s face staring back at me. Even the thought I might just have seen him caused my heart to race. I wanted him to be out there. I wanted him...
I choked back the thought. I knew I didn’t hate him but the opposite was just too ridiculous to believe. And anyway there was no one at my window, just a stray branch tapping against the glass. I got up and closed the curtains, before half jumping myself back into bed. I was tired. That had to be it. Tired and unnerved by Dixon, but it was nothing more than that. I certainly didn’t have any feelings for him. That was just… impossible.
‘Dixon.’ I gritted my teeth as I turned away from the window. ‘What the hell’s with you?’
There was a gentle tap at my bedroom door seconds before my Step-Father poked his head round. A guilty smile pulled at the corners of his moulded lips as he presenting me with a plate full of bourbon biscuits.
‘Piece offering?’ My Step-Father pulled himself into my room. ‘You know I don’t like keeping things from you Obin. It’s just this situation that’s developing in Mary’s Vail is a lot more complicated than I’d like it to be.’
‘Why?’ I held my hand out for the plate knowing as well as he did biscuits were my one weakness.
‘They’re worried about you.’ My Step-Father averted his gaze as he handed the plate over. ‘About how you’ll cope being around so many Sayu.’
I got the feeling it was a half lie, but I suspected he was being as truthful as he could be right now.
‘I know they’re dangerous, but I’m not as loose a cannon as they think.’ I gave a heavy sigh. ‘I’ll be able to handle it.’
‘Like you’re handling Dixon’s influence on you right now.’
‘Dixon’s different.’ I turned my head away.
‘He’s not Sayu for a start.’ I shrugged. ‘And… well he’s just different. How else can I put it?’
‘There are other way.’ My Step-Father gave a world weary sigh. ‘And if I could explain I would, but you’re right. Dixon is different but the Sayu will be worse.’
‘Dixon?’ My voice dead echoed against the walls of the long, cold, dark room I found myself in.
I had no idea how I’d ended up there, why I was there or even where there was. I couldn’t even remember where I’d been before I found myself in this dark place. I just knew somewhere amid the flickering shadows there was Dixon. How I knew that or why I didn’t have a clue. I just knew it was the case and that I would stop at nothing to find him. I felt baited by the gloom which surrounded me, as if it wanted me to find Dixon. Or as if it wanted Dixon to find me.
I kept myself focused on my goal and tried to ignore it. The gloom could um and ah at me all it liked. It could taunt me or support me, I didn’t care. All I cared about was finding Dixon. All that matter was this game… His game.
‘Dixon?’ I strained my ears to hear if there was anywhere the sound didn’t reflect from. ‘Dixon show yourself.’
I knew I wasn’t a bat, so I couldn’t use sonar to guide me through the darkness. But I could and would use the echoes of my own voice to pinpoint Dixon’s location. I was the little bat that wasn’t a little bat and the feeling excited me more than I would have expected.
I took a deep breath inwards and shuffled a few paces forward, trying to make as little noise as possible. I couldn’t allow too much sound to throw off the sense of the room I’d create around me. And I couldn’t afford to miss anything which might have been the sound of Dixon moving. For a few seconds I felt as though I was thinking through mud. I came to a stop and lifted a hand to the side of my head. My body’s reaction was automatic as if I were recoiling from the sudden sharpness of a headache, rather than a stilting of my train of thoughts.
‘Dixon?’ My voice edged with the unfelt pain. ‘Dixon where are you?’
‘I’m sorry.’ Rebecca’s voice sounded from behind me. ‘But I’m afraid Dixon couldn’t make this party.’
‘Rebecca.’ I turned. ‘You shouldn’t be… here...?’
My voice dulled to a stop when my vision was met by nothing but gloom. I took another deep breath in and scanned the darkness for a shadowy figure. Nothing…
‘Why shouldn’t I be here?’ Rebecca’s voice sounded from the other side of me, making me snap round to another view of dark gloom.
‘You know why.’ I gritted my teeth, not really wanting to play games with a bodiless voice. ‘We buried you at a cross road.’
‘You buried me?’ Her voice sounded amused. ‘Wasn’t that a risky ploy?’
‘Jade couldn’t stand the thought of decapitating you.’ I had no idea what was making me so honest. ‘But I have no problems with that myself, so maybe if you show yourself we can do this right.’
At that her laughter echoed off of every wall in the room. Only it wasn’t quite her laughter, something about it reminded me of…
‘Dixon?’ I half gasped out in disbelief. ‘You tricked me?’
‘You tricked yourself Obin Johnson.’ Dixon stepped out of the shadows, the look on his face speaking of his own sense of victory.
‘Why?’ I felt hurt. ‘Why is she so important to you?’
‘Who said anything about her being important to me?’ Dixon folded his arms. ‘But a girl like that does have her uses.’
‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘No, she’s useless to you. It’s me you want.’
Almost as soon as I’d said it I found myself choking back the words. I’d no idea what I meant and I was just praying to myself Dixon didn’t know either.
For a long, awkward few minutes there was an almost deafening silence around us. Everything about it felt as tight and as stiff as a board. I drew a few strange breaths in and found myself half moving towards Dixon and half moving away from him.
‘I didn’t mean…’
‘What did you mean?’ Dixon prompted when my sentence fell dead.
‘This could go on for a long while.’ Dixon rolled his eyes. ‘Why don’t you just tell me?’
There was something lulling about his voice. There was something about his presence which made me want to gush out everything buried inside of me. I wanted him to know… I wanted him to know everything I was feeling. Everything I was thinking. Even the stuff I didn’t fully understand. I wanted him to know it all and I wanted him to know it now.
‘I am part Giyan.’ I hoped the weight of the name made him feel as impressed by the thought as I was. ‘I am of the Marella House.’
Dixon gave an even stranger rendition of his laugh and moved himself closer to me.
‘So am I,’ he breathed.
Something in that breath sparked between us. And it was more than just the sense we had of being family. Dixon’s revelation had given me a connection to him I’d never felt with anyone else. And somehow I knew he felt the same.
‘Really?’ My voice became low as if I couldn’t help but conspire with him over this. ‘Main or… Subsidiary?’
‘Main once.’ Dixon smiled at me, almost as if he was trying to catch my eye. ‘But my particular Branch line has become a lot more dilute since the excommunication. You?’
‘Subsidiary.’ The word made me feel sad. ‘Always Subsidiary.’
‘Then it looks like I outrank you Obin Johnson.’ Dixon reached a hand towards me, hesitated for a moment, then pulled it away. ‘Things may become a lot more interesting than I’d first intended.’
‘There’s more you need to know.’ My voice was hushed and tinged with desperation as I met his gaze. ‘I was created for the use of the last remaining Pure Main Branch. They… they needed me.’
‘For what?’ Dixon tilted his head.
Before I could finish what I was saying the whole room began to shake violently.
‘What’s going on?’ Flashes of light began to flicker into my vision.
‘Our meeting is over.’ Dixon’s voice sounded disappointed. ‘I guess will have to do this some other time Obin Johnson.’
‘But I don’t want to leave you.’ I knew I sounded like a child but I didn’t care
The shaking of the room around me became more and more violent. I took a step towards Dixon hoping he would take me with him or something. The look on Dixon’s face told me that wasn’t about to happen.
‘Then find me.’ Dixon turned and walked away. ‘Find me and you’ll never have to be without me again.’
‘Yes.’ Something about his promise filled me with a strange sense of joy. ‘Yes, I will. I’ll find you Dixon. I will find you.’
I groaned in loud frustration and opened my eyes to the sight of an impatient looking Jade staring down at me. It took me a few minutes to realise I was in bed and she’d just woken me from a more than intense dream. My frustration at her grew when I realised her rude awakening left me with no memory of the dream itself.
I made a noise of agitated irritation at her and swung myself out of bed, turning my back to her as I did. I didn’t want Jade to know how upset I was at being woken up, especially since I couldn’t fully remember the reason why.
‘What are you doing here Jade? Shouldn’t you be sleeping or something?’
‘Not all of us need to sleep for sixteen hours straight like you do Obin.’ Jade shook her head. ‘Your Step-Father and I’ve been trying to wake you for over three hours now. I was beginning to think you’d died on us in your sleep or something.’
‘Don’t be so over dramatic.’ I turned to scowl at her and noticed for the first time I’d fallen asleep fully dressed. ‘I’d be more than just hard to wake if I’d died in my sleep and you know it.’
‘It still doesn’t change facts Obin.’ Jade folded her arms. ‘You were nearly impossible to wake and I was trying really hard to wake you.’
‘Yeah, so what? I told you I wasn’t feeling well.’
‘Yeah, well I can’t go out without you and we really need to stop those Daynasen. There’ve been fifteen reported attacks since we buried that Rebecca chick.’
‘I think my point speaks for itself Obin. Now Summon those weapons of yours and let’s get going already.’
With a heavy sigh I obeyed her command, allowing my favourite knife and axe to flicker smoke into my hands.
‘These weapons are a part of me you know.’ I shot Jade a look as I fastened them to their various places. ‘Which means they are Manifested and not Summoned.’
‘Like the choice of a word makes that much of a difference.’ Her impatience was clear.
‘Actually it makes all the difference.’ I narrowed my gaze on her. ‘To Summon something all you’re doing is bringing the object from the place it’s in to the place you are. To Manifest you’re literally creating the object from your own flesh and bones. The two things couldn’t be further apart.’
‘Is this little lecture going to take much longer?’ Jade was unimpressed. ‘Only I’d rather get out there before all the citizens of Maio were killed.’
I shrugged and made my way towards the bedroom door. For some reason I really didn’t feel like hunting Daynasen right then. If I were being really honest with myself there was something else I felt like I should be doing instead. Something which felt a lot more important than some silly little hunt. I just wished I could remember what it was.
I made my way out of the flat with Jade in tow. She appeared to be in almost as bad a mood as I was, although I couldn’t figure out what was with her. Jade woke me up, not the other way round. But then to be perfectly honest a part of me didn’t care what Jade’s problem was. And if I didn’t know asking would annoy her I wouldn’t have bothered.
‘Bad day’s sleep?’ I huffed as we made our way towards the folly.
‘That’s not even the half of it.’ Jade pouted and kept her gaze away from me.
‘Did you realise you talk in your sleep?’ Her voice toned with a mixture of hurt and annoyance.
‘What?’ I blinked at her and felt more than a little stunned. ‘I don’t even remember dreaming,’ I semi-lied. ‘How can you talk in your sleep if you’re not dreaming?’
‘Just because you don’t remember your dream, doesn’t mean you weren’t dreaming Obin.’ Jade gritted her teeth. ‘Which means you can still talk in your sleep.’
‘Well what did I say?’
For a long time Jade was silent. By the time she looked like she might be about to speak again we’d reached the folly and I found my own thoughts distracted by memories of Dixon.
‘You’re thinking about him, aren’t you?’ Jade asked me, making me blush to know I was so easy to read. ‘You were dreaming about him too.’
‘You promised yourself to him, did you realise that?’
‘What?’ I felt confused.
‘You promised yourself to him, in your dream I mean. Or at least that’s what it sounded like to me.’ Jade became tense. ‘Are you in love with him?’
‘In love with him?’ I gave a shaky laugh. ‘He’s the enemy. How could I be in love with him?’
‘The enemy?’ She sounded confused. ‘I thought…’
‘You thought what?’
‘I don’t know.’ Jade shook her head and her expression became more confused than frustrated now. ‘But… you still promised yourself to him.’
‘It was a dream.’ I shrugged. ‘Maybe what I was saying wasn’t as it sounded.’
‘How else could you have been saying it?’ Mild agitation returned to Jade’s voice. ‘Because it sounded…’
‘It was a dream,’ I cut her off. ‘Dreams don’t mean anything. It’s just a bunch of images based on your experience from that day. They help you work through problems; they don’t reveal your deepest darkest secrets. And what would you care if I was in love with him anyway?’
Jade didn’t answer. Instead she made a choking noise of disgust and turned away from me. We both fell into a kind of moody silence and I began to kick at the dark on the ground below me.
‘So you’re not in love with him then?’ Jade broke the silence.
‘Of course not,’ I lied without thinking. ‘Not even remotely.’
‘Good?’ I cocked an eyebrow at her. ‘What, are you in love with me or something?’
‘Don’t be daft.’ Jade’s voice was so quiet it was enough to make me feel suspicious ‘Why would anyone be in love with a nothing like you?’
‘I’m not so unlovable, am I?’
‘Completely.’ Jade appeared almost too defensive. ‘You’re the most unlovable person I’ve ever met.’
‘Then why did you act so jealous?’
‘I wasn’t jealous.’
‘It sure looked that was to me hun.’ Rebecca’s voice sounded from the top of the folly, forcing us both to stare upwards.
‘You?’ Jade’s face filled with a shocked expression. ‘But… but we buried you yesterday…!’
‘And I was dug up about…’ She checked her watch. ‘Three hours ago.’
‘Oh hunny, didn’t you realise that wasn’t a permanent solution?’ Rebecca taunted.
‘I knew I should have decapitated you when I had the chance.’ I pulled my axe off of my back. ‘Oh well, there’s no time like the present.’
‘You decapitate me Obin?’ Rebecca shook her head. ‘You don’t have the guts.’
Without hesitation I took several swipes at Rebecca. She managed to evade every single one of them proving she was just as capable against me as she had been against Jade. I found myself filled with a mixture of dread and excitement. I wanted Rebecca to be a challenge, but at the same time I just wanted her gone. I couldn’t explain why, but seeing Rebecca filled me with a strange kind of jealousy. As though she were a threat to something important to me and I just wished I knew what it was.
There was a sharp twang right before something brushed against my shoulder and just missed pinning itself into Rebecca’s. Her face twisted into a disgusted glare, as her eyes hit past me to where I could only assume Jade was standing.
‘You really think I’m going to fall for such a lame trick twice?’ Rebecca’s gaze narrowed. ‘You don’t give me much credit, do you?’
‘Oh I’m sorry.’ Jade’s voice toned with amusement. ‘Was I meant to?’
It was clear from the way Rebecca was moving she was about to bring the full force of her attack capabilities against Jade. Not really wanting to see my enforced team mate injured I drew my knife and slashed into Rebecca’s right arm. The cut was almost deep enough to completely sever it.
‘OW FUCK!’ Rebecca’s face filled with a mixture of anger and pain. ‘Fucking…! FUCK!’
Rebecca glared at me as she tried to hold the pieces of her arm together. The expression on her face was so dark with rage a cold shiver almost crawled its way up my spine. I managed to suppress it and kept my gaze focused with unwavering calm on Rebecca. There would be no hesitating this time. I was more than ready to finish her for good.
‘Fuck.’ The repetition of the curse lessoned its impact. ‘What did you have to go and do that for?’
‘I told you I was going to be the one to finish you off.’ I smirked. ‘I didn’t say you could go playing about with someone else.’
‘Fuck you.’ Rebecca’s expression twisted with pain. ‘What the fuck kind of maniac does this to a person?’
‘The kind of maniac who’s trying to kill you.’ I cocked an eyebrow at her. ‘I’m sorry, was my attack too violent for a murderous blood sucker?’
‘Fuck you.’ Rebecca sounded like a broken record. ‘You’ll pay for this.’
For a second I almost believed she was going to turn tail and run. Instead Rebecca ripped her damaged arm off and tossed it aside. Without hesitation she launched herself at me. Everything in her movements was fuelled by rage, but that only made her easier to evade.
I re-sheathed my knife and took another couple of swipes at her with my axe. Rebecca barely managed to evade them this time. It was clear her rage was making her more than just easy to predict, it was also making her completely careless. I used this to my advantage and tried to encourage her back against one of the buildings. If she couldn’t get away then victory would be mine.
‘Obin, duck.’ Jade’s voice sounded seconds before another sharp twang snapped through the air.
I gritted my teeth in annoyance and did as I was told. I couldn’t believe Jade’s need to get involved in this fight was so great she would jeopardise my plans just to get off a shot which would probably miss now Rebecca had fair warning. As I felt the arrow skim the air above me, I glanced up to see where it had landed. The arrow managed to catch Rebecca in her arm, just above where it had been severed. For the first time I realised Rebecca’s rage had made her more than just sloppy. It was clear Rebecca no longer cared about her own self preservation.
‘I think you need to work on your aim love.’ Rebecca ripped the arrow back out of her flesh.
‘I think you need to work on your priorities… love.’ Jade gave a strained half laugh. ‘Unless of course you’re really looking to lose more than just that arm.’
‘Don’t get sassy with me you half rate.’
‘I’ll get sassy with whoever I want.’ I could hear the enjoyment in Jade’s voice. ‘You don’t own me.’
‘Who’s trying to own you?’ Rebecca snorted. ‘Who would want to own you for that matter?’
‘More people than would want to own you, that’s for sure.’
I rolled my eyes as a deep rooted groan escaped me. I couldn’t believe how much like bitchy school girls the pair of them sounded. Still I wasn’t about to let any opportunity slip by and since Rebecca was distracted I figured now would be the perfect time for a finishing blow.
I don’t know if her inane banter with Jade had calmed her down or what, but Rebecca’s reaction times were back to normal. The blow missed and the following return attack from her was almost enough to knock me over. I grunted in disgust and shot a glare back towards Jade. I knew I was going to have to re-evaluate my plan of attack against Rebecca. I knew...
Before my mind could even start to contemplate my next move, Rebecca leapt to where her severed arm was lying. In one swift movement she picked it up and made her escape. Rebecca moved with too much speed for even my eyes to keep up with. For a whole five minutes I found myself gawking at the last space Rebecca had occupied. I couldn’t believe after everything she’d just done she’d decide retreat was the best option. It just didn’t make any sense.
‘Well, who’d have thought she’d have her priorities in order after all.’ Jade gave an amused laugh.
‘If you’re trying to be funny Jade, you’re failing miserably.’ I scowled at her. ‘We didn’t need her running away on us.’
‘I know.’ Jade folded her arms. ‘But she did make for a very quick getaway. How come they have the Power to do that?’
‘Daynasen pick up the Powers of the ones who initiate them.’ I gave a heavy sigh and wondered why this had never been covered with her before. ‘And on top of that they’re still capable of using any Power they had beforehand.’
‘Is that why legends about them get so obscure?’ Jade tilted her head. ‘Because they can have so many different Powers and Abilities.’
‘That’s one reason.’ I pulled a face. ‘And I’ve no doubt it helped create so many variations in the legends.’
‘Didn’t my Step-Father cover something about that in Daynasen 101. I mean, I know it was probably a long time ago now, but even your memory can stretch back that far.’
‘I have a far better memory than you Obin.’ Jade pouted. ‘And as it happens, no your Step-father didn’t cover it back in Daynasen 101. He basically spent the whole time dismissing all the obvious myths. He never really told us what the truths were’
‘Maybe he did and you just weren’t paying attention.’
‘Another insult?’ Jade turned and walked away from me. ‘I’m starting to wonder about you.’
‘Wonder what?’ I caught up with her. ‘And where the hell do you think you’re going for that matter?’
‘We have a nest to find. Or had you forgotten why we were out here?’
I fell into a sulky silence. I didn’t like Jade putting me in my place like that, especially when she wasn’t really putting me in my place. Several conflicting feelings ran through me. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me, but for some reason I didn’t want her to find the nest. Not before I did at least. Or not with me if we found it together.
I took a deep breath in and tried to suppress the feelings. They were unsettling somehow. Everything I’d thought or felt since I’d woken up had been laced with the same kind of confusion. I didn’t understand any of it. All I knew for sure was Jade’s words about my dream had struck a chord with me. And that chord was pulling me somewhere I needed to go alone.
But how could I go there alone with Jade in tow? I had to figure out a way to get rid of her… I had to…
‘Another unsuccessful night?’ My Step-Father cocked an eyebrow at us as we entered with what must have been clear looks of dismay on our faces.
‘I don’t understand where they can possibly be hiding.’ There was more than a tone of annoyance in my voice. ‘We’ve looked everywhere within reason and… nothing. So either the nest is so small that you’d need a microscope to see it or…’
‘Or?’ My Step-Father prompted after my statement fell silent.
‘Or it’s so well disguised we could be looking right at it and not see beyond the reflection of what’s there.’ Jade finished for me, her voice deadly serious.
For a few moments a strange kind of helpless silence surrounded the three of us. Then Jade gave a heavy sigh and made her way towards the door.
‘Guess I should go home now.’ Jade hesitated in order to glance back towards us. ‘There’s nothing more we can do until later anyway and I need some sleep. That’s the one drawback of being human I suppose.’
‘Do you want me to walk you home?’ My Step-Father shot her an understanding smile. ‘Just because its daylight doesn’t mean you’re completely safe out there on your own. Especially not now the hive’s no doubt got wind of you.’
‘I’ll be fine.’ There was something almost false about Jade’s relaxed appearance. ‘I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.’
‘Okay, if you’re sure.’
‘I am.’ She made her way out of the door. ‘Try not to be so impossible to wake tonight Obin.’ Jade gave me a back handed wave. ‘We need as much time to search as possible.’
I didn’t reply. Instead I just waited to hear the door slam close behind her. A part of me was glad to see the back of her, but I still felt too trapped by the presence of my Step-Father to make the move everything in me was pulling me to make. As if my Step-Father could sense this, his eyes moved towards me. His gaze was so tight and focused I could almost hear the unspoken warning behind it. I turned my head away from him. The truth factor was supposed to be a two way thing. No secrets or lies between us. Yet here I was keeping the feelings I didn’t understand hidden away from him. I felt like a traitor or worse.
‘Did you realise you talk in your sleep?’ My Step-Father folded his arms as he repeated Jade’s earlier statement.
‘I had been told.’ I tensed.
‘You gave away Rebecca’s location, did you realise that?’
‘What?’ I frowned. ‘But it was just a dream…’
‘Was she or was she not freed by the time you started your hunt tonight?’ My Step-Father’s waxy features pulled into a serious expression.
‘She was… but… that could have just been a coincidence.’
‘Or it could mean this Dixon character is a lot more powerful than you realise.’
‘You’re not suggesting he has the power to view my dreams, are you?’ I rolled my eyes. ‘How much more Dracula can you get.’
‘I wouldn’t joke about that if I were you.’ My Step-Father was on the verge of raising his voice. ‘You know as well as I do just what Daynasen are capable of.’
‘I know there are infinite possibilities for what they can do.’ I averted my gaze. ‘They’re the Marella of the Demon world.’
‘That’s an interesting way of putting it.’ He gave a weary sigh and rubbed his fingers along the lines of his tense features.
‘Well I am part Marella, aren’t I?’ I pulled myself up to my full height. ‘So I should think about things like that. You know, make correlations between what I am and everything around me. The Marella live for the consumption of Power. All they’ve ever wanted is to be the most diversely powerful of all the Giyan Houses. And they are.’
‘Because they’ve breed Powers into their line. They don’t just take them as part of a happy default.’
‘But how is taking it any different to breeding it in. It still takes generations to create the diversity either kind has. Well generations in as near a sense as you can get.’
‘With the Marella that’s resulted in most Branches becoming so dilute someone like you could be born. With the Daynasen…’
‘There’s no dilution of blood, only an increase in Power,’ I interrupted him. ‘I know all this. Why are you going through it with me?’
‘Because your point about Daynasen and Marella is a valid one. You are as alike as you are different.’
‘You mean we’re both evil?’
‘Evil…’ My Step-Father’s voice trailed off. ‘You really think I’m so ignorant to still be so blind sighted by…?’
‘The Marella were banished from Giya because of their crimes against… Everything. They are ambitious, soulless and evil. They create from life which is unforgivable. And they breed Power into their line just because they want to achieve Power Limitless and…’ I took a deep breath, half losing my train of thoughts as I did. ‘And they don’t care who they hurt or kill in the process. They are evil.’
‘You’re Marella.’ My Step-Father’s eyes filled with sorrow. ‘Are you saying that you’re evil too?’
‘We both know the answer to that.’ My face tensed into a serious expression. ‘We both know what lurks within me.’
‘But you’re not evil. Not when you can control it.’
‘But I can’t always control it.’ I shook my head. ‘I mean, look at my behaviour the last few days. You’ve seen me getting worse. Maybe I should just give into those instincts. Maybe I should just…’
‘Obin, stop it,’ he cut me off. ‘I will not let you talk like this.’
‘Because this isn’t you talking right now, this is your fears.’ My Step-Father’s jaw line hardened. ‘We’ve had this conversation too many times now and you know my feelings on it as well as I know yours. So just stop this right now.’
I snorted with disgust and stormed out of the room. I hated fighting with my Step-Father, but deep down I felt as though I needed the excuse. I had to get away from him. I had to find a way to make my escape. I crashed down onto my bed for a few moments and glared up at the ceiling. My ears strained to hear any movements my Step-Father might be making. I had to be sure he wasn’t about to burst in and catch me in a compromising position before I made any move he wouldn’t expect.
There was an unspoken rule between us never to let bad feelings build up for too long. My Step-Father would be in here to make amends soon enough and before he did… I got up from my bed and crept my way towards the window. As I drew the curtains open I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I opened the window as wide as it would go. It wasn’t very often I had reason to appreciate my short stature or slight frame. But if I were any bigger than I was there was no way I’d have made it out of that window.
I pulled myself through it and onto the nearest tree branch. I then shimmied myself down the tree and onto the ground below. Almost as soon as my feet touched dirt three cloaked figures surrounded me. For half a second I felt afraid. I hadn’t gambled on something like this happening. But then a calming feeling washed over me. I knew who they were and why they were here.
‘I’ve been waiting.’ I couldn’t believe how calm I felt.
One of them gave a sickeningly familiar laugh, before the other two grabbed hold of me. Something in me told me they were straining not to pull me to piece. They resisted and in the blink of an eye everything around me fell into a darkened gloom. Once my eyes adjusted I found myself in a long, dank hall. The floor and walls were clad in flagstone, with a single thin strip of red carpet running up the middle of the floor. At the far end of the hall a shadowy figure sat on what appeared to be a stone throne. And hanging from the centre of the ceiling was a pair of rusty looking shackles.
The ones holding onto me dragged me towards the shackles and fastened me in. I did nothing to resist them. I felt no fear when several more cloaked figures descended from the shadows, each of them holding onto blades as long as their arms. What reason did I have to fear what I knew was coming next. As the blades sliced into me I kept my gaze fixed on the shadowy figure sat on his throne.
‘I found you.’ A grin stretched across the whole length of my face. ‘I found you.’
The unbroken pool of blood I was lying in stretched between my severed extremities. It didn’t hurt to be like this. But it did sting with discomfort as I waited for my body to heal itself back together again. I knew no wound they could inflict against me would be permanent. And they would be lucky to see even so much as a faint scar for all their efforts.
I lay in the cooling pool for what felt like an eternity before bewildered gasped reassured me I wasn’t just imagining the resealing of my lower quarters. The murmurs around me became louder as piece by piece my body pulled itself together. As my torso rejoined my still chained arms, I noticed the way the blood soaked shreds of my clothing clung to my body in that way only wet fabric can. A dead pan laugh to stutter out of my mouth as my head rolled itself back into place.
From the shadowy throne across the room someone began to clap in long, slow, sarcastic slaps. They rose from their sitting position and took a few paces towards me. The light revealed what I already knew to be true. The figure was Dixon. My heart fluttered to see him and I found myself holding my breath in anticipation.
‘And you would call me a doll?’ Dixon smirked as he stopped clapping and he stalked his way towards me. ‘Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.’
‘I found you Dixon.’ I kept my gaze trained on him. ‘I found you.’
‘So you have.’ An cruel smile pulled across his face. ‘But did you have to keep me waiting so long Obin Johnson? I was getting bored.’
‘It wasn’t my fault. Jade…’
‘Ah yes, my competition,’ Dixon interrupted. ‘I did wonder if maybe she’d shown herself to be more fascinating than I am.’
‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘That’s not it at all.’ I strained against the chains for a moment. ‘If I came here with her she’d have tried to kill you, so I had to lose her before…’ I trailed off.
‘You’re a lot smarter then you look Obin Johnson.’
The cruel look on Dixon’s face softened for a moment, but only for a moment. A part of me half wondered whether or not I had seen the softness there at all. My whole being ached. I wanted to know what he thought about me. What he really thought about me. Not what he was expected to think.
‘Free him.’ Dixon turned towards one of the cloaked figures.
‘But Dixon… he…’ Rebecca’s voice sounded out of the cloak’s hood. ‘He’s the enemy.’
‘Look at him.’ Dixon shrugged. ‘He’s no threat to us. Now, free him. And try to be careful about it. The only one allowed to punish him from now on will be me, understand? This one is mine.’
The cloaked Rebecca nodded and did as she was told. As she undid the chains from my wrists I found myself collapsing to my knees. I might have been able to heal quickly, but healing so much at once took a lot out of me. My body ached with a dulled sense of pain and exhaustion.
‘Look.’ Dixon laughed. ‘He already bows towards me.’
I heard the approach of Dixon’s footsteps. They came to a stop just as the whites of his shoes came into my view line. Without hesitation Dixon gave my right arm a sharp kick.
‘Show me. I want to see just how much of a doll you really are.’
I did as I was told and rocked back onto my heels. My eyes flicked up towards him as I presented my right arm like some kind of prize. Dixon examined it carefully from wrist to shoulder, then along my neck to my other arm.
‘Impressive.’ I could hear the admiration in Dixon’s voice. ‘I think I can see what they were trying to create now. Leave us.’ He turned his attention towards his cloaked minions. ‘He’s been punished enough as a spectacle. I wish to finish this alone.’
A wave of protest swept across the room. It was clear none of them trusted me alone with their leader no matter how little a threat I presented. I hated them for not trusting me. I wouldn’t hurt Dixon. I didn’t want to.
‘I SAID LEAVE!’ Dixon’s voice was calm despite its volume and anger. ‘How dare you disobey me? Or had you forgotten what I’ve given so many of you? Or how easily I could take it all away again? If I tell you to leave, you LEAVE.’
The murmurings continued for a few more moments, but as it did the cloaked figures began to melt away. Instinct told me whatever it was Dixon had over them was enough to swear their unyielding obedience, no matter what they may think of the orders given. Less than five minutes later it was just me, Dixon and the cloaked Rebecca left.
‘I think you’re making a mistake trusting him.’ Rebecca lowered her hood. ‘He will betray you, because you have nothing to stop him from doing so.’
‘Unlike you then.’ Dixon grab one of her arms, lifting it high enough for the cloak to slip down and reveal the nasty scar hidden beneath. ‘You’re loyalty is sworn by this and that should include trusting my judgement.’
‘You’re making a mistake with him.’ Rebecca sounded hurt as she pulled her arm away. ‘You wouldn’t be making a mistake with me.’
‘Leave.’ Dixon’s expression filled with a look of contempt. ‘Leave before I rip that arm right back off you.’
‘You wouldn’t dare…’
He made a grab for her arm again, but she pulled away before he could touch it. Rebecca’s whole body became tense as her eyes flicked between me and Dixon.
‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you.’ Rebecca’s lower lip trembled as she melted into the shadows. ‘Because I’ll remind you of this when he betrays you. And he will betray you.’
After Rebecca’s exit, Dixon stood in silence for a few moments. A part of me was terrified he was contemplating her words. That he would believe she was right. The he wouldn’t trust me. And I needed him to trust me. I could feel my whole body trembling as Dixon turned back towards me. His eyes were filled with an intense curiosity.
‘Tell me your name. I want to hear your name.’
‘Obin Johnson,’ I breathed.
‘No. Don’t tell me that. Don’t give me that lie.’
Dixon dropped himself down in front of me and grabbed hold the hair at the back of my head. He pulled it so hard it felt like the roots were bleeding. I reached both my hands back towards his in an attempt to lessen the pain and somehow managed to meet his gaze.
‘I want to hear your real name.’ Dixon’s voice came out in angry pants. ‘Tell me your real name.’
For a few moments I hesitated. My eyes searched into his as I began to stumble over the first letter. I wasn’t sure what he wanted from me and for the first time I felt afraid.
‘Tell me your name.’ Dixon’s grip on my hair tightened so much he was all but tearing it from the scalp. ‘I want to hear your real name.’
‘Obin Marella.’ The words came out of me before I could stop them. ‘My name is Obin Marella.’
The grip on my hair loosened, but didn’t fall away. Instead it was just joined by one around my shoulders, pulling me closer to him.
‘Say it again.’
‘My name is Obin Marella.’
Dixon gave a deep sigh and pulled me into his arms. His touch was gentle now. There was something about it which was almost… I wasn’t quite sure, but I wasn’t about to wish it over anytime soon. I liked this moment. This space in time. This reward for the suffering he’d just put me through. I knew then no matter what he did to me... no matter how cruel he was... a single moment like this would be all I needed to make everything right.
‘Again…’ Dixon’s voice was soft. ‘I want to hear you say it again.’
‘My name is Obin Marella…’
‘I’m not alone.’ I could hear the joy in his voice. ‘I’m really not alone.’
‘My name Obin, is Dixon Blakely Marella,’ he breathed. ‘And after all this time I am no longer alone…’
For a long time I felt myself reeling in the wake of his announcement. Dixon Blakely Marella. Could that really be his name? Something in the back of my mind stirred like the presence of an old memory. I felt as if this was something I knew and yet the idea of a Daynasen Marella left me half rigid with shock. A Daynasen Marella brought together two worlds linked by their desires to become more powerful. But it did more than just that. It brought them both so close to that Power they’d be able to taste it if they wanted to.
I felt Dixon’s grip soften further as he pulled himself far enough away to examine me. I felt myself doing the same. Up this close I couldn’t help but note how soft his skin appeared or how hued the edges were. It was as if he were filled with light… The thought made me blush. There was a kind of truth to it, even though there shouldn’t be. Not now that he was a Daynasen and destined for the darkness which awaited them all at the end of their existence.
I examined the perfect neatness of his silky white clothing and the way his eyes brighten and dim with each flickered second of silence between us. A part of me couldn’t help but consider the true nature of a Daynasen Marella. I knew a creature like this, though not Limitless in its Power, was perfect. Dixon was perfect.
A singular truth hit me like a wave across the sand. In the face of perfection good and evil, light and darkness didn’t matter. Nothing matter except the warm glow of the perfection they emanated. And Dixon did emanate perfection, I was certain of it now. I even knew I’d been aware of it since the first moment I’d met him. Dixon was perfect in every sense of the word.
‘How…?’ I breathed the question. ‘Why…?’
‘From what you must know of our family I’d have thought you’d have assumed the why.’ Dixon’s voice sounded dry as if he were recalling something painful. ‘I mean, you were created for that ambition, were you not?’
‘Yes, but I was born like I am.’ I studied his features. ‘For you it was a choice, wasn’t it?’
‘If you’re asking whether or not Daynasen have managed to start breeding themselves… Not even Marella blood could adequately achieve that.’ There was a hint of bitterness in his statement and I could almost sense something…
‘So then how… Or when?’
‘What?’ Dixon’s head twitch with annoyance. ‘Now you’ve assumed I’ve confirmed the why, is it no longer important?’
‘I’m sorry, I thought…’
‘You shouldn’t assume things Obin Marella.’ He ran his nails up and down my right cheek. ‘And you shouldn’t not assume them either. This world has been born out of such duplicity. Something I’m sure someone like you knows all too well.’
‘I am of light and darkness.’ I nodded. ‘Of life and death.’
‘Of death?’ I could hear the curiosity in Dixon’s voice.
He gave me no chance to reply. Instead he leaned in towards me and bit my lower lip hard with his fangs. I could sense Dixon savouring the taste of my blood. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in. After a moment Dixon pulled away again and laughed.
‘You do taste of death. I would never have thought it of you Obin Marella. What else has been breed into your line?’
‘Shouldn’t you finish telling me about yourself first?’ I re-opened my eyes.
I didn’t know if I was being foolish or not but a part of me feared giving all my secrets away too soon. I couldn’t risk him losing interest in me and tossing me aside.
‘About myself…?’ Dixon mused. ‘Oh, you mean my why?’
‘Yes.’ I nodded. ‘Why did you choose to become a Daynasen?’
‘Not assuming you knew the answer in this case was a wise idea.’ His eyes danced with a mixture of joy and sorrow. ‘Because my choice was not for the reason you might think. Or maybe for the ones you would hope.’
‘Did something happen?’
‘Doesn’t something always happen?’ Dixon laughed. ‘I was barely more than a child when it did. I can remember listening to my mother talking about the Marellas need to change. About how we were leading ourselves towards our own destruction. And maybe she was right. Maybe if we had changed things would be different. But it’s too late to do anything about it now. Because one night I went to sleep with a family and the next morning I woke up alone.’
‘Why? What happened?’
‘I told you I was barely more than a child at the time. I never learnt the truth. All I know is they were gone and I was all alone.’
‘I’m sorry, that must have been painful for you.’
‘Painful?’ Dixon’s face twisted into an odd expression. ‘I am what I am because of the pain I’ve endured. Pain makes us strong Obin. We should not be afraid of pain.’
‘So what happened after that? After you woke up alone I mean.’
‘I must have been wondering the street for weeks. I’m not sure I was so young then days just bled together. All I know is when he found me my body was so covered in dirt I could have blended into the street below. But despite everything he knew right away I was something special. That’s why he didn’t just kill me then and there.’
‘Master.’ Dixon breathed out the word as though it were the most important thing he knew. ‘He never let me call him anything else, so I never knew his real name. He was an old Daynasen when I first met him, but he never looked it. Not even at the end.’
‘He was killed?’ I felt myself growing excited over the idea of Dixon’s tragic past.
‘No. Master went the way all old Daynasen go.’ Dixon’s face filled with a dark pride. ‘He dissolved back into the darkness. But not before I convinced him to sire me.’
‘To carry on his legend of course.’ Dixon pulled himself up to as full a height as he could manage on his knees. ‘To become the new Master. I was the only one he could trust. The only one he knew wouldn’t ruin centuries of hard work. It took a lot to convince him to turn me into this. He never wanted it. But even Master was smart enough to know a Giyan, even a Marella like me, would hold no sway over a nest of Daynasen.’
‘So he gave in a sired you?’
‘Yes. He was like a father to me you see. I’ve done everything I possibly can to be a good son to him. To make him proud of me. And I think if he saw what I’ve created he would be proud.’
I could feel my heart aching in my chest. Just when I thought I couldn’t want Dixon more he turned my feelings up to a whole new level. Dixon wasn’t just perfect. He wasn’t just powerful or evil. Dixon was everything. My head swarmed.
‘I love you…’ The words breathed out of me into the space between us.
For a few moments Dixon gave no reaction to my words. It pained me because I wanted him to say it back. I needed him to say it back. A hard swallow rolled through my throat as niggling feelings of humiliation settled in. I tried to turn my head away but Dixon placed a hand on my cheek to stop me. To my amazement he kissed me, making my whole being rocket with overwhelming emotion.
‘You are a doll, aren’t you?’ Dixon’s voice was soft as he pulled himself away from me.
‘And dolls are always so perfect.’ His voice sounded strange. ‘Is it even possible to scar you?’
‘I don’t know.’ I studied his gaze. ‘I’ve never tried to find out.’
‘I love you.’ Dixon’s expression darkened as something sharp sliced into my back. ‘But I want to break you.’
‘Then break me.’ I exchanged a brief kiss with him. ‘I don’t mind.’
I couldn’t have been asleep for more than three or four hours when I was woken up by the blaring tones of my mobile phone. I groaned, turned over and waited for the noise to go away. Didn’t anyone understand the concept of beauty sleep anymore?
My mobile stopped ringing, but the silence was short lived. Whoever it was was persistent and clearly desperate to get hold of me. I groaned louder than before and half stretched out of bed towards the phone. I answered it, pulled it to my ear and myself back into bed.
‘Hello?’ My sleep dried voice croaked out.
‘Jade? Thank the Light one of you is still where you should be.’ James’s anxious voice sounded down the line.
‘What?’ I rubbed some of the sleep from my face as I started to come round.
‘What?’ I found myself stunned into alertness.
‘Obin’s gone missing,’ he repeated. ‘We had an argument, one of our stupid little rows and when I went to make amends he was gone and the window was wide open.’
‘Gone where? I mean, where would he go?’
‘I don’t know. I really don’t. I mean, he’s never done anything like this before.’
‘You don’t think this has anything to do with…’
‘Dixon.’ James finished my sentence for me. ‘I’m almost certain it does.’ He sighed. ‘That was partly what our row was about.’
‘I see.’ I sat myself up in bed and my dark hair fell in a scruffy mess over my face. ‘Well, to be honest we kinda rowed about that too.’
‘Yeah. Obin said something in his sleep and I felt a little…’ I cut myself off before I had the chance to say jealous. ‘Curious,’ I replaced the word. ‘We kinda argued about it, but… Well it didn’t sound like Obin was about to run off to be with him.’
‘Just because something doesn’t sound like it’s about to happen, doesn’t mean it won’t.’ James’s voice was filled with the same tone of impatience his step-son often used. ‘You really need to start paying more attention in my lectures if you don’t know that much by now.’
‘I hardly think even you would seriously suspect Obin would turn out to be a gay-necrophiliac.’ Even though I knew he wouldn’t see it I rolled my eyes.
‘If I’m being honest with you Jade it doesn’t surprise me in the least. Not when I know how Obin was conceived.’
‘How was he conceived?’ I frowned.
‘Jade this is no time for you to start fishing for information like that.’ James scolded me. ‘We have to get Obin back before it’s too late.’
‘I’m sure Obin won’t let them kill him, even if he is in love with Dixon?’ I tried to reassure James.
‘I’m not worried about them killing Obin. Even if I thought it was possible I wouldn’t be.’
‘Then what’s the problem? You think they’ll turn him into a Daynasen?’
‘Once they find out what he is I’m almost certain of it.’ James’s voice strained with bitter discord. ‘I’ve tried too hard to keep him from being used like that. I refuse to let his hormones ruin all of my hard work.’
‘Are you sure it’s just his hormones you have to worry about?’ I shifted my gaze towards the mirror in the corner of my room and almost sighed at the dishevelled image of myself.
‘Teenage boys don’t fall in love, they fall in lust.’ James sounded more than a little pissed off now. ‘And Obin is no exception.’
‘You can’t say that.’ I swung myself out of bed. ‘That’s like saying no feelings can count what so ever until you’re in your twenties.’
‘Well now that you come to mention it…’
‘James, I know for fact you’re not that ignorant.’ I scrambled round my room for clean clothes. ‘You know Obin’s in love. Or at least falling in love. You’re just afraid to admit it.’
For a few moments there was silence at the other end of the line. I took a stray half breath in and pinned my phone between my shoulder and ear. With as much skill as I could muster on a small amount of sleep I struggled into my speckled grey drainpipes. They weren’t my favourite pair, but they were my cleanest.
‘He’s my son Jade.’ When James spoke again his voice was tight and tired. ‘My son. And I think I know my son better than you do.’
‘He’s not your son, he’s your step-son,’ I corrected him.
‘I don’t have time to argue over unimportant things like that. Just get over here now, so we can organise a search.’
‘I’m just getting dressed.’ I somehow managed to wiggle into a semi-clean white tank-top. ‘But what do you mean organise a search? How much organising do two people need?’
‘Who said it was going to be a two man search?’
‘Who else….?’ I cut myself off. ‘The others? Are you sure?’
‘I know they’re a little slow…’ James sighed. ‘But we need the support right now. I mean, the nest is clearly hidden too well for two people to find. Unless you and Obin have been slacking off more than I thought.’
‘I guess you’ve got a point there.’ I pouted as I made a grab for my jacket. ‘But what makes you think they’ll have any more luck. I mean between them they have the average intelligence of a goldfish with fin rot.’
‘Give them a little more credit than that please Jade.’ James’s voice toned with displeasure. ‘And if you can’t at least buy into the theory about strength in numbers.’
I hesitated as I placed a hand on the handle to my bedroom door. My eyes glanced back towards my bedroom mirror as I gave my appearance a quick once over. I rolled my eyes at the state of my hair. I knew I’d forgotten something. Not wanting to leave the house looking like I’d just been dragged backwards through a hedge I made my way back towards my dressing table and picked up the elegant pink brush my mother had given me.
‘I guess you have a point James.’ I strained the brush through my hair. ‘I just wish your point didn’t involve the moron patrol.’
‘Well who else can I call in Jade?’ James sounded frustrated. ‘It’s not like I can go around town telling everyone the kid no one else knew existed has gone missing. They’re wary enough of me as it is without me making myself look like some kind of child abuser.’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ I made my way out of my bedroom into the kitchen come living room which made up almost the entirety of the rest of the flat. ‘I’m on my way now.’ I grabbed a half eaten sandwich from the side. ‘Be with you in ten.’
‘Make sure it’s no more than that. I want you here before the others arrive.’
‘Got it.’ I took a bit out of the sandwich as I made my way out of the front door, slamming it closed behind me. ‘Like I said, see you in ten.’
I hung up on him and made sure to lock the door behind me. With the state I kept the flat in most of the time I doubt I would notice if someone broke in. But my parents had lectured me over and over again about the importance of locking doors when I was growing up. It was so ingrained into me now it was almost second nature.
‘Miss Hamilton I presume.’ My landlord’s voice sounded from behind me, making my skin crawl.
A sting of guilt ran through me as I turned round to face him. I knew what he was here about. I was three months behind on the rent.
‘It’s not been that long has it?’ I winced at him. ‘Only I’m in a bit of a rush now.’
‘It’s been longer.’ He folded his arms. ‘And you’re not going anywhere until I say so. Unless of course, you’re never planning to come back.’
For a few long uncertain minutes I found myself staring into the piggish eyes of my balding middle-aged landlord. As I contemplated my options, my nose twitched in repulsion at the strong, tarting smell of his aftershave. It was the same one he’d been wearing the first time he’d shown me the flat. Back then he’d leered over me as though I were some naive sixteen year old with no sense of how the world worked. I’d soon set him straight, but I wasn’t so sure it would be so easy now.
I could feel the strong sense of time elapsing around me. A heavy sigh pushed its way out of my mouth. I turned back towards the door and unlocked it. I then left the key in the lock and made my way towards the kitchen area. I grabbed several bin bags from one of the drawers and made my way around the flat, grabbing everything I owned.
‘What do you think you are doing?’ My landlord almost sounded disgusted.
‘What does it look like?’ I rolled my eyes. ‘If I’m not coming back here, then I might as well take my stuff with me.’
‘Not coming back here?’ His voice toned in the same way it had when I’d knocked him hard on his ass the first time he’d tried to overstep the mark with me. ‘But where will you stay? Not everyone will take in a jobless deadbeat runaway like you.’
‘I’m not jobless.’
‘Do you seriously think telling them you’re a whore will help any?’
I glared at him, but remained silent. That was a low blow, even for him and I wasn’t going to rise to it. Instead I just threw the last of my belongings into one of the bags, slung the bags over my shoulder and made my way towards the door.
‘Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be able to find someone to fill this place in no time.’ I made my way down the corridor. ‘And if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll be that innocent little fifteen year old you’ve been gagging for.’
‘Don’t do this Jade.’ He called after me.
‘I think I already did.’ I glanced back at him for a moment, turned my nose up and continuing on my way. ‘Goodbye.’
Without looking back and trying my best to carry all the bags without struggling, I made my way towards Johnson’s Doll Shop. It was slower going than I would have liked. I gritted my teeth, lowered my head and pushed forward.
‘Shit I’m going to be late.’
I came to a stop and checked my surroundings to make sure I was alone. There was only one way I’d be able to get to my destination on time and I had to be certain no one was around to see it. When I was happy I was alone, I took a deep breath and forced the world around me to slow down. I concentrated my gaze on a flock of geese. After a moment they came to a frozen stop. An almost sad half smile appeared on my face. The only Gift my father had left me with and I was powerless to share it with the rest of the world.
Now that I had all the time in the world to get to my destination, I set off again. I hated having to rely on my Powers like this. I’d sworn to my parents the last time I’d seen them I’d never use them. At least not until the time came for me to help my older brother. Until then I had to be Standing. And for most Standings that meant not having the Power to do anything, never mind half the things I could do.
I sighed to myself as I remembered the last time I’d seen my parents. I was an arrogant sixteen year old convinced I could do everything on my own. It didn’t take me long to learn better, but I still made more mistakes at the time than I dared think about now.
My parents had had this whole master plan laid out for me and my brother before we were even born. On more than one occasion I’d found myself questioning their plan. After all they’d abandoned my brother to this reality before he was even old enough to know who they were, never mind anything else. And as for dumping my self-righteous younger self in the middle of this godforsaken city... I know I should have paid more attention to my father’s lectures growing up. But there isn’t anything I can do about it now.
I cringed as I remembered Obin’s question. I couldn’t believe I’d slipped up enough for him to work out I wasn’t Standing. Or to at least start to suspect I wasn’t. If I didn’t know for sure becoming one of James’s recruits was part of my parents’ master plan I wouldn’t have bothered. It was always going to be a risky venture. And it was up to me to make sure the risk was worth it.
I was so caught up in my own train of thoughts I was halfway into the Johnson’s home before I remembered time was at a standstill.
‘Damnit Jade.’ I backed my way back out of the door and onto the street. ‘If you have to use your Powers be discrete.’
I glanced about to make sure it was safe before starting time back up again. I then made my entrance in an overly noisy fashion.
‘Thirteen minutes Jade.’ James’s voice called to me as I entered the flat. ‘You’re lucky no one else has turned up yet.’
‘Sorry.’ I dumped my bags down behind one of his sofas. ‘Kinda had words with the landlord.’
‘I’m a little behind on rent.’ I squirmed. ‘So he kicked me out.’
‘Behind on rent?’ James frowned. ‘What the hell do you do with the money I pay you for training here each week?’
‘I’m saving it for something important.’ I averted my gaze.
‘Well, never mind, you can stay here for now.’
‘Thanks.’ I shot him a weak smile.
I hated feeling like a charity case, but I guess this was exceptional circumstances. For a few moments I stood there waiting for him to say something else, but James was too caught up in his own thoughts.
‘We’ll get Obin back.’ I tried to reassure him. ‘We just have to be organised about this.’
‘I know.’ James sighed. ‘That wasn’t what I was thinking about.’
‘Then what is it?’
‘Mary’s Vail… This is all happening because of Mary’s Vail.’
‘You’re blaming some backwater little town for Obin’s sudden attraction to the undead?’ I couldn’t help but cock an eyebrow at him. ‘Man, you must really have it in for that place.’
‘You don’t understand.’ James’s jaw line tensed and untensed with agitation. ‘I came from Mary’s Vail.’
‘So you were born there.’ I shrugged, not wanting to get into the morality issue I knew were brewing beneath the surface. ‘That’s no reason to blame them for your step-son’s sexuality.’
‘Yes, but it is good reason for me not to want to save them.’
‘What?’ I frowned in confusion.
‘I don’t want to save that hellhole.’ I’d never heard James so angry before. ‘I want to watch its destruction and laugh as it falls. It’s what they deserve. Or at least what my own kind deserve.’
‘Your own kind?’ I pretended not to know the answer to my own question.
‘Oh come on Jade, you can tell by looking at me I’m not Standing.’ James pushed a finger into his left cheek and released it. ‘A rushed job leads to poor workmanship.’ The dimple he’d made with his finger took a few long moments to rise back into place. ‘I had no right to turn myself into this, but at the time I didn’t have a choice.’
‘Do only your kind live in Mary’s Vail?’ I averted my gaze.
‘Not anymore, no. But it still doesn’t take those feelings I have away.’ James massaged his waxy temples. ‘And maybe that’s what drove Obin into Dixon’s arms.’
‘What?’ I couldn’t help but laugh in shock.
‘Obin knows how much I hate that town. Maybe on some subconscious level he’s done this to solve my problems.’
‘By creating one of his own?’ I didn’t want to believe what I was hearing. ‘Are you mad?’
‘Would it make much of a difference if I was?’ James made a noise of disgust. ‘I’m still getting this persistent feeling this is only happening because of Mary’s Vail.’
‘Well personally I think you’re delusional.’ I folded my arms. ‘Either that or there’s something about Mary’s Vail you’re not telling me.’
‘Not about.’ He rolled his head back. ‘In.’
‘There’s something in Mary’s Vail which on one hand makes me want to run there right now and on the other makes me dread going there more than life itself.’
‘What’s there?’ Something in me began to sting with dread.
For a few moments James looked as if he was about to tell me. Then he shook his head and shrugged.
‘It doesn’t matter.’ James met my gaze. ‘We’ve got a search and rescue plan to come up with. Or had you forgot?’
I couldn’t say I was happy with James’s chosen search plan. In fact happy doesn’t even come close to how I felt about it. For some unknown reason James had left me in charge of the five poorest excuses for human beings I had ever met. First there was Rachel, with her ice blond hair and even icier attitude. Then there was Simon, who took everything... and I mean everything... to be some kind of joke and dressed like some modern day clown reject.
Now I’ll be honest here and admit the twins, Jonnie and Summer, weren’t so bad. Well there weren’t if you ignored their annoying habit of dressing by colour co-ordination and their new age healing obsession. But even they couldn’t make up for Pike being in our group. Pike was the youngest of the recruits James had taken on in Maio, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. He had the dress sense of some clueless thirty-something male who still wanted to be cool and ended up looking like the unnecessary child of a Goth and a Hippie. And that wasn’t even the worst thing about Pike.
The kid took teenage rebellion to a whole new level. To say Pike had an attitude problem would be a misconception. Pike’s attitude was the problem. But then what could you expect from some idiot sixteen year old going around calling himself Pike? The only reason I could see for James to have kept the guy around so long, was because Pike showed half a brain cell more than any of the other redundant Maio based recruits.
‘So what do we get if we find the kid?’ Pike’s whole body lopped into a slouch as he dug his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. ‘And does it double if we find him alive?’
‘Weren’t you paying attention to anything the Doll Maker said?’ Rachel snorted. ‘This isn’t about getting a reward. This is about experience. And finding the kid.’
‘Who needs experience when I could do with a pay rise?’ Pike’s face twisted into a callous expression. ‘There’s a few new games coming out on the Wii I wanna get. And we all know how much the kid is worth to him.’
‘Do you never think about anything other than lining of your own pocket?’ Rachel tried to act appalled by the idea, but I could tell she agreed with his money grabbing attitude.
‘Yeah, the rest of the time I think about what it would be like to slit…’
‘That’s enough,’ Summer cut him off.
Summer was the more squeamish of the twins and hated it when anyone bickered. I often found myself annoyed by this fact for two major reason. The first was Summer’s status as the girl twin and my general dislike of the notion that girls can’t stomach the same things boys can. And the second was my own inability to see her being able to cope when the actual Demon fighting started. You can’t be squeamish and a Demon fighter. It doesn’t work like that.
‘You guys need to learn to relax.’ Jonnie grinned round at the rest of us. ‘All this tension is not going to help us find the kid. We’ve all gotta go with the flow and focus on the energy around us. Can’t you just feel it?’
‘I can feel the north easterly breeze if that’s what you’re talking about.’ Simon cocked an eyebrow. ‘And I can also smell Subway that comes with it. And it’s telling me…’
‘That you’re an idiot.’ Summer shook her head. ‘It’s a wonder you acknowledge the existence of anything other than your own stomach.’
‘No I acknowledge the existence of your stomach too.’ Simon smirked.
‘Are you calling me fat?’
‘Did those words come out of my mouth at any point? Because if they did it was completely without my knowledge.’
Beside Summer, Jonnie pressed a hand against his lips and did his best to suppress a giggle. Both of the twins might have been into the whole knew age thing but Jonnie was the one you knew really brought into the whole laidback lifestyle.
‘Please don’t tell me you find him even remotely funny Jonnie.’ Summer glared at her brother. ‘He’s just insulted me.’
‘You’re not fat Sum, no one here is calling you fat.’ Jonnie shrugged. ‘But Simon does have a way with words. And you have to admit...’
‘I don’t have to admit anything Jonnie.’ Summer took a deep breath in and tried to relax herself. ‘But we’re not here to make lame jokes at the expense of our team mates. We should be concentrating on finding the kid.’
‘Can you lot stop calling him the kid?’ A feeling of mild frustration pushed its way out of me. ‘He has a name you know.’
‘You mean his name isn’t Kid?’ Simon mocked ignorant surprise.
‘His name is Obin.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘Obin Johnson. And you’d all be good to remember it.’
‘Is there some master plan to the direction you have us walking in?’ Pike’s voice toned with boredom. ‘Or is it your intention to lead us round in circles?’
Stunned by his comment, I forced the group to a stop. Somehow we had managed to end up back outside of Johnson’s Doll Shop. I curled my lip up in disgust and glanced around for a new direction to walk in. I chose not to answer Pike’s question and instead just set off again, forcing them to follow me. I wasn’t going to give anyone the satisfaction of putting me to shame. Not when they all had at least a mild amount of respect for me.
‘So what’s the kid like to work with?’ Jonnie shot a curious look in my direction. ‘I mean, you’re the only one of us who’s seen him in action.’
‘Yeah.’ A genuine sense of excitement pulled a smile across Summer’s face. ‘Did it feel as awesome as this when the Doll Maker finally let you out? I mean it was about time he did, we all thought so.’
‘What’s with this we business?’ Rachel rolled her eyes. ‘You might have been impressed by it dyke, but that doesn’t mean we all were.’
‘Well me and Jonnie were impressed.’ Summer pouted. ‘And you’re only invoking bad karma by insulting me like that. You and Simon should both have you aura cleansed, all that negativity you harbour is clearly…’
‘You wasted your breath with all your yibber yabber and you didn’t once try to deny that you were a dyke,’ Rachel cut her off. ‘Sometimes I think you’re just asking for it.’
Summer went to say something, but the words failed to form in her mouth. Instead she just looked confused, worried and the tiniest bit vexed.
‘Ignore her Sum.’ Jonnie put an arm around her shoulders. ‘She’s just trying to force her bad energy on you. Just remember to breath and try to stay focused on that calm centre we’ve been working on.’
‘Yeah...’ Summer’s voice drifted. ‘And from that calm we’ll build a connection to the world around us.’ As we continued to walked along, Summer closed her eyes and clasped her hands together with her forefingers pointing up towards her chin. ‘And with that connection we’ll be able to find the kid, no problem.’
‘Someone please burst the bubble wrap that girl’s living in.’ Pike rolled his eyes.
‘Don’t worry Sum.’ Jonnie shrugged off the comment. ‘You keep focusing on that calm centre of yours. I’ll protect you from all the non-believers’ negativity.’
‘You mean you’ll protect her from her own sanity.’ He snorted. ‘God you two are such freaks. You don’t honestly believe any of this crap works, do you?’
‘We’re being trained by the Doll Maker to fight Demons and you’re having problems believing in the energy that’s all around us?’
‘There’s a huge difference between Demon fighting and that garbage coming out of your mouth.’ Pike shook his head.
‘Yeah there is because the Demon fighting is actual real. Your artsy mumbo-jumbo crap has no basis in anything but its own pretension. You two really…’
‘We should go left,’ Summer cut him off. ‘I’m getting strong vibes from that direction.’
Her words brought the whole group to a stop and I could almost sense what was about to happen next. I groaned. This wasn’t going to be pleasant.
‘You think we should go left because the vibes told you so?’ Rachel was the first to mock. ‘Wow so enlightened.’
‘You shouldn’t mock what you don’t understand.’ Jonnie pulled himself up to his full height. ‘If my sister is getting a strong sense about this we should believe her. I mean, it’s not like we have anything else to go on right now.’
‘He does have a point.’ Simon studied Jonnie for a moment before lifting a hand like some diligent school boy. ‘But since we really have nothing to go on I vote we go right.’
Pike just made an amused noise of disgust and acted as though he didn’t care which way we went next. Rachel was shuffled herself in Simon’s direction in an attempt to let the rest of us know she agreed with him. The twins fixed their gazes on me. James had made it clear I was this groups leader so which way we went from here was up to me. I sighed and rolled my eyes about for a few minutes before contemplating my choices.
Which ever way we went half of the group weren’t going to be happy. And if this were just about choosing which way we should go next then my decision would have been so much easier. But this wasn’t just about direction. This was about me letting the others know whether or not I believed in all the mystical energy stuff the twins cited. I didn’t want to make a commitment one way or the other on that one.
If Mum were here she’d have no trouble deciding what to do next. I glanced down the two possible paths. And nor would Dad. The trouble is I know they would head in the opposite direction to each other. That’s why I’m finding this choice so hard. Because without even knowing it they’re asking me to declare which parent I think I’m most like.
‘We’re going left.’ I gritted my teeth together and hoped I’d made the right choice. ‘But this has nothing to do with any vibes, understand?’ I glared round at them all. ‘We’re going left because that’s the way I was planning to go next. So I don’t want to hear any complaints from any of you, okay? I would have gone this way anyway so you can all just shut up about it.’
The mild sense of friction I could sense from half of my team set in place the niggles of a migraine. Despite what I’d said about picking left because I would have anyway the twins had still seen it as some kind of victory. Since then they hadn’t stopped with the whole energy sensing routine. It hadn’t taken long for me to wonder why on Earth I’d ever considered them tolerable in the first place. The twins weren’t tolerable. They were huge pains in the ass.
Every now and then the twins would give us a new direction to walk in and there appeared to be some logic to it. In fact after three rather promising turns even the biggest critics in the group stop criticising my choice to trust the twins’ judgment. A part of me wondered if it was some underdeveloped Gift I’d inherited from my mother guiding me in this way. I hoped so. After all it would be nice not to just be my father’s daughter. Okay so my father’s Powers are the more impressive ones, but he is the reason I never got to know my brother. I should be forgiven for wanting a little bit more of my mother in me just for that alone.
‘Something’s glowing.’ Summer’s sudden words made me jolt the group to a halt.
‘What?’ I turned back towards her.
Summer’s eyes were still closed. I was impressed by the amount of faith she must have in her twin brother to let him lead her along like this. Or at least I had been. Her words made me nervous. Up until now I had no real reason to believe Summer was able to see or sense anything. Now I wasn’t so sure.
‘Something’s glowing,’ Summer repeated. ‘I thought I sensed some source of light nearby before, but now I’m certain of it. Something is glowing.’
‘Yeah.’ Simon nodded in agreement. ‘It’s called the sun.’
‘It’s not that kind of light.’ She shook her head. ‘It’s moving with us… It’s one of us.’
Every single one of us shot edgy looks in the others’ directions. I swallowed hard. There was no doubt in my mind she meant me, but I wasn’t about to say anything. It was better for the others to believe I knew as much as they did. There was just no way I was willing to let my secret out when there was no need.
‘Oh please.’ Pike rolled his eyes. ‘It’s just more of her nonsense.’
‘It’s not nonsense.’ Summer kept her eyes closed as her forehead burrowed into a frown. ‘It’s a figure, taller than any of us… thin, like wire, with… wings…’
‘Next you’ll be telling us it’s our guardian angel.’
‘Oh no.’ Her fingers traced shapes in the air. ‘They’re definitely not angel wings… They’re… strange. It as if I can only see the bones in them, but not the feathers…’
‘Oh come on Summer,’ I cut her off and tried not to let the others know I was rattled by her words. ‘Even I have to draw the line under this kinda fantasy nonsense.’
I turned away from them all and pressed forward again, forcing them all into step behind me. I somehow managed to maintain the appearance of a calm demeanour, but inside everything felt as though it were doing back flips.
There’s no way. There is just no way she can be seeing what she says she’s seeing. My mind cringed at the thought. It’s a trick. It has to be. She’s just stabbing in the dark at something and has happened to come close. But she has not really seen what she says she’s seeing. She can’t be. That’s… that’s just not possible.
‘Are you alright?’ Pike pulled up close beside me. ‘Only you’re looking a little pale.’
‘I’m fine.’ I shrugged. ‘I’m just getting a little annoyed with the happy-clappy twins.’
‘I think it’s more than that.’ Pike shifted his gaze away from me. ‘You started looking a little pale right after Summer started talking about that light. You’re hiding something. You know what it is she’s seeing, don’t you?’
‘She’s delusional.’ I lowered my voice. ‘That’s all.’
‘You can’t fool me Jade. I’m a master liar and can spot one at twenty yards. You know what she’s seeing. Or at least you believe you do. That’s why you’ve been allowing her so called energy reading to plot our course. You know something the rest of us don’t. So tell me, what is she?’
‘She’s Standing.’ I swallowed hard. ‘We all are.’
‘Ah, now that’s where I know you’re lying. Only non-Standing use the phrase Standing. So now I have to ask what are you. Or, more to the point, what are any of us?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Oh come on. Don’t tell me I’m the only one here who’s figured it out. I’ve no doubt the others are a few step behind, but you Jade? If you’re not careful I might lose any respect I have for you.’
‘What are you talking about Pike?
‘I’m talking about the fact that none of us our Standing. Or we’re at least not your average Standing.’ Pike lowered his voice in order to make sure I was the only one who could hear him. ‘We can’t be. Not unless you really think the Doll Maker is stupid enough to think your average Standing is capable of doing any kind of damage to a Demon. I mean, you just need to look at him and the kid he adopted to know you have to be something other to make it in this game.’
‘Then what are you?’ I narrowed my gaze on him.
‘Don’t you mean what am I rebelling against?’ Pike laughed. ‘Because I guess you could say I’m rebelling against being Standing.’ He shrugged. ‘And the happy twins are doing a better job of it than I am without even trying. Then again with the way they act I doubt the happy twins are even human. If I could stand their attitude I’d be jealous.’
‘Your Standing.’ I wasn’t sure I liked the way this conversation was heading. ‘We are all. We were all chosen because we believed there was more to this world then what we were being told.’
‘Drop the line Jade. The rest of us stopped buying it a long time ago. Didn’t we?’ Pike turned his attention back towards the rest of the group.
‘Didn’t we what?’ Rachel frowned at him.
‘Didn’t we all stop buying the we’re all Standing line.’ Pike cocked his head. ‘Jade here was just trying to sell it to me again. But I’m guessing that’s only because she’s been told the truth about all of us. It wouldn’t surprise me since she was the one privileged enough to be let in on the kid’s hunts.’
‘It’s not a line.’ Simon gave an uncomfortable squirm. ‘We are all Standing. Wait, do chavs count as Standing?’ He laughed, but there was something so forced about the sound I was sure it was fake.
‘Oh I bet you think you’re so clever.’ Rachel narrowed her gaze on him. ‘But maybe you should look in a mirror before you talk about who’s Standing. That’s assuming, of course, you can actually see mirrors.’
‘Of course I can see mirrors.’ Simon frowned. ‘Why wouldn’t I be able to see them?’
‘Because you obviously don’t reflect in them.’ She folded her arms. ‘Unless you’re trying to tell me you actually think you look good dressed like that.’
‘What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?’ He glanced down at himself.
‘Err, hello, you look like you nicked your entire wardrobe from some super sized fatty. And not a well dressed one either. You know, more like one of those slobs who make you feel ill every time you look at them.’
Simon shrugged and continued to look uncomfortable. For the first time I found myself feeling curious about the way Simon was dressed. Rachel wasn’t lying. Simon’s entire wardrobe was clownishly big on him. I’d assumed it was down to his complete lack of dress sense. But what if I was wrong? What if Simon was hiding something under his clothes? Something which made him something other than Standing.
‘Will you all cool it with your negative vibes?’ Jonnie used his left hand to massage the back of his neck. ‘You’re disrupting the flow of energy.’
‘Oh to hell with your flow of energy.’ Rachel turned away from him. ‘It’s just a load of trumped up garbage anyway.’
‘I think everybody should just calm down.’ I brought the group to a halt again. ‘Arguing like this isn’t going to help. So take a deep breath and lets think about this rationally, okay?’
‘You mean, you’re going to try and rationalise how we’re all Standing?’ Pike cocked an eyebrow. ‘Oh this should be good.’
‘I meant we should have a calm discussion about this,’ I corrected myself. ‘Just forget I said the other thing.’
‘This is still about you trying to convince the rest of us we’re all Standing though. And I’m not sure I can buy that. Not when we know we have some light-form tagging along with our group. So tell me Jade, that wouldn’t be you, would it?’
‘Do I look like I’m plugged into the electrics?’ I did my best not to give off any contradictory vibes.
‘No.’ Pike folded his arms. ‘But who said the source of light had to be?’
For a few moments I found myself caught out. I didn’t know what to say to him and that worried me.
‘Look, can we please just let this drop and get on with finding Obin.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘All this arguing isn’t helping anyone.’
‘I wouldn’t know about that.’ He smirked. ‘It is helping me. I mean, I was bored before all this arguing began.’
‘All the more reason to stop it whilst its hot then.’ I tossed some of my dark locks over my shoulder and tried to exhume more confidence than I felt. ‘We wouldn’t want you having too much fun now, would we?’
Without any warning Summer had pulled herself away from Jonnie and set out in her own direction. I groaned to myself and forced the group into following her. In my mind’s eye I could see Summer walking herself into traffic or falling down a flight of steps she had no idea was there because she couldn’t be bothered to open her eyes. As group leader Summer was my responsibility, I didn’t want her to get hurt.
I needn’t have worried. The way Summer was walking you’d have thought she’d been born blind and was just wandering round in a place she knew like the back of her hand. There was enough of a drive to Summer’s movements to almost convince me there was more to the energy nonsense she and her brother harped on about than met the eye.
Almost. I still couldn’t let myself give into the belief Summer might be onto something. Because that would mean admitting she could sense the truth about me and that… Well that was just unthinkable now, wasn’t it?
Instead I put my faith in the belief that maybe Summer had been here enough times to know the layout by heart. That maybe she’d even wandered around blindly like this just to practice fooling the rest of us. An uncomfortable feeling shifted through me. If Summer had been practising this would that mean she and Jonnie had concocted some nutty plan to deceive us all and lead us well away from where Obin was hidden? And if that were the case was there also some deal going on between the twins and Dixon?
I tried to shake the thought from my head. There couldn’t be a deal between the twins and Dixon it was just impossible. I mean, I knew there was something attractive about Dixon, but nobody could be that alluring. Could they?
‘It’s here.’ Summer came to a stop.
We were now in the middle of the public courtyard at the back of the local Magistrates’ Court. For the first time since we left the street adjoining the Doll Shop, Summer opened her eyes and stared down at the ground below her. A frown crept its way along her face as she knelt down and tapped her hand against the ground below her.
‘It really is here.’ Summer grinned up at the rest of us.
‘Here, where exactly?’ Simon glanced about. ‘Cuz I somehow doubt the citizens of Maio will much appreciate you calling their officials Vampires. And I doubt even more the Vampires will like knowing you think they live in the sewers.’
‘The sewers don’t run under there, dimwit.’ Pike rolled his eyes. ‘Or didn’t you pay attention in your local history class?’
‘Well it was a few years ago for me you rugrat so forgive me for being a little bit rusty.’ He smirked. ‘Not all of us just finished school last week you know.’
‘I’ve been out of school longer than you have and even I know what he’s talking about you moron.’ Rachel folded her arms. ‘So he’s more than justified in his comment.’
‘Oh really?’ Simon stretched the last word with as much sarcasm as he could muster. ‘Then would you care to enlighten the rest of us, since you’re such a well informed little miss chav?’
I wouldn’t admit it to the others but I was grateful for Simon’s ignorance. Maio wasn’t my home city. I’d never been to the local school much less learnt anything about the history of the place. A part of me knew Dad would be so disappointed in me if he were to find out. The amount of times he’d lectured me about making sure I knew everything... I resisted the temptation to roll my eyes. When my Dad said everything he meant it.
‘Under our feet right now there’s basically a whole other city. Or at least parts of it.’ Jonnie was the one to volunteer the answer.
‘Oh, that.’ Simon frowned. ‘But I thought that was just speculation.’
‘No bonehead its fact. Everyone knows it.’ Pike turned his gaze towards me. ‘I’m surprised you and the kid didn’t think of looking below ground when you were doing your searches.’
‘That’s a little unfair.’ I averted my gaze. ‘Obin’s only lived here a few months. And I’m not exactly local.’
‘Not exactly local?’ He cocked an eyebrow. ‘What is that supposed to mean? That you didn’t exactly come from somewhere else or you’re not exactly living here now?’
‘No it means I’ve only lived here for a few years.’
‘I didn’t think I’d seen you around school.’ Summer tilted her head. ‘I never forget a face and I know I would have remembered someone like you.’
‘There is more than one school in the city blondy.’ Pike was once again quick in with the insult. ‘She could have gone to one of the others.’
‘No, I knew everybody.’ Summer’s face filled with a blank look of naivety.
‘Everybody?’ Pike echoed. ‘Are you trying to tell me you knew every kid, in every school, in every year, in the whole city?’
‘No, don’t be stupid.’ She shook her head. ‘Just every girl, in every school, in my year, in the whole city. I was on the netball team and the hockey team. And I believe good sportsmanship comes from good vibrations.’
‘In other words, you have a desperate desire to be loved by all your peers?’
‘Well that is the best kind of vibration, yes. But I settled for them just liking me, didn’t I Jonnie?’
‘Yeah.’ Jonnie smiled.
‘And since Jade just confirmed for herself she wasn’t local my feeling was proved correct.’
‘Yes, but you’re telling us what you felt after the fact.’ Simon pulled a face. ‘How do we know you’re not making it all up?’
‘Because I’m not.’ Summer flicked her head like some wannabe cheerleader. ‘Am I Jonnie? Didn’t I say to you when we first met Jade I didn’t think she was local.’
‘Uh-huh.’ Jonnie nodded. ‘You did.’
‘Well of course the twin is going to agree with you.’ Rachel rolled her eyes. ‘But if that’s your only proof then it falls more than a little short of the mark, don’t you think?’
‘Another redundant argument.’ I felt the sudden need to take back control of the situation. ‘We don’t have time for this. We have to rescue Obin. And that means one of you telling me how the hell we are supposed to get down there.’ I pointed to the ground.
‘Okay, admittedly that bits not so easy.’ Pike pulled a face. ‘They say no one knows where the entrance is. That’s why know nothings like Simon here can get away with thinking nothing exists down there.’
‘But if there’s no way to get in then how did the Vamps do it?’ If I didn’t know better I’d have thought Simon was just asking to be insulted.
‘Daynasen can Juh…’ I hesitated at the use of Jump not wanting to be landed with the repercussion of some kind of comic quip. ‘Vampires can Teleport,’ I corrected myself.
‘And where did they learn such a neat trick?’ Simon’s voice toned with amusement.
‘The same way they get most of their tricks I guess. They assimilated it.’ I shrugged. ‘They’re not exactly one of your paint by numbers Demon breeds you know.’
‘And here was me thinking you paid about as much attention in lectures as the dimwit.’ Pike smirked. ‘But you really are the pick of the litter, aren’t you?’
‘If that’s your way of giving me a compliment then I have to tell you now it sounded more like a badly veiled insult.’
‘It might have been both for all you know.’ He turned his attention back towards Summer. ‘But just because the bimbo had a good idea about where the Vamps are, doesn’t mean I’m about to concede she found them by any kind of mumbo-jumbo. Until she literally leads us blindly into the heart of their nest I will not admit there are any kind of good vibrations at work on her part.’
‘Well then Sum, maybe it’s time I started lending you with more than just my protective energy.’ Jonnie moved towards her. ‘So what do you say, fancy finding the Vampire laree?’
‘Naturally.’ Summer sounded almost cocky, spiking my suspicions she was somehow under Dixon influence. ‘Let’s go.’
‘If I knew we were heading towards the end of the world I would have asked to be on the Doll Maker’s team.’ Pike smirked at me after we’d been following the twins for about half an hour. ‘And even if we are heading towards the end of the world you could at least look a little bit more confident about your own survival. Cuz I’m pretty damn sure you’d find some way of making it.’
‘I’m guessing that gibberish you’re pretending was a statement probably made more sense in your head than it did out loud.’ I frowned at him. ‘Either that or you have just shown your true age to me.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘You sounded like an idiot.’
‘Great, don’t tell me I have to prove myself to you again now too.’
‘Who said you’d proven yourself to me before now?’
‘You’ve always treated me better than the others.’ Pike shrugged.
‘No I haven’t.’ I folded my arms. ‘At least I haven’t on any kind of conscious level.’
‘Well maybe you didn’t mean to, but you have been. So fess up, what is it about the happy twins that’s bugging you? Or are you still dwelling on what I said before about none of us being Standing?’
‘Are we officially calling them the happy twins now?’ There was just no way I was going to get caught up in the other conversation with him. ‘Only I get the feeling they’re not exactly going to appreciate the sentiment behind it.’
‘I’m sure their vibes will let them get over it.’ Pike rolled his eyes. ‘And anyway, how can they be anything other than the happy twins?’ He indicated towards them. ‘Even their clothes are happy.’
I followed the line of his gaze. Not for the first time that day I noticed the blue smiley face printed on the back of Jonnie’s bright green t-shirt. The t-shirt was on backwards. Jonny had a habit of doing wearing his clothes like that, if only to have a united appearance with his sister when you faced them front on. In all honesty I just thought it was more than a little ridiculous. If I didn’t know better I would have thought Jonnie was living under Summer’s thumb. But when it came down to it Jonnie ruled the twinship. There was something in his laid back nature which allowed him to lead his sister with more self-assurance than she’d ever be capable of. And for whatever reason it was his choice to wear his t-shits backwards and match whatever Summer was wearing. It was just that simple.
Still, the irony of the smiley face wouldn’t be lost on anyone. And I for one found it amusing.
‘Yeah… well.’ I tried to keep myself from smirking. ‘Happy clothing doesn’t always make for happy twins you know.’
‘No, their new age crap makes up for that.’ Pike mocked shooting himself in the head. ‘I swear, sometimes I think they do it just to drive everyone crazy.’
‘Driving everyone crazy or not, we are all still following them.’
‘Only because no one else had any other suggestions for finding the Vamps underground lair.’
‘You know you really shouldn’t refer to them as Vampires.’ I frowned. ‘That’s not their proper classification.’
‘Yeah, but even an idiots heard of a Vampire, who knows what a Daynasen is when it’s at home?’
‘It doesn’t matter who else knows it as long as we do.’ I sighed and for a moment remembered my father saying something similar to me on more than one occasion. ‘It’s… just the way things are.’
‘Does the kid call them Daynasen then?’ I could hear a level of disinterested curiosity in Pike’s voice.
‘He scolded me on thinking of them as Vampires.’ What I didn’t want to admit was that Obin wasn’t the only one.
‘Wow you must really like him to be so obedient so quickly.’ Pike shot me a look. ‘I mean, you only went hunting with the guy twice and you’re already insisting upon his lingo.’
‘That’s not true.’ I didn’t like what he was trying to imply. ‘I would be the same if anyone corrected me.’
‘Yes,’ I lied. ‘Obin has nothing to do with my insistence.’
‘You do realise you’re the only one who actually calls him by his name, don’t you?’ Pike’s face took on a more than serious expression. ‘The rest of us are still call him the kid, despite what you said earlier. Why do you like him so much?’
‘I don’t like him so much, I respect him.’ I swallowed hard. ‘And if you or any of the others ever bothered to watch him train then you’d feel exactly the same as I do. He’s good. And the fact that he’s younger than us only makes him seem… better.’
‘You’re easily impressed, aren’t you?’
‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘Oh definitely not.’
‘Definitely not?’ Pike’s tone picked at the phrase. ‘That’s an interesting way of putting it.’
‘Because it suggests you have a reason to not be easily impressed. Like maybe knowing you’re not human.’
‘Of course I’m human. Everything’s human.’
‘Standing then.’ Pike sighed. ‘The one time I forget to say it you jump down my throat about it.’
‘Well now that’s an odd expression if ever I’ve heard one.’ I made for a quick change of subject in the hopes of distracting him.
‘Oh no, you don’t get away with it that easily.’ Pike scowled at me. ‘The way you talk and act sometimes… I think you’ve known you’re not Standing for a long time.’
‘I am Standing.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘We all are. I don’t know what you’re talking about with this nonsense. Unless of course there’s something you’re not telling us.’ I narrowed my gaze on him.
‘Like I told you before, I’m rebelling against being Standing. What I know or don’t know about myself is irrelevant. I’m just...’
‘Wishful thinking?’ I gave a half laugh. ‘How hard core.’
‘Hey the happy twins actually found something,’ Simon’s shouts cut off the rest of Pike’s sentence.
We were now in a narrow stretch of woodland just outside of the city centre limits. Not too far inside of the woods I could make out the scatterings of some ruins we all must have seen a hundred or more times before when we passed by this way. But something about them now felt different. Beside me I could almost sense Pike was thinking the same thing I was. That something so impossibly innocuous could be overlooked so easily. That it was no wonder no one had considered them as part of the underground city.
‘This doesn’t mean we’ve found the entrance you know.’ I aired half heard thoughts as I pushed my way back to the front of the group. ‘Until we’ve actually found a way down there this is nothing more than an interesting coincidence.’
‘Or proof the twins have a better memory then any of us.’ Rachel flicked some of her ice blond hair back over her shoulder. ‘I mean, any of us could have remembered the underground city and this place and put two and two together. They’re just hoping we’ll believe their energy mumbo-jumbo led them here.’
‘I don’t care why they brought us here.’ I glared at her. ‘They’ve still done more to help than any of you have. So if I were you, I’d bite your tongue and help look for a way down below.’
‘Down below?’ I could tell by his tone Simon was about to make some form of lame joke. ‘I didn’t realise we were going down to hell.’
At his words everyone, including him fell into a kind of stunned silence. However it had sounded in Simon’s head, there was a haunting kind of truth to his joke which made us all feel the harshness of our place in reality. Maybe we weren’t going down into hell exactly, but it was pretty much the next best thing. I found myself shuffling about, half hoping we wouldn’t find our way down into the world waiting below us.
Around me I heard a few of the others scrapping their own feet against the dirt. There was something so reluctant about the sound I knew with certainty we were all dreading what would come next. But it came and when it did I felt my blood curl.
‘Hey, I found something.’ Simon’s voice was so low I was praying he hadn’t really spoken. ‘And it looks like a way down…’
Despite the dankness which hung around us like fog in a graveyard, the ruins lying below Maio were surprisingly airy. Not in a walking through a spring meadow kind of way, but in the way Joan’s underground lake felt when there was enough of an outside breeze blowing through it.
The torches dotted along the walkways caused the shadows around us to dance and flutter in an unnerving manner. With everyone on edge it didn’t take much to mess with our heads and every half seen movement caused at least one of us to start. After each incident we’d joke and tease the one who’d lost their cool knowing full well it would be one of us to fall for it next.
It was not a fun experience and the deeper we moved into the underground ruins, the less and less any of us felt like having fun. As we approached what must have constituted as the heart of the old city we all fell into a tense kind of silence. I’ve never been a huge fan of silences. In my experience silence always came before trouble. Something told me this time was going to be no exception.
A rapid rustling to the right of the group jarred me to a halt. Split seconds later Rachel to crash hard into my back, causing me to gasp in pain and stumble forward.
‘Ah, fuck.’ I could hear the annoyance in Rachel’s voice. ‘What did you have to stop for?’
‘Didn’t you hear that?’
By now the rest of the group had come to a halt.
‘Hear what?’ Simon gave a nervous sounding cough.
‘Shh, listen,’ I hushed him as the sound came again.
The sound was like the pattering of cat’s paws through a field of leaves. It wouldn’t have been enough to register as anything on its own, but in the silence around us it set my whole body on edge.
‘I don’t hear anything.’ Rachel’s voice grated into me. ‘You’re just jumping at shadows again.’
‘Shadows don’t make noises like that.’ I glared. ‘So hush up and listen.’
Almost as soon as I spoke the noise spread from its isolated location to the right of us. Within seconds I felt as though we were surrounded. From the way the rest of the group pulled together I knew they were now as aware of the noise as I was.
Pack instinct. My brain turned over the thought in vague amusement. They want to be close to their leader because they sense danger nearby.
My amusement was short lived as the volume of the noise grew. We were in danger, that much was more than obvious. And it took everything I had in me not to picture a huge army of Daynasen waiting in the shadows for us. There was no way I could lose my nerve now. I was their leader and I had to act like it.
‘I vote sending Simon out as bait… I mean to find out what’s there.’ Pike’s voice toned in a way which made it impossible to tell if he was being serious or not.
‘Hey, why me.’ Simon shot back at him.
‘Because you’re the oldest male here.’
‘That makes you the alpha and alphas protect their packs.’
‘The alpha isn’t always the oldest.’ Simon shook his head. ‘They’re normally the strongest. And, as much as I’d hate to admit it, that would be you.’
‘Stop being a coward and get out there.’
‘I agree.’ Rachel shot him a look. ‘Simon get going already.’
‘HELL no.’ Simon folded his arms. ‘If anyone should get out there it should be Jade.’
I couldn’t say I didn’t know that was coming. The general vibe I got from the group had warned me it would. For a moment I cursed my position as leader. I didn’t want to venture into the unknown on my own any more than any of them did. But what could I do?
‘Okay, fine cowards.’ I cleared my throat and hoped I sounded more confident than I felt. ‘You all stay here and I’ll go see what’s out there.’
I have to admit I hesitated for a few seconds before gritting my teeth and making my way forward. Inside I had to keep reminding myself if I had the Power to save myself from anything. And I was certain my father wouldn’t mind too much if I were to disobey him in these kinds of circumstances. I mean, he needed me to meet up with my brother at some point and I couldn’t do that if I were dead.
‘Jade wait.’ Pike’s voice sounded from right behind me. ‘We’re not letting you go alone.’
A part of me felt relieved to see them scurrying towards me. It was nice to know they weren’t as selfish as they’d made themselves out to be. I didn’t want them to know how relieved I felt. So I pulled myself up to my full height, folded my arms and set my face into a serious look.
‘Too frightened to stay on your own?’ I cocked an eyebrow.
‘No, not really.’ Simon shot me a weak smile. ‘But we were talking about it and horror movie logic tells us the worst thing anyone can do in a situation like this is go off on their own. A group will always be safer.’
‘Yeah.’ Rachel’s voice strained for any kind of genuine conviction. ‘We’d just feel awful if something were to happen to you because we let you go alone.’
For a few moments I was silent, then I picked up our mutual pace and lowered my head.
‘Thanks guys.’ I smirked. ‘But next time you might wanna be a little less vocal about all this heart of the team stuff, only I think you’ve scared them off.’
‘Cuz they know they can’t take us all on at once?’ Summer fell into step beside me.
‘No, because nothing’s more sickening than all for one and one for all. I mean, come on, this isn’t some Disney movie we’re stuck in here.’
‘Well if it were I think we all know…’
Before Simon could finish what was bound to be some lame joke the rustling came again. Louder and closer than before it once again brought all of us to a halt.
‘Remind me, how much truth was there in the whole Vamps don’t like the cross deally?’ Rachel swallowed hard.
‘You’d be better off with fire.’ I made a grab for the cross bow I’d attached to my belt.
‘Uh-huh and what about a stake?’
‘Oh will you just pull out whatever weapon you equipped yourself with already and get ready to fight whatever’s out there.’ Pike glared at her. ‘Or are you the only one who’s not worked out that’s what we’re supposed to be doing right now?’
‘It’s not that I haven’t worked it out...’
‘Don’t tell me you don’t even have a weapon with you.’ Annoyance raced through me.
‘Well…’ Rachel’s voice trailed off.
‘Well what? Do you or don’t you?’
‘No. Not exactly.’
‘Ugh.’ I could sense the Daynasen rustling around getting closer and closer. ‘What kind of an idiot are you? How many times have we been told never to go on a hunt empty handed?’
‘Well I’m not exactly empty handed.’
‘How can you be not exactly empty handed?’ I was becoming more and more frustrated. ‘You’re either empty handed or you’re not. There’s nothing else you can be.’
‘Okay then, I’m not empty.’ Rachel pulled herself up to her full height. ‘I just don’t exactly have a weapon on me.’
‘Then what do you have?’
‘What I have is unpredictable so you might wanna duck.’ She gave a strange laugh. ‘Because this could get messy. Really messy.’
There was a bright, sudden and unexpected flash of light. For a heartbeat I found myself wondering what it was then the wild fizzing noise reach my ears and I knew. I glanced towards Rachel to confirm my suspicions. She was holding onto the cylindrical shaft of some kind of ultra bright flare. Around me the others winced against the brightness of the light and I pretended to do the same.
‘Where the fuck did that come from?’ Pike shielded his gaze. ‘And more to the point, what the fuck were you doing wandering around with that thing when you should have been carrying weapons?’
‘It’s hard to explain.’ Rachel’s face pulled into an odd expression. ‘I wasn’t carrying it until now.’
‘Then where did it come from?’ Simon’s voice edged with amusement. ‘Thin air?’
‘Well…’ Rachel hesitated. ‘Yes, I guess it did. And, well... Jade said fire would be the best thing to get, so fire is what I got.’ She indicated towards the flare.
‘But don’t those things die out after a while?’ Jonnie pressed his lips together. ‘I mean, a lighter would have been more effective or at least more long term.’
‘I know, but…’ Rachel gave an impatient sigh. ‘Stop acting like I’m some kind of royal idiot. This isn’t a normal flare.’
‘Well obviously Miss I Can Produce Things from Thin Air.’ Pike rolled his eye. ‘It would be pretty pointless you brining it here else.’
As the others continued to wince against the brightness of the flare I found myself studying Rachel with a new kind of curiosity. Even though most Standing were Powerless there were a few lines capable of using Reama Magic. So it wasn’t completely outside of the realms of possibility for Rachel to have Reama Magic. But Reama Users couldn’t Summon. And if Reama Users couldn’t Summon than Rachel couldn’t be a Reama User.
So then what is she? I racked my brain to think of all the breeds I knew capable of Summoning. And when the hell did she find out she was it? Why didn’t she share it with the rest of the group when we were talking earlier? Is she ashamed of herself? Is she...?
I squirmed as an even more disturbing thought began to eat at the lining of my stomach. I was assuming Rachel had Summoned the flare. I had no proof that was the case. It was possible the flare was Manifested. Only Demons and those with Demon Blood can Manifest. How many times had my father told me that growing up? It was the one lecture I never forgot but the one lecture I always had to play ignorant on. Only Demons and those with Demon Blood can Manifest. I didn’t want to believe Rachel was a Demon, but the way she acted sometimes...
‘How did you make that appear?’ I tried to keep my voice calm and level.
‘I don’t know.’ Rachel shrugged. ‘I’ve just been… doing it a lot lately. Ever since I started training with the Doll Maker I’ve been finding things just come to me when I need them. And they’ll normally do exactly what I want them to do as well.’
‘Exactly?’ The words felt dry in my mouth. ‘As if designed to your exact specifications?’
‘You could say that.’ She nodded. ‘I mean, they’re not perfect, but they are… strangely accurate.’
Her words failed to bring me any clarity on the situation. The ability of the object to carry out the desired task suggested Manifestation but the lack of accuracy in form sounded more like someone learning to Summon. I mulled the idea over for a few moments before remembering something my mother had told me about Manifested items. It was a risky move but I had to be sure what I was dealing with here. I made a grab for the flare Rachel was holding an pulled it out of her hand.
‘Hey!’ Rachel gawked at me. ‘What…?’
The flare was in my hand for less than half a second before vanishing without a trace. I closed my eyes and wished to take back what I had just done. A part of my hoped what I opened my eyes again the flare would reappear. It did not. I rolled my fingers across my palm in an edgy manner and shot a curious glance at Rachel.
‘Make another one appear.’ My voice was tight.
‘Why don’t you just bring the one I gave you back?’ Rachel’s voice squeaked with annoyance.
‘I can’t.’ I shook my head. ‘I wasn’t the one who made it disappear.’
‘Well it sure looked that way to me.’
‘Oh will you quit bickering and do what you’re told already?’ Without warning Pike moved himself into a fighting stance. ‘I think we’ve got company coming.’
‘But I don’t know how to bring the same thing here twice.’ Rachel’s face filled with apprehension. ‘That’s what I meant when I said things could get messy.’
‘I thought you said you could Summon whatever you wanted.’ Simon joined Pike in combat readiness.
‘I can.’ She swallowed hard. ‘But I never know what it is I want until right before I do it.’
‘Then want the same thing twice.’
‘But I never want the same thing twice.’
‘Oh, so that’s the reason you could never keep a boyfriend.’
‘Now’s really not the time to be getting into this.’ I loaded my crossbow. ‘So just bring out whatever the fuck you want Rachel, I don’t care. Just do us all a favour and make it NOW.’
As if my words were some kind of cue several cloaked figures immerged from the shadows. They surrounded us in an almost complete circle giving me an instant sensation of claustrophobia. As they closed in the smell of decomposing meat crashed against my nostrils. I gave a sicken swallow and tried not to breathe through my nose. Not that it helped much. The air was so filled with the putrid sent every bud on my tongue could taste it.
‘I didn’t think Vamps smelt of decay,’ Pike hissed at me.
‘They don’t,’ I hissed back. ‘Something’s not right here.’
‘We need to start attacking them…’
‘No.’ Jonnie shook his head. ‘We can’t be seen making the first move. It’s bad karma.’
‘I’m not sure it would really matter in this situation.’ I glared at him. ‘They’ve already made the first move by kidnapping Obin.’
‘You’re assuming these are the same people who took the kid.’ He pulled out the machete he had hidden on the sheath beneath his t-shirt. ‘They could be perfectly innocent.’
‘Then what the fuck are they doing down here?’ Simon’s voice was louder than I felt he’d meant it to be. ‘Sunbathing?’
‘I don’t know. But not all subterranials are evil you know.’
‘I never said they were.’ His voice edged softer. ‘But that smell certainly is.’
‘They’re dead.’ Summer’s voice was so blunt I could have shot her for stating the obvious.
‘Well duh, of course they’re…’
‘No,’ she cut him off before he could make some kind of quip. ‘I mean they’re the dead of the dead.’
‘What?’ Even I couldn’t help but frown at that.
‘They’re not right,’ Summer reiterated. ‘They’re not what they should be.’
‘Then what are they?’
‘They’re not real…’
‘You mean they’re Unrealms?’ Pike volunteered his well absorbed knowledge for the first time.
‘Yes, but… No.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘I think we’re about to find out.’ Simon interrupted as one of the cloaked figures broke from formation and swooped into attack us.
With surprising speed Jonnie lashed out at it with his machete. The cloaked figure narrowly avoided it before returning back to its place in the circle. Jonnie gave a slight nod in his sister direction and Summer removed the wooden staff she’d strapped to her back.
‘They made the first move.’ A self-assured smile pulled at Summer’s lips.
‘Which means karma is on our side.’ Jonnie prepared himself for his next attack.
‘Too bad for them.’ Her voice toned with something almost dark.
‘Mm you’re right. It just too bad.’
Summer and Jonnie weapons training sessions had always been at an earlier time than mine so it took me more than a little by surprise to see how well the squeamish pacifist handled her weapon. And in all honesty it was more impressive still when you acknowledge said weapon was little more than a glorified stick. Summer was agile and her movements flowed in perfect harmony with those of her twin brother. Jonnie was just as capable and had a habit of his machete at the best possible.
But they weren’t the only ones to take me by surprise. Pike was a masterful swordsman. And I mean a master swordsman. His blade was a literal extension of his arm and he made everything he did look easy. Simon was no slouch either. There was a speed and cunning to his movements which reminded me of a predatory animal. Then there was Rachel. She’d managed to Manifest something a little more useful to fight with and even though I was sure she didn’t know what she was I still felt a little cold watching her. It was wrong of me, but I just couldn’t get over the idea of Rachel’s Demon Blood. How could I when everything about her now made it so obvious?
I sighed and loaded another arrow into my crossbow. I was the only one with a long distance weapon. As such I was able to keep an eye on the battle and help out those who needed it as soon as they needed it. Or at least that was the theory. My concerns over Rachel had caused several minor lapses in my concentration. So far nothing bad had happened as a result of it, but I knew it if I didn’t start concentrating soon things would start going wrong.
‘Jade watch out.’
Pike’s warning came just as I sensed my attacker. With less than half a second to spare I managed to twist myself out of the way of a full on assault from one of the cloaked figures. I smile pulled its way across my face as I released the payload from my crossbow. My aim was a little off so I failed to cause any damage but I did somehow manage to knock the hood back from their head. The face which was revealed nearly made me puke. The skin had rotten away so much in places what was left was all but hanging off the bone. The eye sockets were hollow and completely empty. What wasn’t caked in dirt was covered in a crusted layer of dried blood.
‘Dude.’ I heard Simon exasperate.
I glanced towards where the others and noted the battle had come to a temporary halt. One by one the cloaked figures revealed themselves to us. All shared the same rotting corpse look, but each of them was in different stage of decomposition. I slapped a hand over my mouth as a violent urge rocked through my body.
‘They’re not Vamps, they’re Zombies.’ Simon gawked. ‘We’re fighting the wrong people here.’
‘No we’re not.’ Pike dodge one of our enemies’ attacks whilst connecting a blow of his own. ‘Take a closer look at what we’re facing here.’
‘The teeth,’ Rachel gasped. ‘They’re Zombie-Vampires!’
‘Is that even possible?’ Simon shook his head before sidestepping another assault.
‘The evidence is right in front of us.’ Pike shot Simon a look. ‘It’s clearly possible.’
‘I’m praying I don’t know the answer to that one.’ I jumped back from my attacker.
‘But you think you do, don’t you?’ Summer glanced towards me. ‘Because what I told you before is right. They’re not real.’
‘They’re Unrealms… Unrealms created from life.’ Horror flickered through me. ‘Oh god...’
I tried to stop myself from urging again and my whole being shuddered at the thought. There was nothing wrong with the creation of Unrealms, as long as they weren’t made from anything which had once been a sentient living being. There were laws… rules against it. And those caught in the practice of such things often faced unbearable punishments.
I remembered my father once telling me about the Marella and how it was one of their greatest pleasures to create Unrealms in this way. As a kid his stories had kept me awake for days on end. To me the Marella had become the face of true and unadulterated evil. They were my nightmare. My bogyman. And even now just the reminder they existed was enough to turn my legs to jelly.
The rational part of my brain tried to convince me this wasn’t the Marellas work. It couldn’t be. But in all honesty that didn’t help. Because even if there were no Marellas involved here the creation of Unrealms from life on its own filled me with its own kind of terror. All my instincts were drowned out by the overwhelming need to run away. I had to run away. I had to.
‘Ah, little Miss Clever.’ A familiar voice rang out from behind me and holding me in place. ‘I’m so glad we can meet again.’
I took a moment to compose myself before turning round to face her.
‘EVERYONE STOP.’ Rebecca’s command was obeyed without hesitation by every single one of the Zombie-Vampires. ‘Now leave.’ Again they did as they were told.
My insides went numb and an instinct of fear forced me to back away from her.
‘You… you created them?’
Rebecca laughed and held my gaze for a moment. There was something about the laughter which made it hard for me to tell if she was laughing with pride for what she could do or amusement because I could believe her capable of it. Rebecca’s laughter drew the rest of the group to me. It was clear they were curious about the new comer and I was just glad none of them appeared to have picked up on my terror.
‘Well did you?’ Pike shot her an annoyed look when she failed to answer my question.
‘Of course I didn’t.’ Rebecca stopped laughing. ‘Do I look that powerful to you?’ She stretched both hands upwards, as if to show me her severed arm had been reattached.
‘Then who did create them?’
‘Now really, must you all be so boring?’ Rebecca rolled her eyes. ‘Can’t you just… I don’t know, guess?’
‘Dixon.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘This is Dixon’s work, isn’t it?’
A huge smirk spread across Rebecca’s face as her eyes narrowed in on me with a sick kind of amusement.
‘And here was me thinking you wouldn’t be so much fun without the doll.’
‘The doll?’ I frowned. ‘You mean the Doll Maker? But… you’ve never seen me with him.’
‘Well I guess having you alone hasn’t made you any smarter.’ Rebecca half turned away from me. ‘I was talking about Obin.’
‘Wait… are you saying the kid’s a doll?’ Simon choked out. ‘Seriously? But I didn’t think the Doll Maker agreed with doing things like that…’
‘I don’t think he’s that kind of doll.’ She pouted. ‘But I would be grateful if you were to… rescue him.’
‘Wait, what?’ Simon laughed. ‘Are you kidding me? I mean, this is some kind of trick, right?’
The expression which soured itself onto Rebecca’s face proved how serious she was. Something in me told me her dislike of this situation was something similar to mine, although I doubt either of us would admit it anytime soon.
‘I want you to get rid of him for me.’ Rebecca spat through gritted teeth. ‘I don’t care how you do it. Or whether or not you want him alive at the end of it. I just want him out of here.’
‘Why?’ It was clear Pike didn’t trust her.
‘Do I need a reason to want rid of him?’
‘You’re in love with Dixon, aren’t you?’ Summer’s voice toned in the way it did when she was being perceptive. ‘And the kid’s been taking his attention away from you.’
‘You’re jealous?’ Simon laughed. ‘What are they…?’
‘Shut up!’ I was half surprised by how in sync mine and Rebecca’s cry was.
‘Well that hit more nerves than it meant to.’ Pike cocked an eyebrow. ‘But since we are here to get the kid back, any help you can give us…’
‘What makes you think I’ll give you any help?’ Rebecca cut him off. ‘I could never intentionally do anything to hurt Dixon. I just won’t stop you from taking the doll.’
‘Hurt Dixon…?’ I echoed her words, my stomach tightening as I did. ‘Does that mean... They are in love with each other, aren’t they?’
‘Can either of them feel love?’ Rebecca folded her arms. ‘Because right now whatever that... thing is between them, I wouldn’t call it. And if it is love then it’s not healthy.’
‘What do you mean? What...?’
‘They’re family, aren’t they?’ Summer cut in. ‘Dixon and Obin I mean. This isn’t just about sex or love or whatever it is going on between them. They are family. And they know it.’
‘Family?’ I echoed Summer’s words in a disdainful tone, whilst Rebecca used a more impertinent one.
It was clear neither one of us felt any kind of warmth towards that sentiment, especially not when it severely conflicted with the idea that they were…
‘How would a stick like you know something like that?’ Rebecca narrowed her gaze on Summer. ‘What are you, some kind of prophet?’
‘I think new age weirdo would suit her better.’ Pike rolled his eyes. ‘Cuz if she’s a prophet, then I’m the bloody emperor of Mars.’
‘The planet or the chocolate bar?’ Rebecca shot back with perfect timing.
The remark made me smirk a little. I couldn’t help it, despite everything there was something refreshing about Rebecca’s wit. I’d felt the same the first time I’d met her though I wasn’t about to admit it.
‘Oh, I see your angle.’ Pike cocked his head. ‘And I think you’re going to be a more than interesting opponent.’
‘Someday maybe.’ Rebecca turned herself away. ‘But not right now. Right now the six of you are going to do me a favour and I’m going to do you one by making sure no one interferes. Once you have the doll back, then we can see about becoming rivals.’
‘You mean enemies.’
‘Same difference, isn’t it?’
Pike looked as though he were about to argue, but Rachel lifted a hand to silence him. There was something about the look in her eyes I didn’t like. I was already uncomfortable with the idea of what Rachel was, I didn’t need her giving me more reasons for concern.
‘Why should we trust you?’ Rachel’s voice toned with more than a slight sense of authority. ‘You are the enemy. You could just be leading us into some well planned trap. We don’t even know if you’re serious about wanting to get rid of the kid or if he’s even still alive. Unless you’re actually willing to help us, I don’t see why we should do anything for you.’
Rebecca took a slow breath in as her face soured with a dark expression. It was obvious she disliked the insinuation she was trying to deceive us. There was something about the way she looked which made me want to believe her. For half a moment I found myself wanting to raise my voice in support of her. I cursed myself for it right away. How could I be feeling sorry for a Daynasen? It just didn’t make any sense.
‘I believe her.’ Jonnie folded his arms. ‘And so does Summer. Don’t you Sum?’ he glanced towards his sister for support.
‘Mm.’ Summer nodded. ‘The Vamp is telling the truth. She wants us to get the kid back.’
‘Because she’s in love with Dixon?’ Simon cocked an eyebrow. ‘And she can’t get him to notice her as long as the kid’s around, because Dixon is in love or whatever with the kid.’
‘The kid’s family.’ Summer turned her gaze towards him. ‘I mean, Dixon and the kid are family. What they’re feeling as obsessive love is just their separate longings to belong to something… to each other.’
‘So they’re not in love?’
‘Well, yes and no.’ She tilted her head. ‘I feel there’s more to it than I can really understand right now. I can only tell you what I sense and I can only sense what I understand.’
‘Well geez, that makes a whole lot of sense.’ Simon rolled his eyes. ‘And I thought you were supposed to be our prophet.’
‘Is she a prophet?’ Rebecca interrupted. ‘Is there any truth to what she’s saying?’
Rebecca’s question was replied by a jumble of yes and nos from the rest of us. I couldn’t be sure who agreed and who didn’t, all I knew was my own answer to the question. An answer which more than took me by surprise…
‘Yes,’ I repeated once the others had quietened their own responses. ‘I don’t know how, but I believe she is. And having just witness them in battle just now I’ve come to the belief none of them are Standing. They’re all too… I don’t know how to explain it.’ I met Rebecca’s gaze. ‘But I know none of them are Standing. They’re all something else.’
‘Something else?’ Rebecca tilted her head as her gaze examined my team. ‘And what about you? Are you Standing?’
‘I have to be.’ I avoided lying by choosing my words carefully.
‘You have to be?’ She sounded intrigued. ‘What does that mean exactly? That you are so Standing you can’t possibly be anything else? Or you know for sure you’re not Standing, but you have no choice but to learn to be so?’
My stomach churned. I didn’t want to answer her question. I couldn’t, because I knew no matter what I said she would know… She would know the truth. And I… I couldn’t handle that.
‘How are they related?’ I avoided the question by turning my attention back towards Summer. ‘Dixon and Obin. How closely are they related?’
For a few moments Summer blinked at me in bewilderment. It was clear she didn’t quite get why I’d shifted the spotlight back onto that. Or maybe it was more she’d completely forgotten what I was talking about. Either way it took Summer a few moments to say anything and each moment she didn’t felt painfully silent.
‘Err… fifth or sixth cousins maybe.’ Summer shook her head and shrugged. ‘I… I’m not sure. They’re not as closely related as either of them would like. Maybe that’s why they find it so easy to… to be in love. But…’
‘You mean they know they’re related?’ Rebecca interrupted, her voice sounding almost as if she’d just hooked herself onto something. ‘Why didn’t I see it before? He knew… he must have known…’
I swallowed hard and tried to suppress the nightmarish thoughts I was having. If Obin and Dixon were related, did that mean Obin was capable of the same monstrosities as Dixon? And if he was did that mean… did that make them…
‘What are Marella?’ Summer interrupted my train of thoughts.
‘What?’ There was a genuine moment of confusion across the whole group.
‘What are Marella?’ Summer repeated as her gaze almost froze in my direction.
For a moment I felt as though she was staring right through my shell and into the hidden depth of my core. I felt as though she was able to see the thin, wiry figure of light I truly was. That she was able to read my every thought and she was revelling in my fear. Then I realised it wasn’t me she was staring at. It was Rebecca.
‘When this is all over and done with I’d like to know what you really are.’ Rebecca’s voice crimped with disgust. ‘A mind reader and a prophet, you could be so many things. And yet nothing all at the same time. You almost make me want to start learning the correct classifications.’
‘You didn’t answer my question.’ Summer held her gaze. ‘What are Marella? And what do they have to do with Obin and Dixon?’
The feeling which spiked inside of me at that moment was beyond description. It was more than fear. More than terror. More nightmarish than a nightmare. It froze me right to my very core and filled me with such an urge to run away the only thing stopping me was the senseless inability to move.
‘Please tell me they don’t have anything to do with the Marella.’ My voice came out of me as little more than a childish whine as I squeezed my eyes shut. ‘Please tell me you’re just pulling nonsense from thin air.’
‘You know, don’t you?’ Rebecca’s voice cut into me. ‘You understand.’
‘I know nothing.’ I felt myself becoming light headed. ‘I know nothing. And I don’t want to know.’
I’m not completely sure what happened next. All I know is one second I was stood there the next I was on my back, staring up at everybody else through blurry eyes. I groaned and tried to sit myself up, only to have Rebecca force me back down again.
‘Not so fast Standing.’ Rebecca’s voice was toned with something, but I couldn’t quite work out what it was. ‘We wouldn’t want you fainting on us again.’
‘Fainting?’ I felt confused. ‘I haven’t done that in years.’
I have no idea why I felt the need to confess to having had fainting spells in the past. Maybe my half dazed state was bringing out an unnecessary honesty in me.
‘And when was the last time you had one exactly?’ Pike sounded more than a little smug. ‘Before or after the first time you met the kid.’
‘Before.’ I shot him an indignant look as my brain became more alert. ‘I said I’d not had one in years, I’ve barely known Obin for more than a few months.’ I sat myself up. ‘I guess I got injured fighting or something and it’s just caught up with me.’
‘Please.’ Rebecca rolled her eyes. ‘You don’t honestly expect any of us to believe that after the way you reacted to hearing the name Marella, do you?’
‘Marella?’ I echoed the word and my head starting to swoon again.
‘Okay, that’s enough.’ Summer supported me into a sitting position. ‘You’re not being helpful by bringing that up again.’
‘But not bringing it up won’t satisfy my curiosity.’ Rebecca folded her arms. ‘I want to know why this supposed Standing had such a problem with the name Marella, when the rest of you have never heard the name before.’
‘You make it sound like it should be the other way round.’ Simon gave a strange half laugh. ‘I’m guessing you know everything there is to know about the Marella.’
‘Hardly.’ Her voice sounded a little dry. ‘I know they were outcast by their own kind. Exiled and sent down to Earth because they were believed to be too cruel. But I don’t know any real details.’
‘It was more than just cruelty that got them expelled.’ I rolled myself forward in order to rest my head on my hands. ‘You have no idea what they were truly capable of. Or the devastation they caused… Even after they’d been expelled… They were the stuff of nightmares.’
‘Your nightmares I take it.’ I could hear the knowing tone in Rebecca’s voice.
‘My father delighted in the horror stories.’ I gave a kind of fearful half laugh. ‘He felt it was important for me to understand why certain decisions had been made. And that… that even though some of their modern counterparts weren’t so bad I should… should never let my guard down. That I should always remember the Marellas lust for power was so strong… so all consuming nothing short of a miracle would prevent it from corrupting them… If only for a while…’
‘And a while would be more than enough time for them to cause irreparable damage?’ Pike finished for me.
‘How does your father know so much about them?’ Simon forced my gaze up towards him. ‘Is he like the Doll Maker?’
‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘But… they know each other… I grew up with James around so it was… weird when he didn’t recognise me. You forget sometimes that you can’t be known before you’re known.’
‘It doesn’t matter.’ I pulled myself to my feet. ‘The only thing which matters is finding Obin. I will not let him become corrupted… not even for a second by anyone. Especially not a Marella. And Dixon is a Marella, isn’t he?’ My gaze met with Rebecca’s.
‘So he says.’ Rebecca’s eyes flickering over me. ‘And what are you exactly?’
‘It doesn’t matter what I am.’ I lowered my head. ‘You have to think of me as Standing. I can’t be anything else right now.’
‘Because now’s not the time for me to be anything else.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘Don’t you see? This is not it. This is not the event I’m meant to prevent. Only one I’m meant to interfere with. That’s why I’m here now. Because everything happens for a reason.’
‘On Earth as on Giya.’ Summer’s words cut into me, again making me fear what she could see. ‘That’s what the Doll Maker says, isn’t it? That everything on Giya happens for a reason and Earth is no different.’
‘My mother was preaching the same long before I began my training under James.’ I began walking in a random direction.
‘Hey, where do you think you’re going?’ Rebecca called after me.
‘To find Obin.’
‘Wouldn’t you rather wait for the rest of us?’
‘I don’t care what the rest of you do.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘None of you understand what’s really at stake here.’
‘That doesn’t matter.’ Rebecca appeared before in front of me, her voice almost painfully low. ‘You’re not going anywhere on your own without letting me know your movements first. I have to make sure you succeed in your little mission without anyone knowing I let you.’
‘I don’t care what you want.’ I pushed my way past her. ‘I don’t care what any of you want…’
‘You will.’ Rebecca grabbed hold of my arm, her strength surprising me more than a little. ‘You will care what I want. Giyan.’
The word caused my heard to stop dead. I’d sense she’d managed to figure something out, but to hear her say it made my inside’s summersault with tension. Rebecca had me trapped now. I knew I couldn’t confirm or deny what she said because the results would be the same. I also knew ignoring her would only make Rebecca shout the word loud enough for the others to hear. I was well and truly trapped and there was nothing I could do.
‘Which House?’ Rebecca hissed at me. ‘I may not know much about your kind, but I do know the weakness of each House. Dixon was so helpful in that way, because he always feared one of you may come after him.’
‘Aria,’ I kept my voice low. ‘Narnic and Drayos. You can’t really count Seth, although technically I could claim to be that too.’ My eyes went up to meet with hers.
‘You can’t be a part of all of the other Houses.’ Her voice grated with anger. ‘It doesn’t work like that.’
‘But I do have the blood of Aria, Narnic and Drayos.’ I managed to snatch my arm away from her. ‘And my father was Sethed. So, if by nothing more than default, I am a part of all Houses bar Marella.’
‘And they would call the Marella arrogant and Power hungry, when all the while they were just planning to breed a super-Giyan of their own. How disgusting.’
‘I assure you I was not planned intentionally.’ I glanced back towards the others, who were shuffling closer to us. ‘My father was… unusual, but his love for my mother was real enough and strong enough for them…’
‘To want children?’ Rebecca finished for me. ‘Then you are unique by accident, not by design. How does that make you feel?’
‘I am unique.’ I met her gaze. ‘What else is there beyond that?’
‘So how do we get into this place?’ Pike stared down at the building Rebecca had led us to.
‘Through the door.’ Rebecca cocked an eyebrow as she brought the group to a stop.
We were in sight of what looked like a large Romanesque villa. Or at least that was my impression of it. The ruined roof of the building stretched all the way up to the earth above us. For a long couple of moments I sensed everyone except Rebecca admiring the structure. All of our eyes had adapted enough to the dim lighting now to see the building for what it truly was. A thing of former wealth and beauty.
I took a deep breath in and held it for a moment. I’d seen buildings like this before a long time ago. They were in just as bad a condition as this one, only they’d stretched up to a darkened skyline, twisted with thunder and… I shuddered to remember and turned my gaze away from the building. For a few moments I had to remind myself the midday darkness was because we were underground and not because...
‘Are you okay?’ Jonnie placed a hand on my shoulder. ‘Only you’re looking a little pale again.’
‘It’s nothing.’ I shrugged him off. ‘Just remembering something I wished I didn’t.’
‘Not now Jon.’ Summer’s tone was almost too light. ‘It’s not our place to find out. At least not yet.’
Summer’s words caused me to shoot a look in her direction. In the last few hours I’d started to see her as a threat to my secret. For her to protect it like that of her own accord made me reassess my feelings about her. I felt certain Summer was going to continue to confuse and worry me. And there was nothing I could do about it. I gave a heavy sigh and forced my gaze back towards the building. I had to keep reminding myself this wasn’t the same place I’d seen all those years ago. That if I did things right I would never see that place again. But I couldn’t shake the feeling…
‘It’s a fine place for a Marella to live.’ I breathed out the words as though they were the last thing I would ever say. ‘Maybe a little too fine… I should go say hello…’
‘Stop.’ Pike took a firm grip on my arm and forced my gaze to meet with his. ‘You’re not thinking clearly right now. Whatever it was these Marella have done to you its making you more than a little irrational. I mean, I’m not sure what to expect from you next.’
I snatched my arm away from him and glared. I didn’t feel like being lectured, especially not by him. Pike didn’t understand how I felt. How could he? He didn’t know what I knew. But that didn’t stop me from cursing him for being so ignorant about it.
‘Jade, you really should calm down.’ Summer shot me a sympathetic smile. ‘You’re not going to help anyone in the state you’re in. I know you’ve been through... something… But you have to keep faith…’
‘Faith.’ I echoed her word with a sigh. ‘You sound like my mother.’
‘Great.’ Pike’s voice rolled with sarcasm. ‘Another mood swing. What next…?’
Before he could finish what he was saying a blood curdling scream echoed out of the villa. Everyone except Rebecca feel into a stunned kind of silence. To my personal annoyance Rebecca began laughing.
‘How can you possibly find that funny?’ Simon pulled a face. ‘Someone’s being tortured in there.’
‘I know.’ Rebecca grinned. ‘And I think I know who.’
‘Obin.’ My insides reeled with more than a mild feeling of concern. ‘Why… why would Dixon be doing that to him?’
As I spoke another series of hideous howls and screams emanated from the building, causing everything in me to become tight.
‘I think a better question would be why you’re little friend is allowing himself to be treated like that.’ Rebecca’s voice toned with amusement.
‘Allowing it? You make it sound as though Dixon would give him a choice.’
‘You make it sound as though Obin didn’t choose to be taken in by us.’
‘We’re wasting time.’ Rachel folded her arms. ‘We have to get in there.’
‘But I’m not sure the through the front door method is the best way of going about it.’ Pike shot a look at Rebecca. ‘So you’d better start talking about other entry points.’
‘I’ve done as much as I can do for now.’ Rebecca shrugged. ‘Work your own way in.’ With that she began walking away from us.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ I called after her.
‘Somewhere that won’t link me to you lot breaking in.’ Rebecca gave us a backhanded wave.
‘You mean somewhere that will allow you to warn that… Marella we’re coming.’ My voice curled with disgust. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘It’s not exactly like you have the power to stop me from leaving.’ Rebecca stopped and turned towards us for a moment. ‘Unless of course you’re a little less Standing than you’d like the others to believe.’
‘Don’t toy with me Rebecca.’ I growled at her. ‘I’m not in the mood to have games played with me.’
‘And I’m not in the mood to play games.’ She smirked. ‘So I guess we’re even.’
‘None of us are just about to let you leave Rebecca.’ Rachel Manifested a crossbow similar to my own and aimed it at Rebecca. ‘So you’re going to stick with us until we say otherwise.’
‘Plexes...?’ Rebecca’s voice was filled with distant amazement. ‘I should have known. I’ve met your kind before… maybe too long ago. No wonder I didn’t pick up on it sooner.’
‘Plexes?’ Rachel frowned. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Oh you silly thing, you don’t even know where that Power comes from. And without respect…’ She laughed. ‘Maybe I should stick around with you lot after all. I could see this getting very… very interesting.’
Rebecca turned her body towards the villa and began walking that way. After a few paces when it must have been clear to her that none of us were following, she came to a stop and glanced back towards us.
‘Well? Don’t you want to be shown a way in?’
As a group we exchanged mutual glances with each other. None of us were sure what had just happened. I knew I vaguely recognised the word Plexes from one of my mother’s stories, but couldn’t fully place it. It certainly wasn’t one of the things on James’s syllabus. The others wouldn’t have felt as confused about it as I did if it was.
‘Well are you coming or not?’ Rebecca’s face filled with an impatient scowl. ‘Only I have a very short attention span and you wouldn’t want me getting bored of you that quickly, now would you?’
‘Fine, lead the way.’ I set out towards her. ‘Just no tricks or else I won’t hesitate in killing you.’
‘I find that hard to believe.’ She turned her back on me as she started walking away with me and the others in tow. ‘Especially knowing you didn’t have the guts to do it before.’
‘Before?’ Simon shot me a curious look. ‘You mean you two’ve already done battle once?’
‘Wasn’t it clear we’d already met?’ Rebecca laughed. ‘I mean, she did know my name, didn’t she?’
‘Yes, but I hadn’t realise you were on a first killing basis.’
‘We weren’t.’ She shook her head. ‘If we were one of us wouldn’t be here right now, would we?’
‘You know what I mean…’
‘And I know what I mean,’ Rebecca cut him off. ‘And the truth is when push comes to shove your leader might not have what it takes.’
‘We’ll see about that.’ I tried to level my voice into a stronger tone.
‘Yes.’ Rebecca smirked. ‘We will see.’
We made our way into the villa through a broken window along the left side. The room we crawled our way into was small and almost completely empty save for a huge fire place along one wall which felt out of proportion to the rest of the room. More so when you noted the way it pushed the ceiling higher than it needed to be.
Without waiting around we crossed out of the room and into the adjoining flagstone corridor. The corridor was lit periodically with open flame torches. A part of me couldn’t help but wonder why creatures so vulnerable to fire would keep so much of it around them. A smirked pulled its way across my face as an amused thought crossed my mine. They probably just wanted to save on the electric bill. Either that or it was too much of a hassle to get a decent electricity company to wire up their laree.
Even as I was thinking it I knew I shouldn’t be taking everything so lightly, but I couldn’t help it. Pike was right when he said my emotions were all over the place right now. He just didn’t realise quite how all over the place they were. I took a deep breath and tried to sombre myself up. The last thing I needed was for the others to think I was losing my mind over this. There lack of understanding of my circumstances did not give them a right to judge me. Or at least that’s what I had to keep telling myself.
‘You’ve been living here, haven’t you?’ Summer cast a glance in Rebecca’s direction.
‘We all have.’ Rebecca shrugged. ‘Dixon likes to keep us close at hand.’
‘To keep you close at hand.’ Summer echoed, implying a different meaning as she did.
I noticed Rebecca’s awkward expression as she reached for her reattached limb. I could see a slight shudder run down along her spine as she forced her own feelings aside. Both movements had been kept subtle. I had only seen them myself because I knew what to look for. It was clear a part of Rebecca feared Dixon, but I doubted she would admit to it any time soon.
‘It’s not just Obin he likes to torture, is it?’ I knew it was wrong to pick at Rebecca’s discomfort but I couldn’t help myself. ‘It’s all of you. He tortures all of you.’
‘He’s our leader.’ Rebecca tried to shrug my comment off. ‘He’s allowed to treat us anyway he wants. That’s his prerogative.’
‘But that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it.’ I frowned at her. ‘Or enjoy it. But I guess it does prove he truly is Marella.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ She glared at me with a mixture of suspicion and defensive anger.
‘It’s just something I’ve heard.’ I turned my gaze away. ‘It doesn’t matter, really.’
‘Yeah, well…’ Rebecca’s expression became almost too tight for her face. ‘I guess this is where I should be leaving you. After all, I can’t risk anyone thinking I was helping you, now can I?’
‘You’ve done enough.’ I gave her a dismissive wave. ‘You may go now. But so help me, if Dixon finds out from you we’re coming for him, I’ll…’
‘Throw your dummy over the wall Standing,’ she stressed the last word with knowing tones. ‘I don’t want it.’
With that she was gone. I huffed out a frustrated sigh and continued to lead the group forward. None of us had any real idea as to where we were going, but instinct seemed to drive us… Or at least me forwards. After about ten minutes we approached a large set of old wooden doors. They were built of a thick, dark oak wood and appeared sturdy enough to hold off an entire army, never mind a collection of wannabe demon hunters.
As we drew nearer to the doors another set of tortured moans and screams emanated from the other side. The sound brought us all to a hushed stop. There could be no doubt in mine or any of the others minds that we would find Dixon on the other side of these doors. And no matter how hard I willed myself towards them, I found myself half rooted to the spot.
I glanced around at the others and could tell from their faces they were thinking the same thing as me. We weren’t ready for this. I doubted any of them knew enough about what they were capable of to have any faith in themselves. And as for each other... It was more than obvious now we were all keeping secrets. There was no comradely. No sense of trust. Suspicion lay bare at our feet and our feet were bare. A part of me wished we’d worked this out sooner. Because there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it now.
‘So just how bad is a Marella, really?’ Simon’s voice was little more than a whisper. ‘I mean, I know they make you faint with fear, but…’
‘They’re bad.’ I kept my own voice hushed. ‘Did you really not pick that up from what was being said before?’
‘I picked up that maybe they were a little inhumane, but that doesn’t mean…’
‘Well take it to mean…’ I swallowed hard. ‘According to my father there’s only one thing worse than doing battle with a Marella.’
‘And what’s that?’
‘Doing battle with a Sayu Sen.’
‘And we’re not about to run into one of them any time soon, are we?’
‘God I hope not.’ I edged myself forward with the others and encouraged the others to do the same.
‘But if we were to come face to face with one, what would be the best thing to do?’ I could hear the tension in Simon’s voice.
‘Run.’ I breathed. ‘Run and pray to whatever God you believe in that you can outrun it. The Sayu Sen are relentless.’
‘And unstoppable?’ Pike sounded almost afraid.
‘Impossibly so.’ I bit my lower lip hard. ‘The only way to truly stop a Sayu Sen is to be one.’
My hand came to rest on the large metal hoop door handle on one of the giant doors. I took a tight hold of it and prayed with everything I had in me something would happen to prevent us from having to go in. I couldn’t face a Marella like this. I wasn’t ready. None of us were ready.
‘We could always walk away now.’ Jonnie’s words matched what we all must have been thinking. ‘We could just go back and tell the Doll Maker what we found out, let him deal with this.’
‘You mean, we should be cowards?’ Pike’s voice was so hushed it barely sounded.
‘I think that sounds like a good plan.’ Simon swallowed his own words. ‘Don’t you?’
‘Well we might as well make this a mutual agreement…’ Rachel gave a nervous laugh.
As if in a world of her own Summer placed her own shaking hand on the other door handle and began to pull on it.
‘We’ve come too far to back out now.’ Summer’s voice was surprisingly calm. ‘Jonnie I’m surprised at you. I thought I was supposed to be the squeamish one here.’
Without giving any of us the time to react Summer pulled the door she was pulling all the way open and headed inside. The rest of us shot looks round at each other before following her in. As much as I hated to admit it to myself, Summer’s actions only caused me to become more suspicious of her. It was strange. A part of me wished I could admire her for being the brave one. But she shouldn’t have been the brave one and I couldn’t shake the feeling it left me with.
‘I can’t believe you did that Sum.’ Jonnie hissed as he drew level with her. ‘You never…’
His words were cut off by a shrill scream. There was something about it which told me it was not being made by the same person as the tortured one. For a start it was a lot shriller. And Closer. And definitely… definitely came from one of us…
As the shrillness of the scream echoed through me I made a grab for the person at its epicentre. I couldn’t quite believe who it was I’d taken a hold of until I felt her grip curl back onto mine.
‘It grabbed me.’ Rachel’s voice was as screeching as her scream. ‘Something grabbed me!’
‘I had wondered where that had gotten too.’ A voice sounded out of the shadows blanketing the room. ‘Be a doll and get it down for me, would you? It seems Dixon’s finally found something strong enough to hold me.’
If I hadn’t heard him sound like it before I wouldn’t have known that voice belonged to Obin. It was the same one he’d been using when he’d attacked me before. My stomach turned cold to hear it. There was nothing natural about it. Or at least nothing natural for a fifteen year old boy. I suppressed a shudder and prepared myself for the responsibility of knocking sense back into him.
‘Come on.’ Obin’s voice taunted its way out of the shadows. ‘It won’t get itself down, no matter how hard it tries.’
‘Oh my God, is that an arm?’ Pike sounded almost disgusted.
‘It is.’ Simon made a gagging noise. ‘And is it me or is it actually wiggling?’
Simon’s words caused me to frown as I turned towards them. My eyes were drawn to the arm hanging from a chain I could only imagine was suspended from the ceiling. The paleness of the skin and Obin’s earlier words told me who it belonged to. I felt sick.
‘It’s not moving.’ Jonnie joined the other two boys in examining the chained limb. ‘It can’t be. It’s just movement from the chain making it look that way or something. It has to...’
Jonnie cut his own words off with a sharp gasp as the fingers twitched and clench together of their own accord.
‘And I supposed that’s… what, a muscle spasm?’ Simon backed away. ‘Cuz I didn’t think you could get them on severed limbs.’
As if the arm were capable of sentient thought the fingers began to tap against the chain. I pressed my lips together and prayed this wasn’t some Unrealm Dixon had created from the once great Obin. For a long time none of us moved. We were all too transfixed with the movement of the fingers. Then I took a deep breath in and made the decision to free the arm. Almost as soon as I’d managed to free it, it was ripped out of my hands and flew across the room in the direction of Obin’s voice.
‘Ah, thank you, that feels so much better. Now, could you do be a favour and get the rest of me sorted?’
It was as if Obin had just said the magic words. The room around us flooded with light revealing a sight more disturbing than anything I could have imagined. A shrill scream rested in the back of my own throat as simultaneous ones emanated out of Rachel and Summer. The three guys tightened in around me and the other girls. It was clear they were feeling more than a little defensive. I don’t know what kinds of horror movies any of them had seen, but in my head I couldn’t imagine them coming across a scene like this. I felt my blood turn cold as my eyes took in every level of horror the hall we were in had to offer.
‘Oh come on…’ Obin moaned. ‘Dixon won’t be back for ages and I’ve got a major crick in my neck. Please. Won’t you at least get my head out of this box?’
‘Why did he do this to you?’ I gave a sick swallow as I felt compelled to move towards the clear plastic box drilled into place in the centre of the hall. ‘Why did you let him do this to you?’
‘Because I’m too perfect.’ Obin’s eyes pulled wide with excitement revealing the way the violet tint around the pupil had taken over the whole of the iris. ‘Because he wants to see if I can scar.’
‘And you’re letting him, because…?’
‘He’s Marella.’ Obin laughed. ‘He’s family.’
‘Family…?’ I felt my brain become numb as I refused to acknowledge the meaning of his words. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m Obin Marella.’ The violet in his eyes brightened with the joy of his words. ‘And it feels so good.’
‘But… but you’re Obin Johnson.’ I shook my head. ‘You’re not a Marella. You can’t be a Marella. Why have you let him fill your head with these lies?’
I know I’d known something like this was coming, but my mind still wouldn’t let me believe it. I couldn’t. All I could think or feel was betrayed and hurt by his words. Obin couldn’t be a Marella. He wasn’t allowed to be.
‘But I am Marella.’ Obin grinned at me. ‘Get me out of this and I can prove it to you.’
‘I don’t want you to prove it to me.’ I backed away from him. ‘You can’t be Marella. I won’t let you be Marella.’
‘But I am. By blood and by their design I am Marella.’
‘What’s the matter Jade?’ Obin’s voice edged with an unspoken taunt. ‘Did someone tell you nasty lies about Marella? You know we’re really not all that bad. I mean, I wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for…’
‘I’ve seen how bad Marella are.’ I found myself lashing out at the plastic casing of his head box. ‘Don’t try to tell me they’re not as bad as I’ve heard. Because you’ve no idea what I know about the Marella.’
Fear made me hit the case again harder than I’d meant to. It caused a crack to appear and the violet in Obin’s eyes to brighten further. Within seconds his head ripped its way out of the plastic casing. I only just managed to get out of the way as it flew past me on its journey back towards the main body. I gasped as I watched the two parts seal themselves back together and my eyes scanned over the faint scar created by the joining.
‘Two down.’ Obin laughed. ‘Now won’t one of you be a doll and help me with the rest?’
‘You know this isn’t right.’ Pike’s voice came out a lot stronger than mine could have at that moment. ‘The way you’re enjoying this, you know that’s not how it’s supposed to work, right?’
In reply Obin gave a manic sounding laugh and his head ticking in that annoying way it did sometimes. As annoying as it was I’d always considered his tick to be endearing. I mean it was almost cute in a funny kind of way. But there was nothing cute about it right now. Now everything Obin did was just disturbing. I turned my head away from him. I couldn’t stand to see him like this and if I could have block my ears I would have. The sound he was making and the way he was talking was just…
‘Stop it!’ Summer screamed at him. ‘This isn’t right!’
Her words made the laughter worse. It didn’t take a genius to work out Obin was doing it on purpose. Anger coursed through me. I couldn’t stand what he was becoming. Things weren’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t fair.
‘For fuck sake Akamarella shut up!’
I’m not a great lover of the F word so it’s not often I feel the need to use it. For it to come out of me in such a manner on its own should have had a huge impact. But instinct told me it was not the word everyone else would be focused on. I pulled my fingers against my lips and wished I’d kept my mouth shut.
Obin managed to shuffle himself around to face me. The serious expression on his face and in his eyes told me he could see something… more than something in my eyes. Or rather in me. I could feel him staring right into me, assessing me like he had so many times before. Only… only now it was different. Now he was really seeing me for the first time and he…
‘You’re really are something special, aren’t you Jade?’ Obin’s voice toned with a level of cruelty. ‘I’d always suspected you were, but I thought maybe… maybe I wanting to see something that wasn’t there. But I can see it all so clearly now.’ He glanced back towards the others. ‘I never realised how much more I could see with these eyes. None of you are what you should be and on some level you all know it. That’s why you were all so slow. Because you didn’t want the others to suspect you weren’t what you said you were.’
‘Obin…?’ My voice was dry as his gaze flicked back towards me.
‘You called me Akamarella.’ Obin smirked. ‘Akamarella is such an old word. There’s only one kind of being who would still use it. Who would still know what it meant. You’re Giyan.’ His head gave a sharp tick. ‘Aren’t you?’
Almost as soon as Obin had said the words his chained up body parts strained at their metal leashes to get back to him. It was as if the thought of me concealing something like that from him was enough to make him stronger. Or worse… angry.
I took a deep breath in and tried to hold his gaze. There was something about Obin I knew for certain wasn’t natural and I wasn’t just thinking about the ten degrees of separation he had from most of his body parts. Rebecca had called him a doll. There weren’t many different breeds who could go back that translation. On our first night’s hunt together when Obin had spoken of the dangerous kind of dolls I knew exactly which type he’d meant. I had played along with his expectations then because his fear of them seemed genuine. Now I wasn’t so sure.
Around me the body parts strained with more aggression against their chains. I could hear the creaking of the metal and the crumbling of the brickwork as each part pulled to free itself. I swallowed hard and tried to ignore feeling as though all my worst fears were about to come to life.
‘Huh?’ Obin sounded strangely amused. ‘I guess Dixon didn’t find a way to keep me apart after all.’
Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth one of the chains ripped itself off of the wall it was bolted too. It dragged a fair amount of flagstone with it as it flew across the room in Obin’s direction. A spark of fear spiked through me and instinct caused me to duck.
I’d barely managed to hit the ground when several other loud cracks riveted throughout the room. I wanted to tell the others to get down, but a combination of overwhelming fear and the sense they would have to be stupid to still be standing at a time like this prevented me. There were several more aggressive noises as bits of rubble crashed against the ground. The silence which followed was deafening. A part of me longed for it to come to an end but when it did I wished it hadn’t. Obin’s laughter was worse than any silence could have been.
I glanced up towards him. He was once again in one piece. Most of his body was still trapped in chains, the ends of which were now attached to what was left of their holding place. I could feel my heart breaking in my chest. Obin was nothing like the boy I thought he was. He wasn’t the motherless child in need of some protection. And yet at the same time he was everything I knew he was supposed to be. Obin was strong, powerful and self-assured on a level well beyond his years. That was what made him a good Demon Hunter, but it wasn’t supposed to turn him into this.
I pushed myself up onto my trembling knees and wished things could be simple. But they weren’t. I was certain now I knew Obin’s secret. Or at least the secret he’d been trying so hard to keep from me. But his secret on its own wasn’t enough to turn Obin into this. Something in me was convinced with absolute certainty the Obin we were dealing with was the one Dixon had turned him into. I felt sick to the stomach. How powerful would Dixon need to be in order to turn Obin into his plaything? This wasn’t right.
‘You look shocked Jade.’ Obin’s vividly violet eyes held mine with a strange kind of power. ‘You should know you can’t break a doll that easily.’
I remained silent, breaking my gaze from him only long enough to assess the others. From what I could tell most of them were moving now. I turned my attention back towards Obin. It was important to keep his focus on me. The others could sort themselves and each other out. They would have to because there was no way I was going to let them face this Obin. I was the only one who understood what he was so he was my responsibility.
‘I’ve come to take you home.’ I knew it was a long shot but a part of me hoped he’d be able to think more clearly now he was in one piece.
‘Home?’ Obin mocked the word. ‘Back to my Step-Father you mean?’
‘Yes.’ I nodded. ‘He’s worried about you.’
‘Are you sure he’s not just worried about what I’ll do now that I’m back with my family?’
‘He doesn’t know Dixon is your family. He thinks… he thinks you’re infatuated with him. And that Dixon is using that infatuation to manipulate you.’
‘Dixon wouldn’t manipulate me.’ It was clear Obin was insulted by the thought. ‘He loves me.’
‘Dixon is a Marella and a Daynasen. I’m not so sure he’s even capable of love.’
‘What would you know about either Giyan?’ Obin glared. ‘You talk like an Aria.’
‘And what exactly is wrong with talking like an Aria?’ I kept my voice level. ‘My mother is an Aria.’
‘Then no wonder you’re so ignorant.’ He curled his lip up at me. ‘Aria are notorious for demonising the Marella. And the Drayos too when they can find the time. The Aria think they’re the innocent little victims in the story of Giya. But there’s no such thing as an innocent Giyan, just Giyan’s with different degrees of guilt.’
‘I may not argue with you there.’ I held his gaze. ‘But my father is part Drayos, so maybe you should withdraw your claws before you accuse all Aria of being bias.’
‘You think you can impress me that easily?’ A fluttering in his right hand alerted me to the Manifestation of one of his weapons. ‘Okay so you’re at least a quarter Drayos, that still makes three parts of you Aria and…’
‘Actually I’m only half Aria. I’m quarter Narnic too.’
Everything in Obin hesitated. I could see from the look on his face he was more than a little unnerved by the thought of me being part Narnic. I wasn’t stupid. I knew why he was hesitating and it had nothing to do with fear.
‘If you’re trying to be funny it’s not working.’ Obin’s face was so sour a lemon would have had trouble pulling at it. ‘I know what you’re trying to tell me here. I know who you’re trying to tell me you are. But you can’t be that person and be older than me. It doesn’t work like that.’
‘Well then maybe you don’t know as much as you think.’ I shrugged. ‘Or maybe the information you’ve been told is wrong.’
‘Or maybe you’re the one who’s lying.’ Obin glowered at me. ‘You’ve probably heard the same stories I’ve heard. They were probably told from a different point of view since you’re Aria scum, but that’s neither here nor there. When it comes down to it you still know what I know about him. But knowing doesn’t make you related. Not at your age. That’s just impossible.’
‘I am Giyan.’ I pulled myself up with pride. ‘Nothing is impossible. You of all people should know that. Especially since you’re a Marella.’
‘I am more than just a Marella.’ He held up the axe he’d Manifested and his violet eyes glowed with rage. ‘Or hadn’t you worked that out yet?’
‘I can tell you’re from a very mongrelled line.’ I smirked. ‘But everyone knows that Giyan blood is Giyan blood no matter how thinly it runs through your veins. So you are a Marella first and everything else after. You are Giyan just like I am.’
‘You would insult me by calling me Giyan?’
‘You claim to be Marella, don’t you?’ I tried to keep calm as I became more than aware of just how dangerous the axe Obin was swinging at me was. ‘You can’t claim to be Marella and not call yourself Giyan. It just doesn’t work like that.’
‘It’ll work any damn way I want it too.’ Obin swung his axe at me, his rage setting his aim off just enough for me to be able to dodge it easily. ‘This is not your game Aria, so stop trying to play it.’
‘You are a child of evil Obin.’ I managed to dodge several more blows, before getting in behind him and backing my way up towards where the others were gathering the wounded to leave. ‘But that doesn’t mean you have to be evil.’
‘Don’t be so naïve.’ He shook his head. ‘You can’t change what you are no matter how hard you try. Take yourself for example. No matter how hard you try to be Standing, you will always be Giyan in the end. And I will kill you.’
‘You can’t kill me if you can’t find me.’ I took a deep breath and focused on the pool of time surrounding him.
‘Like you could hide from me…’ As Obin spoke his words became slower and slower, like a tape player running out of battery in the middle of a sentence until it eventually came to a stop.
‘What’s happened to him?’ Jonnie shot me a look as I helped him with Simon’s unconscious body.
‘He’s frozen in time.’ I glanced back towards the Obin statue I’d created, my heart feeling more than a little sore for doing what I’d done.
‘How long will he stay like that?’
‘Until I’m out of range.’ I adjusted the position I was using to hold Simon and indicated that we should start moving. ‘Come on; let’s go before someone finds him like this.’
‘We’ll save him later.’ I shook my head. ‘Right now, we have to get somewhere safe.’
It took us a while but we managed to get back to the Doll Shop without any further incident. Once inside Jonnie helped me place Simon’s half limp body down onto the couch and we both breathed a mutual sigh of exhaustion. I then took a moment to examine the others. None of them had managed to escape unscathed although for the most part the damage was minor. As if they’d been waiting for this moment of calm a rippling sting from my arms drew my attention down towards them. I hadn’t noticed before, but my teammates weren’t the only ones to have been injured during Obin’s re-assibilation.
I winced as I opened and closed my hands a few times, trying to shake of the razor like sensation burning along my arms. I knew from experience Giyans either had abnormally fast or tediously slow rates of healing. And you don’t get to pick which you’re born with. I’d been unfortunate enough to inherit my father’s healing time, so I knew without a shadow of a doubt it would take weeks for even the smallest scratch to show any signs of recovery.
A frustrated sigh pushed its way out of me and I glanced back round at the others. With the exception of Simon I wouldn’t have classed any of them as being seriously injured, although a few of them were bleeding in places. I thought about my own healing time and tried to draw comparisons with the others. I knew now none of them were Standing even if I wasn’t sure what any of them really were. And since the Standing had the slowest recovery rate of all mortal breeds I knew the others would recover before long I would. But then even if they were Standing they would recover before I would so it didn’t make a whole lot of difference.
My focus turned towards Simon. He was the only one of us with any serious kind of injury. How long it would take for our group to move out again would depend on how long it took for him to recover. I was still determined to save Obin and nothing, not even the thought Simon might be comatosed, would stop me.
‘Should we get someone to look at him?’ Summer switched her attention from her own injuries to the unconscious Simon. ‘I mean, he was hit pretty hard.’
‘Yeah, but he’s got a hard head.’ Pike rolled his eyes in an almost dismissive manner. ‘If it had hit any of us like that then we would be dead. Or at least gushing a whole lot of blood. Or am I the only one to notice there’s barely even a scratch on him.’
Summer gave a light sounding laugh and gently pushed some of the annoying fluffy blond hair back from Simon’s forehead. Pike was right, if Simon wasn’t unconscious you wouldn’t know anything was wrong with him.
‘I wonder what he is.’ Summer’s face pulled into an almost cheeky expression.
‘What, your amazing power of insight not working?’ Pike’s voice rolled with sarcasm. ‘Can’t you just voodoo read the vibes he’s giving off and tell us what he is or something?’
‘He’s not as easy to read as some people.’ She shot Pike a knowing look. ‘Just how many names does one person need to have Robert James Montgomery Smith?’
‘You become more and more annoying every time you do that.’
‘Don’t you mean more and more accurate?’
‘Isn’t that what I said?’ Pike cocked an eyebrow. ‘And Robert James Montgomery Smith isn’t my real name.’
‘But it is the one you’ve used for most of your life.’ Summer’s confidence was growing. ‘Proportionately I mean.’
‘Robert James Montgomery Smith, huh?’ I couldn’t help but smirk. ‘I can see now why you wanted to change your name. I mean, the Robert James part isn’t too bad, but Montgomery? Just what century were your parents living in?’
‘I used to think it was cool.’ Pike scowled. ‘Well not cool, but... there were a lot of Roberts and James around so... I liked being called Monty. Monty made me different.’
‘But your got bored of it and decided Pike was cooler?’
‘That’s not it.’
‘Oh come on. You’re rebelling against your childhood or your parents or whatever, decided you didn’t want to be Monty anymore and used the first word which came into your head to form the worst nickname ever.’
‘It is not a nickname.’ Pike’s tone tightened. ‘Pike is my real name.’
‘My mother rechristened me Robert James Montgomery Smith when she married my Step-Father.’ Pike shifted his gaze away from me. ‘I was barely five at the time and it didn’t take long for memories of being called Pike to become… easily passed off by mother as childish imagination. She didn’t want me to know where I’d really come from. I guess she was ashamed.’
‘And when you found out you started to rebel against everything she’d turned you into?’
‘Starting with taking back my real name.’ He puffed his chest out. ‘Pike MacTay.’
For a moment I found myself studying Pike with intense curiosity. I knew my parents had mentioned something about the MacTay to me when I was a kid and how they were in the same classification group as Giyans… more or less. But beyond that…
‘And none of you have even heard of them.’ Pike’s face reflected a look of pure distain. ‘I guess that’s why my mother chose this Realm. Because she couldn’t get further away from the clan she wished she’d never joined.’
‘When did you find out you weren’t Standing?’
‘About three years ago when my real father showed up.’ Pike gave a heavy sigh. ‘Apparently he’d been searching for me for a long time, but with my Step-Father’s job taking us all over the place… It was convenient excuse… or not, I guess, depending on how you look at it.’
‘You doubt your father was searching for you?’ I frowned at him, knowing how far parental bonds could be strained at the best of times.
‘I don’t know. I want to believe he was searching for me, but when it came down to it he was just as eager to turn me into a carbon copy of himself as my mother was to make sure I wasn’t. I just feel torn whenever I think about it. I can’t agree with my father’s lifestyle. But at the same time I felt more at home with him than I ever did with my Mum.’
‘So why aren’t you living with him them?’ There was something strange about Rachel’s tone. ‘I mean, I know I’d jump at the chance to live with either of my real parents if I could.’
‘You’re adopted?’ I flicked my gaze towards her.
‘I’m an orphan.’ She twisted her face into a disdainful expression. ‘My Mum died in childbirth and my Dad drunk himself to death when I was seven. My aunt looked after me till I was old enough to move out on my own. But it was kinda strained. She already had five kids to contend with. I never felt wanted.’
‘Better than people placing expectations on you all the time.’ Pike made a face of his own. ‘I mean, I hated being trapped in the middle like that. I hated my mother for lying to me and I could never get over the feeling my father had… abandoned me. And even if he didn’t I still find myself at odds with his culture. It’s just...’
‘Too far removed from the one you know.’ A sad smile twitched at my lips. ‘My father had similar issues when he found out who he really was. Not that his parents lied to him. I don’t think they ever knew. You see my father was a Sethsen…’ I hesitated. ‘A Changeling.’
‘Were you expecting that to make more sense?’ Pike cocked an eyebrow at me. ‘Cuz you might as well have stuck with Sethsen for what it was worth.’
‘A Changeling is someone who’s been… exchanged at birth for someone or something else. It’s… kind of like a Giyan tradition, in order to maintain the fifth house.’
‘Okay…’ I could tell by the look of his face he was neither impressed nor completely sure what I was on about. ‘I guess the MacTay aren’t the only ones with strange ways.’
‘Better strange ways then a family history like mine.’ Rachel’s voice darkened.
‘What, two dead parents?’
‘Oh no.’ She shook her head. ‘That’s not even the half of it. I sometimes wish it was. Maybe then things would be easy.’
‘I want to start off by saying I have no idea what I am.’ Rachel took a seat on one of the breakfast bar stools. ‘I have not gone out of my way to deceive any of you by pretending to be Standing. Until I discovered I even had any Power of my own I honestly believed I was Standing. To a degree I still think I am. Whatever this Plexes thing that Vamp accused me of being is…’ She gave a vacant shrug.
‘Don’t worry, we all believe you on that score.’ I met her gaze. ‘Although I think it’s fair to say we’ve all been keeping secrets.’
‘Well yes.’ Rachel lowered her gaze. ‘I won’t argue with you there. I did conceal the fact I had Powers after I discovered them. And there are secrets in my family which run so deep I had to find them out for myself… on my own.’
‘What secrets exactly?’ Pike frowned.
‘I think I mentioned before that my mother died in childbirth, right?’ She pressed her lips together.
‘Well my mother was an only child, her mother died in childbirth… unmarried. My mother was put up for adoption and by the time she found any of that out… I’d been conceived.’ Rachel gave a nervous cough.
‘And that was a bad thing?’ Jonnie managed to be more concerned and sympathetic than any of the rest of us would have been.
‘For her it was. See there’s this… pattern. I don’t know, maybe it’s a curse.’ Rachel turned her head away from us. ‘See my grandmother was also an only child whose mother died in childbirth and her mother was an only child whose mother died in child birth and hers… Well it goes back for a long time. I probably could have traced the trend all the way back to the beginning of time if the records office went back that far.’
‘Oh so that’s why you’re not pushing the pram yet. You’re too afraid you’re gonna kick the bucket’ Pike smirked.
‘This isn’t a joke.’ Rachel glared. ‘These women really lived and died in childbirth. All of them. No matter what they did to prevent it. I mean some of them even went out of their way to not get pregnant to the point where some of them became nuns and still… I don’t know whether it was through rape or divine intervention or what, but they all ended the same way.’
‘Dead in childbirth.’ I bit my lip hard, feeling more than a little anxious about where this story might be heading.
‘When the Doll Maker offered me the chance to fight Demons, I took it up under the resolve I would somehow break the chain. That I would be able to die before I got pregnant and avoid inflicting this… hex on the next generation. I mean, I don’t want to die, but…’
‘I understand,’ I cut her off. ‘But if no one before you has managed to break the chain, what makes you think you’ll be able to?’
For a few long minutes Rachel was silent, her eyes studied the ground below her with a thoughtful kind of interest. I got the sense whatever it was she was about to say next had never been heard by anyone else before now. In the exact same heartbeat I felt both privileged and unnaturally worried by that thought.
‘I don’t know how long it was after my mother died before my father turned to drink.’ Rachel’s voice was filled with careful tones. ‘My aunt has always implied it was my fault somehow… so I guess I must have kept him awake too much as a baby.’
‘Or just lived as a constant reminder to him of how your mother died.’ Jonnie shot her a sympathetic smile.
The look Rachel returned implied she was more than aware of that possibility. Jonnie’s expression crumpled with guilt and after a nervous cough he turned his gaze away.
‘I don’t remember much about my father apart from him being incoherent almost all of the time. Before I was sent to live with my aunt I’m pretty certain I must have brought myself up.’ Rachel sighed. ‘God only knows how. But there is this one really clear memory in my mind. I must have been about six at the most. I’m not sure. I just know it was shortly before my father died. And I’ve never been able to forget it.’
‘What is it?’ Pike prompted after she’d fallen silent again.
‘It was late.’ Her voice was hesitant. ‘Or at least it was dark out. And I think there must have been one hell of a storm going on, because it had been keeping me awake.’ Rachel pressed her lips together again and her face became drawn. ‘I was scared, so I’d gone to find my father for a little comfort. I knew he wouldn’t give it to me, but... I was a little girl. I still wanted to believe in my Daddy.’ She gave a sad laugh. ‘I can remember reaching the top of the stairs and seeing my father stood in front of the open front door with this dark figure looming in out of the rain. Then the figure stepped into the light and his face was… terrifying…’
‘Terrifying?’ I frowned, not meaning to interrupt but it sounded like such a strange word to use.
‘I don’t know how to explain it.’ Rachel’s gaze sparked up to meet with mine. ‘He was human looking, but there was something about him. Something which made my blood freeze in my veins.’
‘And your father just let him in?’ Pike cocked an eyebrow.
‘My father knew who he was.’ Her voice edged with excited agitation. ‘And he was terrified enough of him to become the most coherent I ever remember seeing him.’
‘What did your father say?’
‘He asked the stranger what he was doing here and the guy began to talk in such a low voice I could barely make out what he was saying. I just remember hearing odd words like Demon and curse. And how there were only two ways to break the chain. I remember my father becoming enraged to the point where he almost became violent against the guy. My father wanted him to leave, but that’s when they noticed I was watching them.’
‘What did they do?’ Summer’s voice was almost too soft, as though she knew or at least suspected what was coming next.
‘The stranger smiled at me and his eyes seemed to laugh. I got the sense he wanted me and not in any kind of good way. The look between us must have only lasted half a second, but it felt like an eternity. Then my father angrily shoved the stranger out of the door screaming at him never to come back and swearing I’d be the one to find the other way to break the chain. I’d never seen him so sober.’
‘I’m sorry.’ The apology came out of me without thought.
‘After the guy had left my father came up to me, picked me up and carried me back into my room. He was so gentle. I knew then that in his own way he loved me more than anything. That I wasn’t the reason he was the way he was. He put me to bed and promised me things would get better. That they had to, because I was the link that would break the chain. But things didn’t get better, because he died and I had to go live with people who resented me for even existing.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I repeated, lost for anything else to say. ‘I guess that’s pretty harsh.’
‘Even I’d admit to that.’ Pike chewed his lower lip. ‘And I really hate to say it Rachel, but I can see now why you’ve turned out the way you have.’
‘I’m more complex than you think.’ Rachel gave a strange half smile. ‘I created a self to fit in with those who hated me. And it was hard after I left home to know who else to be.’
‘How about Rachel, Doll Maker by day, Demon hunter by night?’ He smirked, before suppressing the amused expression on his face. ‘God I’m starting to sound like Simon.’
‘Which brings us back to how this conversation began.’ Summer’s eyes lit up with excitement. ‘What is Simon?’ Her fingers began to lift the baggy material of Simon’s oversized t-shirt.
‘What are you doing?’ I frowned at her.
‘I don’t know.’ Summer grinned. ‘But I want to find out…’
Before Summer had the chance to tug his shirt up past the tops of his jeans, I slapped a hand on her wrist and pulled her away. Summer’s eyes flickered with a look crossed between excitement and curiosity. She’d wanted me to stop her or at least she knew that I would.
‘In case you hadn’t noticed Summer he’s unconscious right now.’ I filled my voice with as serious a tone as I could manage. ‘I don’t care what you think lifting up his shirt will reveal, if he’s not able to explain himself it’s not fair.’ I glanced between her and her brother. ‘And anyway, it’s your turn first.’
‘We’re a mortal breed, that much we’re sure of.’ Jonnie shot his sister a discouraging look as she grinned with amusement. ‘And we come from a long line of circus entertainers.’
‘Is that another way of saying your parents were part of some travelling side show?’ Pike smirked.
‘No.’ Summer’s face twisted into an almost impudent expression. ‘Our father was a trapeze artist until a fairly serious injury caused him to develop acrophobia.’
‘He’s now so terrified of heights we have to live in a bungalow.’ Jonnie sighed. ‘It wasn’t the only reason our parents left the circus life, but it was one of the major ones.’
‘Our mother was from the Cabinini Circus’s fortune teller family. Generations of her line had belonged with the travelling show. So when our Mum decided she wanted to be a seamstress instead there was… unpleasantness.’
‘We still don’t see either set of grandparents very often.’ Jonnie shrugged. ‘But there isn’t as much tension now as there used to be. They’ve kind of… accepted our parents’ decision to leave, I guess.’
‘But that doesn’t mean we haven’t inherited our mother’s psychic gift.’ Summer grinned at her brother.
‘It works a little differently to how anyone else in our family can use it.’ Jonnie’s face twisted with a doubt. ‘And it doesn’t work unless we’re together and in tune.’
‘Hence all the new age energy mumbo jumbo crap?’ Pike cocked an eyebrow.
‘Grandma Mavis taught us about that.’ He pressed his lips together. ‘And it seems to work, even if it is a little… imprecise sometimes.’
‘What he means is I’m the one who gets the visions and insights and he acts more like some kind of psychic divining rod.’ Summer flicked some of her hair back from her face.
‘I guess that means the balance of power in your relationship is the reverse of what I thought.’ I frowned.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘I’ve always seen Jonnie as the dominant twin, but now…’
‘But, I am the dominant twin,’ Jonnie cut me off. ‘She might be the one who has the visions, but if I wasn’t around she’d wouldn’t be able to sense a thing. She needs me a lot more than I need her.’
Something about the way he said that made a strange kind of suspicion sting through me. I’d always known the twins were close, but I’d never thought of them as being…
‘So you know about us now,’ Summer interrupted my train of thoughts. ‘So can we …’ She made another grab for the bottom of Simon’s t-shirt.
Without warning Simon began to stir. Summer pulled back and the look of relief on Jonnie’s face said more than it probably meant to. I didn’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to watch a sibling of mine acting the way she had been either.
‘Welcome back to the world of the living.’ Pike grinned as Simon’s eyes fluttered open.
‘My head.’ Simon groaned and reached a hand towards his forehead. ‘What hit me?’
‘Something heavy.’ The younger boy smirked with great amusement. ‘Knocked half your brains out, terrible mess everywhere.’
‘Don’t lie.’ Simon closed his eyes and kept his hands pressed against his forehead. ‘There are metals with a lower breaking thresh hold then my head.’
‘About that.’ Summer leant in towards him. ‘What are you?’
Simon’s eyes bolted open. He stared up at her, then round at the rest of us. There was something calm about Simon’s expression but at the same time I could tell he had his suspicions. After a moment of studying our gazes he gave a hard swallow.
‘Look, I can explain about the scales and the tail.’ Simon pulled himself into a defensive sitting position. ‘I mean, it might not make sense now, cuz you’ve only seen them and…’
‘Scales and a tail?’ Pike interrupted him. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’
‘You mean you didn’t look?’
‘Look at what exactly?’
Simon hesitated for a long couple of moments. Then his eyes met with Pike’s and shifting in confusion over to Summer.
‘You asked me what I was; I presumed you saw my… not so human bits.’
‘Much to psychic girl’s disappointment we’ve not had a chance to look under your shirt yet.’ Rachel folded her arms. ‘We decided everyone else should fess up first.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘She means that she’s cursed, I’m MacTay, Jade’s Giyan and the twins are circus freaks…’
‘Hey.’ The twins glared at Pike.
‘Okay, fine, the twins are some kind of psychic conduit who are descended from circus performers. But my point still remains. None of us are quote normal humans. So we just wanted to know what you are… scaly.’
Simon gave a heavy sigh and got to his feet. He then lifted up his baggy t-shirt up in order to reveal a stomach covered in reptilian scales. The scales towards his outer stomach were toned more green and they got whiter the closer they moved towards his middle. Simon turned to reveal the greener scales went halfway along his back too, but the area running down his spinal cord was normal human looking flesh. He lowered his shirt and pouting for a moment.
‘I really wish I didn’t have to do this.’ Simon reached for something behind him and pulled out a lion-like tail.
‘I didn’t know big cats were part of the reptile family.’ Pike cocked an eyebrow at him. ‘And here I was thinking the twins belong in some circus side show.’
‘Watch it.’ He glared. ‘I can assure you my bite is much worse than my bark.’
‘And for some strange reason I believe you.’ The smile on Pike’s face was more than crooked. ‘But what I’m sure we’re all waiting for is an explanation.’
‘Jade?’ Simon’s eyes focused on me. ‘Where were you born?’
‘Giya.’ I tilted my head. ‘It was the only safe place at the time.’
‘So you understand the concept of other worlds and realities then?’
‘Probably better than I do.’ Pike rolled his eyes. ‘Technically I’m not native to this reality either.’
‘And nor is my grandmother.’ Simon pressed his lips together. ‘She came here to escape a fate worse than slavery and in doing so created one hell of a family secret.’
‘That you’re some kind of alien from the fifth dimension?’ Rachel’s expression said more than her words ever could.
‘Not exactly no.’ He pulled a strange face. ‘She is one third human. She was just also one third reptile and one third big cat.’
‘She’s a Tri-Bred. The kind which they now refer to now as First Gen. It means that along with all this lovely human DNA I share with the rest of you I am also part reptile and part big cat. I know it’s probably weird for you guys, but in the reality my grandmother’s from... Well she wouldn’t be the only one. And there are weirder combinations.’ His eyes lifted to meet with Jonnie’s. ‘I hope you don’t think less of me for it. I might be part animal, but I am all man.’
‘Just how of you hybrids are in this reality?’ Pike examined Simon as he lowered himself down onto one of the empty breakfast bar stools.
‘Not hybrids.’ Simon flicked his gaze towards him. ‘Tri-Breds. And not many. Just my Nan, my mum, her two brothers, my four cousins on my mum’s side, me and my two brothers.’
‘And you’re telling me no one outside of your family knows about this?’
‘None of you knew I was one until now.’ Simon sighed. ‘I don’t have many animal bits. And the parts I do have...’
‘You hide with your ever so baggy clown clothes.’ Rachel rolled her eyes. ‘I should have known you were a freak.’
‘I’m not a freak. At least not in the reality my Nan came from.’
‘Then she should have stayed there.’
‘There are some things worse than being a freak you know.’ Simon glared at her. ‘I’ve been told why she left and everything I need to know about the reality she came from. I may not be normal but I am better off here. Even if it means I have to be really, really careful who sees my body. And I know I can have a quote normal life here.’ His eyes again went towards Jonnie. ‘My family have proven not everyone in this reality is ignorant.’
‘And you’re saying we are?’ Rachel cocked an eyebrow.
‘You’re the one using the term freak way too loosely.’
‘God you’re sensitive for a…’
‘That’s enough Rachel,’ I cut her off. ‘Clearly there are some advantages to his non-human genes. Like his recovery rate.’ I tried to hold back the tone of jealousy I could feel running through me. ‘I shouldn’t have to remind any of you, our withdraw was only temporary. And now we have a better idea of what we’re dealing with we should be able to come up with a decent plan.’
‘You mean now we know what we have at our disposal?’ Jonnie folded his arms as his eyes continued to focus on Simon.
‘It’s all the same, isn’t it?’ I shrugged. ‘It still means we can come up with a better plan than we had before.’
‘You should start by letting Jonnie and I use our Power to monitor what’s going on down there.’ Summer voice was filled with a confident tone.
‘She’s right.’ Her bother nodded. ‘For some reason the energy around us just keeps getting stronger today. And the stronger it is the clearer Summer’s visions are.’
‘Okay agreed.’ I glanced between them. ‘But just make sure you report any major changes back to us.’
‘Naturally.’ Jonnie took a deep breath in as he and Summer moved themselves off into one of the side rooms.
Instinct told me they would focus better on their own so I turned my attention back towards the rest of the group and let the twins get on with it. I examined the other three with deep curiosity. I knew their stories now but I still had no idea what any of them were capable of. If we were going to form a viable plan that had to change.
‘So who or what are the MacTay exactly?’ I focused my attention on Pike first, remembering just how good he’d been with his weapon earlier.
‘Okay, this is going to sound more arrogant than I mean it to, but they’re a warrior clan founded by a small group of Demi-Gods. They’re not from this reality. And most of them are classified as Immortal In Part.’
‘Immortal In Part?’ Simon frowned at him. ‘You mean only parts of them are immortal?’
‘It’s a little more complicated than that. See the Demi-Gods who founded the clan like to bring their followers into the fold, as it were. In order to... procreate. Those they bring into the clan are granted three... Gifts, which are inherited by any off-spring they have.’
‘I wouldn’t be a MacTay if I didn’t.’ Pike gave a stiff nod. ‘In case you’re wondering two of the gifts are Long Life and Youth.’
‘And the third?’ I cocked my eyebrow at him.
‘I’ll get into that in a minute.’
‘Okay, so what exactly can a MacTay do?’
‘You mean in terms of Powers?’ Pike pressed his lips together. ‘If I’m being honest with you and from what I understand of it myself most MacTays don’t boast much in the way of Power. Not in the magical sense anyway. What Power I’ve learnt I do have is so untrained it’s pretty much useless to me. But like I said before MacTay are warriors. They can fight and they’re naturally very good at it. Better than very good. They can use any weapon to its fullest potential from the moment they pick it up. They can fight in any style to a standard most people can only dream of achieving. And they’re driven to constantly get better. To them being an expert isn’t enough.’
‘And you share this naturally ability?’ I frowned.
‘It’s the third Gift. The Gift of the Warrior.’ He pulled a slight face. ‘Of course I only found out I was a MacTay a few years ago so I’m not quite as good as I should be for my age. But that doesn’t mean I won’t improve with time and practice.’
‘Good, because that means you won’t mind leading the fighting.’
‘Alright.’ Pike nodded. ‘You can count on me.’
I smiled at him for a moment before turning my attention towards Simon.
‘So what exactly are the advantages to being part animal?’
‘Strength and agility.’ Simon’s answer was without hesitation. ‘My Nan was bred to have a natural armour plating throughout her entire body, as well as light weight bones to keep her as nimble and flexible as possible. I don’t have a complete armour and the hollow bones are only those which probably don’t need it. But with the training I’ve had from the Doll Maker it’s enough to put me on almost the same level she was bred to be at.’
‘And what was she bred for exactly?’
‘To be expendable.’ Simon’s face soured on the word. ‘Or in other words a foot soldier. She was bred just before the rise in popularity with the Second Gen when those who were creating them still through First Gens could be tamed with a little not so friendly encouragement.’ He paused. ‘I don’t have the natural fighting ability Pike can boast, but I do contain predator DNA. So I have a strong… I’d like to say hunting instinct but I know that won’t come off sounding the way I mean it to. I can defend and attack, but I’m probably not much better than your average lion.’
‘That doesn’t matter.’ I shook my head as a plan began to form itself in my mind. ‘At least now Pike has someone to back him up. Leaving the rest of us free to… try and reach Obin.’
‘What about me?’ Rachel piped up.
‘I was just getting onto you.’ I turned my gaze towards her. ‘Other than making things appear, is there anything else you’ve discovered you can do?’
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘And I’ve already proven the Power I do have is not always completely useful.’
‘Right now I don’t need it to be completely useful. I just need it to be good a good enough decoy.’
‘You mean you’re not going to make me fight?’
‘Not everyone needs to be on the front line.’
‘You’re assuming that Vampire chic will keep the hoards at bay a second time?’
‘No.’ I pressed my lips together. ‘I think she’ll consider our first failure a betrayal. We can’t rely on her again, that’s why we have to be ready to fight this time.’
‘We were ready to fight last time.’
‘But last time no one was being honest about what they could really do.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘We can come up with a plan this time round and one which prevents all of us from being caught in the fray. But first I need to test a theory.’
‘What kind of theory?’
‘Pike.’ I turned my attention towards him. ‘You said your family can use any weapon, right? Does that include Demon Class?’
‘Aren’t Demon Weapons Manifested?’ Simon frowned.
‘Yes they are.’
‘Doesn’t that mean the weapon can only exist in the hands of the person who’s Manifested it?’
‘Something like that, yes.’ I nodded. ‘But I also remember my father telling me something about a group of Non-Demon warriors who could use Demon Class Weapons Manifested by others.’
‘And you think that might be that MacTay?’ Pike cocked an eyebrow.
‘There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?’ I glanced between him and Rachel. ‘So what do you say? Fancy giving it a go?’
Before we could begin our experiment the door to the apartment crashed open. I jumped in alarm and readied myself for whatever intruder was about to enter. I mentally cursed the twins for not warning us danger was coming. What good where they as look outs if they were going to be so far off the ball?
Around me I could sense the other three readying themselves. Something told me they were just as suspicious of the twins at this point as I was. I motioned to Pike, who nodded and drew his weapon. Simon did the same, taking up a lower almost pre-pounce stance. I then gave Rachel a serious of hand gestures even I wasn’t completely sure I understood. She appeared to get exactly what I meant and Manifested what looked like rope and chains into her hands.
That just left me and I knew exactly what I was going to…
‘You’re not planning on using any of that on me, are you?’ Before I could even finish my train of thoughts our intruder revealed himself.
‘James?’ I found myself gawking at him as the others disarmed. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Last I checked Miss Hamilton I lived here.’ He folded his arms. ‘Am I not allowed to arrive unannounced in my own home now?’ James’s eyes surveyed the four of us. ‘Where are the twins?’
‘Divining the underground.’ Pike sheathed his sword. ‘Which apparently doesn’t include monitoring above ground activities.’
‘Or maybe they just didn’t perceive your mentor as a threat.’ James cocked an eyebrow. ‘Or is there something I’m missing here?’
‘Yeah there is actually.’ I narrowed my gaze back on him. ‘What happened to your teammates?’
‘They left at closing time about…’ He checked his watch. ‘Five minutes ago.’
‘Wait, closing time? Weren’t you out searching for Obin?’
‘No.’ James sighed. ‘I wanted to be, but I knew my team weren’t really up for it. None of them really have what it takes to be Demon Hunters. They’re all far too Standing to cope.’
‘Too Standing?’ Simon’s body twitched in almost an animal like way.
When I looked back on my time with Simon I realised this wasn’t the first time I’d seen him move like this. But until now I hadn’t given it any real kind of thought. It felt strange to think about everything he did in a whole new light, but at the same time...
‘I’m assuming by now you’ve discovered the truth about each other.’ James smirked round at us all. ‘I’d be amazed if it hasn’t come up at all yet.’
‘Yes we know.’ I glanced across at the others.
‘Then you understand why I put the six of you together?’
‘I think I’m starting to.’ I folded my arms. ‘We’ve got the warriors.’ I nodded my head towards Pike and Simon. ‘The visionaries.’ My eyes went towards the room the twins were in. ‘And the Power.’ I exchanged a glance with Rachel and she smiled back at me. ‘We’re a completely balanced team.’
‘Yes.’ James let out a strange breath. ‘Almost perfectly so.’ He moved towards one of the side rooms. ‘You know I couldn’t have created a better team if I’d had access to everyone in the world.’ James disappeared into the room for a moment, before remerging with a clothes rack filled with strange looking garments. ‘As soon as I met the six of you I knew I was onto something special.’
‘And so you decided to sew us costumes?’ Pike cocked an eyebrow at him. ‘What do we look like, a circus troop?’
‘I know it might seem a little strange right now.’ James tilted his head. ‘But you have to understand a chance like this doesn’t come along very often.’
‘A chance like what exactly?’
‘An almost perfectly balanced team. I’ve never had that before. And what’s more you have enough respect amongst you to be able to work together. The way you’ve always shown yourself to be a leader.’ James’s eyes met with mine. ‘Or how the rest of you have tried so hard not to stand out too much. Your subtlety and your complimentary abilities… As a group you’re something we mentor types only ever dream about getting our hands on.’
‘And designing stupid little costumes for?’ Pike’s eyebrow remained cocked. ‘Cuz I can tell you now you’re sure as hell not getting me in one.’
‘They’re not as stupid as you think.’ James pulled one down from the rack.
It was made up of a white tunic like top, padded in the way you’d imagine non-metallic medieval armour to be. On the front of the top was the embossed symbol of a golden feather. The second Pike’s eyes spotted the symbol his whole body pulled towards the outfit.
‘Where did you get that?’ Pike reached his arms out for the tunic top and James handed it over.
‘From your father.’ James smirked. ‘When he found out you’d finally made your own path in life he asked me to give that to you. At the time I told him you weren’t quite ready for it, but that I would pass it onto you as soon as I thought you were.’
In complete and utter awe Pike seemed to stumble back towards the couch. He perched himself up on the back of it and studied the feather symbol.
‘My father said this was my birthright, but that I’d have to earn it.’ Pike’s voice sounded strange. ‘The last time I saw him… I knew he loved me, but I felt like I’d failed him.’
‘He never saw you as a failure.’ James threw him a sympathetic look. ‘He just knew you were being pulled between two worlds and no matter how much you might have wanted to find a path in one of them…’
‘I think I understand.’ Pike gave a slow series of nods. ‘And now… I’ve earned this.’
‘This one’s for you.’ James’s gaze flicked up towards Simon, as he pulled down another of the costumes.
This one was tightly cut and more of an off pale grey than a white. It looked lightweight and reminded me of a bodysuit. It was clear it had been designed to work with Simon’s supposed animal-like agile movements.
‘I’ve seen something like that before.’ Simon looked less pleased at his outfit than Pike has been. ‘My grandmother was made to wear something like that. I couldn’t… I can’t wear it. There’s just no way.’
‘I know this is painful for you.’ James pressed his lips together. ‘But if it helps you’re grandmother designed this one for you.’
‘I’ve been in touch with your family.’ He lowered his head. ‘I had to… double check your credentials. You’re grandmother couldn’t be prouder of what you’re choosing to do, although she is a little hurt that you would keep it from her.’
‘I thought she’d hate me for it. She came to this reality to escape violence. I didn’t want her being put through the stress of one of her grandchildren choosing the life I have.’
‘She was escaping from an existence she didn’t choose or want. But you’ve made the decision to protect people. She couldn’t have more respect and pride for you if you had saved her life directly.’
‘And that’s why she designed such an oppressive outfit for me?’
‘Oppressive as it is, it has been designed to work perfectly with your body.’ James tilted his head. ‘Even when she was forced to wear one she understood the necessity of it. That’s why she designed it for you. So here.’ He held it out to Simon. ‘It’s yours.’
‘I’m afraid I was unable to get any collaboration from your family in the designing of your outfits.’ James’s gaze flicked between me and Rachel. ‘Although I’m guessing you two were probably expecting that much.’
‘I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.’ I nodded. ‘All things to do with my existence considered in all.’
‘And it’s not exactly like I have family to collaborate with.’ Rachel twisted her expression with more than a level of distain. ‘Although I am curious as to what you designed for me. Considering I’m the only one here who doesn’t know what they are, therefore…’
‘Is unaware of their own limitations,’ James cut her off as he pulled another of the outfits down from the rack. ‘Fortunately I know enough about you to design this with… everything needed in mind.’
As he spoke my eyes examined the outfit he was now holding. Like Simon’s it leaned towards being off-white. But this time the off colour was more of a pale green or at least it was as far as I could tell. The outfit itself was made up of about four sections, all of which were cut short to one side and long to the other. The layers alternated the short and long sides slanted. And the layers themselves moved from trousers, to skirt, to top, to half cloak.
‘I think I’ve seen something like that before.’ I frowned as I studied the outfit more. ‘On a Morphic Nymph.’
‘Truth be told their designs suited my needs.’ James held the suit away from himself in order to admire it. ‘Nymphs understand body shape and movement in a way the rest of us couldn’t begin to comprehend. I merely followed their designs, but I can’t be sure if it’ll work the way I want it to. At least not completely.’
‘But I don’t have Morphic Abilities.’ Rachel pulled a face. ‘So why would something designed for a Morphic Nymph…’
‘You misunderstand the concept of Morphing.’ James and I somehow managed to out at the exact same moment in time.
I gave a nervous laugh and indicated to James that he could do the explaining.
‘You so understand that you’re able to Manifest, correct?’ James met Rachel’s gaze.
‘Because what I create is a part of me, rather than just Summoned from another point in space and time?’ Rachel frowned.
‘Right.’ He nodded. ‘But there is more than one type of Manifestation. In fact there are quite a few different types, some purely Demonic, others which are within the capacity of Non-Demons although isn’t an inherent guarantee. By which I mean they can use it because they train themselves to use it rather than have it come naturally to them in the way it would for a Demon. Morphic Manifestation is one of them. Although saying that, there are only two breeds who can Morphically Manifest.’
‘And they are…?’
‘The Morphic Nymphs.’ I piped before James had a chance to. ‘And…’ I hesitated when I realised I didn’t actually know what the other one was.
‘And a type of Soul Demon known as a Morphonic Plexesynth.’
‘Plexes?’ All four of us echoed the first part of the last word.
‘Plexesynth is the correct classification for Soul Demons.’ James shot curious looks at all of us. ‘And a Plexes is the correct name for a host vessel.’
‘So I’m a Plexes?’ Rachel eyes flickered as she searched through her own memory for an answer. ‘So when that guy was talking about Demons, he was meaning me…?’
‘You shouldn’t think like that.’ James shook his head. ‘You yourself are not a Demon Rachel. You are nothing more than a host and, from what I can gather, just the latest in a long line of hosts for the particular Morphonic Plexesynth you’re hosting.’
‘So it’s behind my family’s curse?’ Rachel sounded saddened by the thought.
‘No.’ James’s voice became firm. ‘At least not exactly. Admittedly having the Plexesynth in your line hasn’t helped matters, but it is certainly not the reason you’re cursed. Just an unfortunate part of it.’
‘So what is the curse that my family’s under exactly?’ Her gaze lifted to meet with his. ‘And how is the Plexesynth involved in it?’
‘It’s too long a story for right now.’ He sighed again. ‘Please, can we keep a track of what’s important here.’ James held the outfit towards her. ‘This is designed to work with your Morphic Manifestation. You see, the outfit itself becomes a part of your body once you put it on, giving you a reinforced material to draw from when you… create whatever it is you need to create. Well, at least that’s the theory behind it. Whether or not I’ve managed to succeed is something I’m afraid you’re gonna have to find out for yourself.’
Rachel gave a numb nod, before shuffling herself forward in order to take the outfit off of him. She stared down at it for a long time, almost muting the rest of us into silence as she did.
‘This Demon inside of me.’ Rachel’s voice came out as a slow murmur. ‘How aware is it of everything that’s going on?’
‘More aware than you realise.’ James’s face pulled into a tight smile. ‘It’s more a part of you…’
‘Then how come I’ve never noticed its presence. I mean, if there’s something living inside of me surely…’
‘Admittedly most Plexes would notice the presence of their Plexesynth, but unlike most Plexes you were born with your Demon. That makes it so much a part of you, you think and feel alike.’
‘You mean I am the Demon?’
‘And the Demon is you.’ James tilted his head ‘There is no boundary line between where you end and it begins. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t make you demonic. I stand by what I said before Rachel, you are not a Demon. You’re just… an internal conjoined, so to speak.’
Something in Rachel’s face suggested she understood what James was saying on a level she was only just beginning to understand herself. I got the feeling it was probably best to let her mull things over. So I turned my attention back towards James and my eyes almost hopefully towards the rack.
‘So which one’s mine?’
At that James laughed in the soft, almost chuckling way I remembered him doing when I was a kid. That stirred up a number of unsettling feelings in me and I found myself trying to shrug them away.
‘You’re really one of a kind Jade.’ James’s eyes twinkled at me. ‘You’re nothing like any of the other Giyans I’ve ever met and trust me I’ve met a lot of them.’
‘Why does that not surprise me?’ He smirked. ‘Well you certainly have the same kind of all knowing arrogance I’d expect from a daughter of the Aria house.’
I tried to smile back at him, but I could feel my gaze lower. What he thought I was getting at and what I was actually getting at were two completely different things.
‘Don’t worry lil Giyan, you’re going to love what I’ve got for you.’ James’s voice was soft and filled with light teasing tones.
I tried to keep my expression from giving too much away and lifted my gaze back up towards him. James was now holding what appeared to be a long, well shaped robe hued in a pale purple. There was something about it which reminded me of what my mother used to wear when the Council of Giyan…
‘Well?’ James interrupted my train of thoughts. ‘What do you think my little Aria? Are you gonna take this off me or not?’
With a strange kind of numbness about me I did as I was told. I couldn’t say I was entirely thrilled at the concept of wearing this kind of robe. After all there was a lot more to it than just what the Giyan Council members used to wear them for.
My mother had once told me to wear one during peacetime was a sign good fortune was on its way, but to wear one into battle meant the curtain death of someone around you. I had never taken a great deal of comfort in the idea someone around you just meant proximity and included my enemies, because in my head this robe was still a death shroud. I would be putting on a death shroud.
‘I want you four to get changed now.’ James flicked his gaze round at us all. ‘It’ll be dark soon and I’d rather have Obin back with us before tomorrow morning. You can get changed wherever you want.’ He pulled the rack with the remaining two outfits in the direction of the room the twins were in. ‘I’m gonna fill the twins in on what’s going on. I want you changed by the time I get back.’
With that he left the room and the rest of us just stared round at each other with different yet bizarrely interactive looks on our faces.
‘I get to be a MacTay.’ Pike lifted his tunic top up. ‘I mean, really.’ He couldn’t hide the pleasure on his face. ‘I mean, I know I don’t agree with everything they stand for or how their society works, but… I am really one of them.’ He admired the outfit. ‘I belong.’
‘And here was me thinking the one thing you didn’t want from life is to belong.’ I squash my own qualms about my outfit into an off sort of smirk. ‘Weren’t you the one rebelling against everything?’
‘Don’t think you can know everything about me from one conversation.’ Pike shook his head. ‘Even those of us rebelling against life want to belong.’
‘I wasn’t aware that you could rebel against life.’ Rachel sighed as she eyed up her own outfit. ‘But maybe it’s something I should look into, since I apparently have two lives to rebel against.’
‘You and your Soul Demon are kinda like a Giyan and their Synth.’ I smiled at her, feeling the need to make her feel better about herself.
‘You mean Giyans have inner Demons too?’ Simon shot me a curious frown.
‘Synth doesn’t mean Demon.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘It means secondary or additional soul. All Giyans, apart from the Seth, have Synth. And each House’s relationship with their Synths is different. Well…’ I hesitated. ‘Kind of. But we all have the same sense of not really knowing where we end and our Synths begin.’
‘Yes but you still grow up knowing you have one.’ Rachel gave me a funny look. ‘So you know there’s something that’s you, but not you. And you’re able to build a relationship with it, in whatever way you choose.’
‘That’s not always a good thing though.’ I sighed. ‘You see, there is a sense with most Giyans that their Synth is their closest and most expendable friend.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s a Synths job to sacrifice itself in order to save its Giyan should the need arise. And that sacrifice can be for anything, even illness. As such, no Giyan will die with or at the same time as their Synth.’
‘So you basically get two lives for the price of one.’ Simon’s voice toned with envy.
‘Basically, yes.’ I squirmed. ‘But that doesn’t mean…’
‘Who cares what it means,’ Pike cut me off as he began to undress. ‘We’ve got to get changed or didn’t you guys hear a word of what the Doll Maker just said.’
‘We heard him.’ Simon blinked at him. ‘But I don’t remember him saying anything about a strip tease.’
‘Then you shouldn’t watch me undress.’ He shrugged as he pulled the tunic top over his head and began fiddling around with the off white jeans which made up the rest of his outfit. ‘You should instead be getting changed.’
‘You think I want to get into this thing?’ Simon lifted up his outfit. ‘I mean… It doesn’t feel right.’
‘But it does have your grandmother’s approval.’ Pike finished getting changed. ‘And I don’t think we’ll be allowed to go back out there unless you put it on.’
‘This coming from the guy who didn’t want to wear some silly outfit?’ Simon narrowed his gaze on him. ‘You sure changed your tune.’
‘Do you not see the feather.’ He indicated towards the golden symbol. ‘This is my family’s coat of arms, designed to remind us where we’ve come from. To wear it is the greatest honour… I guess I can’t expect you to understand… I don’t fully understand why it means so much myself. But there’s something about it which fills me with…’
‘Pride,’ I finished for him. ‘We all want to feel like we belong.’ I echoed his earlier sentiment.
‘Yes.’ Pike gave an embarrassed smile. ‘Yes that’s it exactly. And... well lets face it. Apart from the colour and the padding this really isn’t that much different to what I was wearing before. But now it’s just more me.’
‘I already feel like I belong.’ Simon folded his arms. ‘And what I belong to has nothing to do with what this outfit represents. I am not a slave!’
‘And none of us think of you like that.’ I shot him a reassuring smile. ‘But I think James is onto something with these.’ I stared down at mine. ‘In my culture something like this is only worn for two reasons and one of them isn’t exactly all that good. But the way it’s been designed… I understand why he’s chosen it.’
At that I took a deep breath and gently placed the outfit down on the couch. I then began to strip my own clothes off.
‘Well when in Rome.’ Rachel shrugged and placed her own outfit on the breakfast bar in order to strip herself.
‘Fine.’ Simon huffed, joining in with the mass changing. ‘But I just want you to know I’m still not happy about it.’
For the next five minutes or so the four of us fell into silence. I reached towards my robe, pulled it over my head and shifted it into the correct position. As I did I caught sight of my reflection in the side of the metal teapot. It was enough to catch my breath, but not for the right reasons.
‘Do you want me to help you do it up?’ Pike offered.
‘What?’ I turned towards him.
‘Do you want me to help you do it up?’ He indicated towards the several layers of loose ribbon and ties.
‘Oh right.’ My face pulled into a weak smile. ‘It has to be done in a certain way, to optimise the flow of light.’ I began pulling at a couple of the ties. ‘But I can talk you through it if you want to help.’
‘Sure.’ Pike grinned as he began pulling at the lower ones. ‘So this is the traditional garb for your kind, huh?’
‘Not exactly.’ I shook my head. ‘It’s used to… harness light.’
‘Harness light?’ He cocked an eyebrow at me. ‘I didn’t realise light needed a harness.’
‘You know that’s not what I mean.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘I am Giyan.’
‘Don’t you know?’ I gave him a strange look.
‘I don’t think any of us do.’ Simon fed his tail through the hole in the back of his outfit. ‘What does light have to do with Giyans?’
At that I couldn’t help but laugh. It wasn’t out of arrogant or anything like that. I’d just always taken it for granted anyone who knew about the different Realms knew about the Giyans. I was so shocked by the revelation I didn’t know if the fault was mine or theirs.
‘You guys know about Giya, right?’ I flicked my gaze between the two males.
‘Yeah.’ Simon nodded. ‘And obviously you’re native to Giya, but that doesn’t mean we get the connection.’
‘Then I guess it doesn’t matter right now.’ I shook my head. ‘But...’ I held up one of the ribbons. ‘I think you will all need to help me with this.’
Even with all four of us working together, it still took us a good five minutes to get all the ribbons and ties correctly done up. Almost as soon as they were static like sparks began to spasm between the material and my body.
‘Ah,’ I couldn’t help but gasp aloud.
‘What’s wrong?’ Simon frowned. ‘Did we do it up wrong or something?’
‘No.’ I rubbed my arms almost automatically, although I couldn’t be quite sure how I thought it would help. ‘It’s just I’ve never been allowed to wear one before. Not done up properly anyway, they take a while to get used to. Or at least that’s what my Mum always used to say.’
‘And what did your Dad have to say about it?’
‘He just said it was another part of Giyan life to have it in for him and refused to wear one.’ As I spoke the static sparks began to die down. ‘But knowing my Dad I doubt he had one on for more than about five minutes.’ I took a few settling breaths inwards. ‘Cuz my Mum’s normally right about these things.’
‘So you’re getting used to it then?’ Simon’s expression soften with relief.
‘Ah yeah.’ I sighed. ‘I guess it must like me.’
Almost as soon as I’d finished speaking James re-emerged from the room the twins were in, leading the pair back out with him. Summer was dressed in a long, gypsy like dress in off-white with hues of pink running through it. Whereas Jonnie looked almost regal in an outfit similar to one you’d expect a pantomime prince to be wearing. It too was an off-white but contained hues of red.
‘I’m guessing you were going with a theme?’ Simon cocked an eyebrow with the first overly amused statement he’d made in a while. ‘Off-white, because it’s not obvious enough we’re the good guys.’
‘It wasn’t actually a planned theme you know.’ James gave Simon an almost scolding look. ‘The sect of the MacTay clan Pike’s father’s from traditionally wear paler colours and off-white is always a good bet when dealing with Giyans. The rest…well it just kinda made sense to stick with the white thing, that way you look more like a team.’
‘Or like one side of a chess board…’ Almost as soon as Simon had said it I could tell he regretted it.
As I was sure the others were too, my brain began making connections between the piece on a chess board and the six of us. Each of us could be squeezed into an appropriate category. And even if the sides weren’t an even fit, they would still just about work.
‘I think I know our strategy now.’ My voice sounded more than a little dry.
‘Oh no.’ Simon’s words came out as a sharp breath. ‘I didn’t mean it. I will not be a pawn.’
‘I know how you feel about it. Well kind of.’ I shot him a sympathetic look. ‘But you said yourself your grandmother was bred to be a foot soldier. And that… that kinda makes you a pawn I’m afraid.’
‘Well if we’re thinking of this as being chess, you’re the bishop.’ Pike folded his arms. ‘You should be the queen. I mean, no one would deny you the role of our leader in this. But somewhere between the way you’re dressed and your so called mysterious connection to the Light… that makes you the bishop.’
‘Well you’re the knight.’ I shrugged back at him. ‘And Rachel’s the rook.’
‘You mean castle.’
‘Hey, hey, hey,’ Rachel interrupted. ‘I can get why you’re calling Pike the knight, but why do I have to be the castle?’
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ Pike rolled his eyes. ‘Your ability to Manifest makes you a walking storeroom. Regardless of whether or not you’re the only one who can use any of the things you create the fact still remains. You’re a castle.’
From the look on Rachel’s face it was clear she could see the logic in the idea. But that didn’t mean she had to like the thought of it.
‘You know this is exactly why I used the word rook.’ I tried to placate her. ‘I don’t think there’s a girl alive who would willingly allow herself to be called a castle. I mean, you sure as hell don’t look like one.’
‘Thanks.’ Rachel gave me a weak smile in a clear appreciation of the effort I’d made. ‘But you both do realise you’ve just left the twins as our king and queen, right?’
For a few moments we were all silent. My gaze turned towards the twins. Even though it was shaped in a gypsy like way the dress Summer was wearing was almost as regal looking as her brother’s outfit. The pair of them standing side by side had a quant, old timely look about them. But it wasn’t just their uniforms which gave them their position on our chess board.
‘I may be more powerful then Summer, but I’m not allowed to rely on that Power.’ I chose my words carefully. ‘Not if I can help it anyway. I made a promise I wouldn’t until the time came when I had to. That limits me. But there is nothing to limit Summer. And since her Power has been honed for longer than yours Rachel, she becomes the most powerful by default.’
‘Oh come on, that one has to be obvious even to Simon.’ Pike folded his arms.
‘Hey.’ Simon glared at him. ‘Are you saying I’m less intelligent then everyone else?’
‘Yes.’ Pike smirked. ‘Yes I am.’
Simon was about to say something back to that, when I raised a hand to silence him. The last thing we needed now was for our petty bickering to get out of hand. I placed my hands together to form a diamond shape between my forefingers and thumbs whilst the rest of my fingers clasped together and tried to look as austere as possible. Don’t ask me why I wanted to look that way, there was just something about the situation which made me feel like playing up to the role I’d been given.
‘Without Jonnie, Summer is powerless. The pair have told us that much themselves. Because of that Jonnie becomes the most important and most limited piece at our disposal. He can fight to defend himself and he’s definitely no weakling, but if we lose him…’
‘We lose Summer.’ Rachel nodded as she took over from me. ‘And if we lose Summer, then we lose the piece determined most powerful… if only by default.’
At her words there was another muted silence, during which the six of us exchanged knowing glances. What we were and what we were about to do had just become all too real for us, but that wasn’t a bad thing.
‘We wanted to run away before.’ Simon smirked almost to himself. ‘But now…’
‘Now we want to run towards the battle.’ Pike pulled himself up to his full height.
‘Now we’re a team,’ I corrected him. ‘Not just a group of people thrown together.’
The smirk on Simon’s face turned into a smile of pride and which spread round the rest of us like wild fire. I’d never felt this kind of bond with anyone before, not even my family. And I couldn’t help but think to myself that Pike was right. There was no better feeling then that of belonging.
‘We have a plan.’ I felt ready to take command. ‘Don’t we?’
‘I believe we do.’ Pike nodded. ‘And its one that will work.’
‘Beware Zombie-Vampires.’ Simon’s voice toned with laughter. ‘We’re coming. The good guys are coming for you and it ain’t gonna be pretty.’
Now as a Temporal Giyan coming from the world I’d come from I’ll be the first to admit my perception of time could be a little askew at the best of times. But as we made our way back towards the Daynasens’ underground layer night closed in around us at a speed none of us would have expected. I got the strange feeling the day was ending too soon though I’d have been at a push to explain why. I didn’t like things getting away from me, especially not time. And yet…
‘Is anyone else at all concerned about the fact there are absolutely no people around?’ Simon’s voice strained to keep itself level. ‘And before any of you point out the fact its after dark on a summer’s day I’d like to add there aren’t even any signs of people being around in their houses.’
‘If I didn’t know what he was getting at I would have just pointed out they could all be sleeping.’ Pike’s also sounded on edge. ‘It’s too still, even for Maio.’
‘I know what you mean.’ Rachel shuddered. ‘It’s like there’s no one around but us.’
‘I wouldn’t be so quick to make assertions like that.’ Rebecca’s voice sounded out of the darkness all around us. ‘You’re not so completely alone. Unless I don’t count of course.’
‘Of course you count.’ I felt myself gritting my teeth. ‘I wouldn’t be able to kill you if you didn’t count.’
‘Now really, if anyone should be giving a hostile reception around here Jade it should be me.’ Rebecca gave an amused laugh. ‘After all, you’re the ones who didn’t hold up to your end of our little bargain.’
Without warning all sense of our surroundings was replaced by the strong feeling of being watched… hunted by hidden eyes in the darkness around us. The group pulled itself together. We knew we could get through this without all of us being drawn into battle. But that didn’t mean each and every one of us wasn’t ready to fight if we had to.
‘You know it really didn’t have to be like this.’ Rebecca sounded more than a little sour. ‘All you had to do was take that brat of a doll with you the first time and you’d have such a free ride now. But no, you had to go and leave him there. And here was me thinking you had a bit of a soft spot for him Jade.’ Several cloaked figures emerged from the shadows. ‘But I guess I was wrong.’
Simon and Pike drew their weapons and took up positions at the front and back of the group. The pair of them knew it was their responsibility to create an opening for the rest of us to slip through and it was clear they were more than ready to do that.
‘Cute outfits by the way.’ Rebecca was dressed in the same trampishly gothic outfit she’d been in when I’d first met her and the stitching on her arm was now more than visible. ‘Where did you get them from, ToysRus?’
‘You surprise me Rebecca. You go out of your way to betray your leader then when we fail you on our first attempt you go and turn your back on us.’ I smirked at her. ‘I thought you were the loyal kind, but I guess I was wrong. I mean, we didn’t betray you, taking Obin back just proved to be a little harder than we thought it would be. Did you realise dolls are pretty stubborn creatures when they want to be.’
‘I wouldn’t know.’ Rebecca cocked her head. ‘I haven’t played with dolls in years.’
‘Really? And here was me thinking you must have only just stopped playing with them last week. I mean, you look so good for your age. Just how old are you?’
‘Flattery won’t get you anywhere.’ The circle of cloaked figures tightened in around us. ‘Because last I checked I wasn’t interested in buying what you’re selling.’
‘And what am I selling exactly?’
Rebecca went to say something then hesitated. It was clear the only response she could think of wasn’t one she was willing to use. Not that I minded too much. I was starting to get a little tired of her banter anyway.
‘You know, I’d actually like to try to rescue Obin again, if you don’t mind.’ I met her gaze.
‘Well I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.’ The cloaked circle tightened again. ‘However much I might want to get rid of the brat Dixon’s given me a direct order and I can’t refuse him.’
‘Can’t or won’t?’
‘Can’t.’ Something in her eyes flickered with fear and I couldn’t help but think back to our earlier encounter.
‘I hate Marella.’ I pulled my crossbow from my back and loading it with an arrow. ‘They always do this kind of thing you know. Or at least all the ones I know about do. They can’t help it. As soon as they get a taste for torturing others they get off on it. And it takes a will of steal to… Stop.’ I aimed the crossbow at her. ‘Stopping you, however, will be quite easy.’
I fired a warning shot at her. It grazed past Rebecca’s left shoulder and hit into the wooden telephone pole behind her. Something about my action made her eyes spark first with admiration and then with excitement.
‘It should have been you he wanted.’ Rebecca took a step towards me. ‘You I could compete with, because you’re so much like me it’s unreal.’
‘I’m nothing like you.’ I glared. ‘Don’t flatter yourself…’
‘I’m not.’ She laughed as the cloak circle once again tightened around us. ‘I’m flattering you. ‘Don’t you get it? I’m the one you should be envious of. And somehow I think visa versa.’
For a few moments she was silent and her face tensed in a strange manner. There was something about Rebecca’s appearance which almost made her look like a rabbit caught in a headlight.
‘I don’t know.’ Rebecca shrugged. ‘I just feel like this is not the right thing to be doing anymore. When it was just Dixon I had to worry about I knew where I stood. But Dixon’s not the only one I should be afraid of.’
‘What do you mean?’ I frowned.
‘You mean Obin, don’t you?’ Summer tiled her head. ‘He’s turning into something dangerous. More than dangerous. And you’re worried soon even Dixon won’t be able to control him.’
‘Dixon can control anyone.’ Rebecca gritted her teeth. ‘No matter how… out of control they might appear. Dixon’s strong, much stronger than any of you could possibly understand.’
‘That’s why you fear and love him in the same breath.’ Summer’s voice filled with strange tones. ‘But Obin is something else entirely. You still want us to help you with him, but you fear the consequences of disobeying Dixon.’
‘Shut up.’ Rebecca spat at her. ‘You’re not being clever with any of this you know.’
‘I wasn’t trying to be.’ She shook her head. ‘But I am right. You can’t deny me that, now can you?’
‘What does any of this matter?’ The tight cloaked circle around us braced itself to fight. ‘We can’t change what’s about to happen. No one can.’
‘That’s not true.’ My voice rose up just above Summer’s. ‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t possible to change things.’
‘Don’t exaggerate your own worth.’ Rebecca rolled her eyes. ‘That can get boring you know.’
‘I’m not exaggerating anything.’ I shook my head. ‘If it wasn’t possible for one person to change the course of history then I’d have never have been born, never mind be here.’
‘Yes really,’ I cut her off. ‘And even if that means I still have to fight you, so be it. But I’m not going to lose. Be sure to remember that.’
‘And what makes you so sure?’
‘Because I haven’t even been born yet.’ I reloaded my crossbow and aimed it at her. ‘So I have no intention of dying now.’
The first move was made by one of the cloaked figures. They launched themselves towards Pike. Seconds later three or four of the others followed suit and before we knew it we were once again doing battle with Zombie-Vampires. I kept my head out of it as much as possible whilst keeping a close eye on Rebecca. Like me she appeared to be keeping herself out of the fray. For a moment I found myself filled with my mother’s kind of intuition.
My guts told me Rebecca didn’t want to be doing this. In my mind I found myself review my previous encounters with her. Rebecca had no problems with what she was. She had no problems with the idea of killing any of us on her own terms. But there was something about her relationship with Dixon or maybe it was Dixon’s relationship with Obin which was giving her second thoughts about everything.
But just because she was having second thoughts didn’t mean she didn’t have a plan to follow. But then so did we. And right at that moment in time my plan involved creating an opportunity for me, Rachel and the twins to slip away. I turned my gaze away from Rebecca for a second and shot a glance towards Summer. She nodded towards me as she spotted the same opening I had. I flicked my attention back towards where Rebecca had been. She was gone. In her places where three or four new hooded figures and something told me more of them were on their way.
‘How big is there nest exactly?’ Pike fended off two attackers.
‘I think we’ll find out if we hang about long enough.’ Simon ducked down to dodge an attack, before launching a brutal one of his own. ‘But at least these things are going down easy enough.’
I gritted my teeth with frustration and took a shot at one of the new arrivals. My aim was getting better and I was able to land a paralysing blow. As they fell to the floor I reloaded my cross bow for another shot and took aim. Before I could fire Rebecca’s image flashed before my eyes. I shook my head and started back from the shock of it. I glanced about for an explanation but there was nothing obvious so I took aim again and fired. This time my aim was a little off. I managed to hit the Zombie-Vampire in one of its no doubt empty eye sockets. The wound didn’t phase the freakish hybrid and I was left with nothing more I could do save reload my crossbow and try again.
It took three or four more shots to get it right. And it was beginning to feel like every time I took aim something would flicker into my vision to distract me. The situation was made worse by the rate at which the Zombie-Vampires kept replenishing their army. No sooner had I taken one out there were two or three more there to replace it. Something in me wanted to scream at the hopelessness of it all. No matter how hard we worked there was just no way we were going to be able to create an opening. I glanced around at the other and could see from their faces they were thinking the same thing I was.
We couldn’t slip a few of us out and we sure as hell couldn’t retreat. There was only one option we had available to us now. We were going to have to take down the whole damn army of them. No matter how big it turned out to be. With this in mind I switched my crossbow for my other weapon of choice. The long sword. As a child I’d been shown images of my grandfather wielding a similar weapon. There was something about it which held strong association with knights and my Narnic blood couldn’t help but feel drawn.
I swung my elegant weapon in a circle next to one of my shoulders. I couldn’t help it. My Narnic blood might have drawn me to the weapon, but I had my mother’s sense of showmanship. Within moments of drawing my sword, I launched myself into an attack against the hybrids. It didn’t take me long to knock three or four of them out for good. These things might have been impossible to conceive, but they had all inherited the weaknesses of both sides.
‘Who’d have thought you could handle a sword?’ Rebecca’s voice grated into me as my weapon clashed down against hers. ‘Unfortunately for you however, so can I.’
‘So that’s why you did your little disappearing act.’ I gritted my teeth as I pushed down against her weapon, trying to force it back towards her. ‘You went to get your little toy.’
‘This is not a toy.’ I could feel her pushing back against me with an equal amount of strength. ‘And unless you’re about to tell me yours is you might want to show a little more respect.’
‘Respect for what exactly?’ I strained against her. ‘I know how long it takes for Daynasen to Manifest anything of real substance.’
‘And that gives it less worth than the real article?’
‘You’re bodies aren’t designed to put as much into your Manifestations as other Demons. Your weapons are weaker and more time consuming to create. That’s why it’s common for your kind not to even bother learning how to Manifest, much less partake in it. So yes.’ I smirked. ‘Your weapon is of less worth. A mere trinket in the face of a genuine article.’
‘Then why are you having to push so hard against me to keep it down?’ Rebecca’s voice strained towards the edges. ‘Surely if my weapon was so inferior to yours it would have broken by now.’
‘Maybe I’ve not put my full strength into this yet.’ I tried to keep my voice from sounding as pressured as hers. ‘Ever think of that?’
‘You won’t convince me of that Giyan. I know you’re not as strong as you’re making yourself out to be. No matter how many Houses you claim to affiliate yourself with, the only House with any real strength is the Marella. Because they’re the only ones with the guts to keep improving themselves.’
‘Improving themselves?’ I could feel my blood start to boil. ‘Is that what you believe? They don’t improve themselves. They breed Power into their lines so that the next generation might just be more powerful than they are. But there’s a major flaw in their plan. They can’t guarantee the Power they’re breeding in will take. And half the time all they really end up doing is creating another of their lower branches. Leaving the rest of us to deal with yet more mentally warped Marella.’
‘They’re not mentally warped.’ Rebecca’s anger was beginning to affect her concentration as I managed to push her weapon closer towards her. ‘They’re geniuses.’
‘You think it takes a genius to create a freak hybrid?’ I couldn’t help but laugh. ‘That’s not genius, that madness. Pure and utter insanity.’
‘It takes a genius to seek perfection.’ Rebecca somehow threw a bit more energy back into her blade and edging it towards me. ‘That’s what akins Vampires and Marella. We both want perfection and that takes genius to create.’
‘A genius neither of you have.’ I refused to let up. ‘If you did then you would have created your perfection by now. And you haven’t. You’re still seeking it.’
‘Such an ignorant little answer from such an ignorant little Giyan.’ Rebecca’s eyes burned with rage. ‘You’ll never be able to understand the truth.’
‘And what truth is that exactly?’ In a quick movement I snapped myself away from her, causing her to stumble forward and allowing me to ready myself for another attack. ‘That each generation get more insane?’
‘Are you calling me insane?’ Rebecca swung her blade at me, her aim off by just enough to crash it into my sword.
‘Well if the shoe fits.’ I smirked. ‘You’re all insane. If you weren’t then you wouldn’t be following a madman like Dixon. Or more to the point, you wouldn’t allow for anything to force his control over you.’
‘Dixon is a great man…’
‘A great man?’ I laughed. ‘If he was such a great man why are you so afraid of him?’
Rebecca didn’t answer my question. Instead she growled in rage and upped the level of her attack. We were no longer trying to see who could push the others sword the furthest. No now we were in a proper duel and loosing was not an option either of us wanted to think about. Around us I got the vague sense things were beginning to calm down. I couldn’t quite place my finger on how or why though, since it took all my concentration to keep Rebecca from getting the upper hand. Not that I could say I was winning this thing exactly. Despite everything Rebecca was proving to be at least as good a swordswoman as I was.
As our swords clashed and chimed against each other, I got a better sense of why the battle around us felt as though it was calming down. There was less noise coming from them than there was from us. Almost to the point where the noise of our clashing swords was the only ringing sound. I could tell by the look in her eyes Rebecca had noticed the same thing I had. I could also tell she was about as willing to find out which side had lost as I was. After all, whichever one of us was on the losing side now had a huge disadvantage even if they were able to win.
A long five minutes dragged past before a couple of odd sounding clinks emanated out of Rebecca’s weapon. It might have been holding up better than I’d anticipated, but it clearly wasn’t without weakness. I tried to keep my blades aimed towards the off key clinking noises and took a few harder swings at her weapon. Under my breath I almost felt myself counting to three, before...
‘Ah.’ The sound Rebecca made as her blade broke in two was painful.
Her eyes rose up to meet with mine as I held the blade of my sword against her throat. I had won and she was now mine for the taking. Everything in me hesitated. I knew it would be better for all of us if I ended her existence now but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kill her and I didn’t know why.
‘I knew you didn’t have what it takes to kill me.’ Rebecca shot me a dirty look as I turned her into my prisoner. ‘You’re own sense of compassion would never allow you to do such a thing. That is your weakness and the one thing that separates everything you are from everything I am.’
‘I don’t want to be like you anyway.’ I allowed my eyes to survey the former battlefield. ‘I could never allow myself to be enslaved to anyone.’
‘I’m not a slave!’
‘Maybe not.’ I shrugged. ‘But I don’t even think you could call yourself a free woman.’
‘You’re just trying to be clever about this, aren’t you?’ Rebecca’s tone was bitter. ‘But you’re not. You’re spineless. Cowardly. And when it comes down to it you know you don’t have what it takes to make a real difference.’
‘Will you just shut the hell up and take a look around.’ I felt like shaking her. ‘Whatever you might think of me, you can’t project the same onto those who follow me. Look around you.’ I indicated towards the bodies littering our battlefield. ‘You lost.’
‘If I lost, then where did your people go?’ Rebecca shook her head.
‘To complete our mission, obviously.’ I pulled her along beside me as I made my way forward. ‘And I think you’ll make for an excellent trophy for them once we have. So let’s get moving.’
‘Oh so Dixon’s not allowed to enslave me, but it’s perfectly acceptable for you to objectify me?’ Rebecca put up more than a slight resistance to being pulled along. ‘Do all you Giyans have to reduce the rest of us to something less worthy? Or is it that you’re just more like him than you’d care to admit.’
‘I am nothing like him.’ I resented the implication. ‘And I was hardly objectifying you.’
‘You called me a trophy.’
‘You were implying I was nothing more than an inanimate object.’ Rebecca continued to struggle, making it difficult for me to press forward. ‘And unless I’m very much mistaking, that’s objectifying.’
‘Actually the way I see it you’re seeing the term trophy as only applying to things which are inanimate. Whereas I was thinking more along the lines of a hunting trophy. That which was once alive and has now been made completely inanimate. So I’m not objectifying you.’ I gave her a hard shove to get her moving again. ‘I’m objectifying your remains.’
‘What makes you so sure I’ll leave any?’
‘This isn’t Buffy.’ I smirked. ‘And if the remains of your kind just disappeared than your friends wouldn’t be lying on the ground back there. Or have been left available for Dixon to turn into… whatever you want to call them.’
‘Well I certainly can’t call them my friends anymore.’ Rebecca pouted as her resistance dropped. ‘You’re little friend Obin is responsible for Dixon feeling the need to turn them into those things you know.’
‘Well I had figured that much out myself.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘After all, if Dixon had been the one to go round killing them to create… that from them, then I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be having this little conversation of ours right now.’
‘I didn’t like it the first time.’ Rebecca’s expression pulled at the thought. ‘I thought Dixon was mad. He said he was doing it for me, because he knew I was close to…’ She cut herself off with a slight laugh and almost dropped into pace beside me. ‘He said he couldn’t stand to see me sad and that I should consider it a gift. But the creature he made wasn’t my friend anymore and I couldn’t stand to even look at it.’
‘So you forced them into cloaks?’
‘I had to.’ Her voice sounded hurt. ‘I mean, you’ve seen them. You’ve seen how they rot… I’m pretty sure Dixon only did that to punish me for being so ungrateful. He thought I should have appreciated what he was willing to do for me. But how could I…?’
‘What I don’t get is why Dixon would have done anything for you to begin with. No offence, but you hardly seem like the most promising candidate for his affections.’
‘And perhaps I shouldn’t be. But Dixon was an orphan and so was I. I think he saw me as being some kind of kindred spirit and his ever present drive to be with… family made him see me as a substitute.’ Rebecca lowered her gaze. ‘Although if this is how the Marella treat family…’
‘It is,’ I cut her off. ‘Or at least from what I’ve heard.’
‘And what have you heard exactly little Giyan?’ She glared at me as though she were expecting to defend herself.
‘That they would be willing to massacre their entire family if they were disagreed with. And one of the ones my father knew did, apart from their siblings who they… pressured by fear into remaining loyal. The siblings… the brothers... committed horrendous crimes in the past but they still managed to live almost good lives for a long while. It’s a shame I can’t say the same thing for their children. I mean I know they say there’s a thin line between genius and madness. But if you were to have met Arnia or Capalla you would probably think the line wasn’t so thin.’
‘If they were truly that terrible I would have heard of them.’ Rebecca rolled her eyes. ‘Everybody would have.’
‘Arnia is currently two and Capalla hasn’t been born yet.’ I sighed. ‘And now that I come to think about it, thank you so very much for paying attention to my earlier statement about not having been born yet.’
‘I did wonder what you meant by that.’ Rebecca pulled a face. ‘Just when are you planning on being born.’
‘I’m not planning anything.’ I shot her a look. ‘I will be born in about fifteen years from now.’
‘Why so long?’
‘Because in thirteen years my parents will find a way of making sure my brother was born without…’ I cut myself off. ‘You know what, that’s none of your business. Just keep moving, alright, that’s all you’re good for right now.’
‘So...?’ Rebecca broke the silence between us. ‘What’s the future like?’
‘Hell.’ I averted my gaze. ‘Or at least it was.’
‘Well, if I do my job right it won’t be.’ I gritted my teeth, really not happy about discussing this with her.
‘You’ve been sent back to change things?’ Rebecca sounded amused. ‘Somebody was actually naïve enough to think that would work?’
‘It will work.’ I tried to appear calmer than I felt.
‘And what exactly makes you so sure of that?’
‘My brother…’ I wasn’t sure I felt comfortable sharing my life story with her. ‘In his timeline our mother died shortly after his birth. My father sent him back in time to spare him from the hell they were in and because he didn’t want to resent him. Almost as soon as my father sent my brother back in time my mother… was no longer dead.’
‘And you were able to be come into existence.’ Rebecca cocked an eyebrow. ‘Yes, I can see how that would make you think it’s possible to change things.’
‘And since I know what it is which needs to be changed I can make more of a difference. Or at least that’s the theory.’
‘And do you think you’ve made any kind of a difference in being here?’
‘I don’t know yet.’ I lowered my head. ‘I won’t know until I… Until after…’
For a few moments I contemplated the consequences of telling her. The reason my brother’s influence on the past had been so great was because no one in the timeline he’d been sent to knew he was from the future and that included him. It was the reason why my parents spent so much time making sure I understood the importance of not allowing corruption of the timeline. And telling too much to a Vamp…
‘It doesn’t matter.’ I shrugged it off. ‘I’m not even sure I know. I mean, I didn’t exactly pay that much attention to my parents whilst I was with them.’
Again I hesitated. Rebecca was asking too many personal questions now and I was feeling pretty uncomfortable with it.
‘Oh come on.’ Something about her face expressed a deep plea. ‘I won’t tell anyone. I mean, my parents died before I could remember anything about them, so I’m more than a little curious as to why anyone would want to rebel against their own.’
Something about her wording made me smirk.
‘From almost the moment I was born they told me they were going to do this to me.’ I shot her a strange look. ‘I understood how important it was, but I didn’t think it was fair. I mean, they should have just cut their losses, brought my brother back and made us one big happy family. But neither of them could just be happy within our safe little haven. They had to fix everything. Or rather, they wanted to get me to do it.’
‘And you call me a slave.’ Rebecca rolled her eyes just as the villa came into view. ‘Sounds to me like you have about as much freedom as I do.’
‘What makes you think that?’
‘Because despite all that time and energy you spent trying to rebel against your parents, you still ended up back in a time you never wanted to be in, trying to do something that… Well you don’t exactly sound enthusiastic about it I must say.’
‘Doesn’t mean I won’t do it.’ I glared at her. ‘I know how important this is to everyone…’
‘Everyone but you?’ Rebecca forced us both to stop.
‘You think I liked living in the middle of eternal hell?’
‘I think you enjoyed your safe little haven and hated the thought you were bred only to… change things.’
‘You can’t even defend what your parents have done to you, can you? Or maybe you don’t really want to defend it.’
‘Are you saying that…?’
‘Just give it up Jade.’ Rebecca’s eyes turned towards the villa. ‘You’re face says more than words ever could. I guess that’s a Giyan’s weakness.’
‘What?’ I couldn’t help but shot her a funny look.
‘No matter how hard Dixon tries, I’ve always been able to read his expressions like an open book. He wears his emotions with a kind of decorum.’
‘I see.’ I nodded as my own gaze turning towards the villa. ‘So… what does he look like exactly?’
‘What? You mean you’ve not got some demonised image of a Marella-Vampire in your head already?’
‘No, not really. I’ve never actually seen a Marella and hearing them described by my parents isn’t really the same.’
‘Tell me something.’ Rebecca titled her head. ‘Before being sent back here had you ever even met anyone other than your parents?’
‘Of course.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘My parents didn’t keep me in isolation you know. They put a great deal of importance on developing my social skills, that was the one thing they did for me I never tried to rebel against.’
‘Are you saying you’re a people person?’
‘Not exactly.’ I squirmed, wishing this conversation was aimed more at her personal life and not mine.
‘Can we not talk about this now?’
‘I don’t see what other time we’ll have to talk about it.’ Rebecca stared at me as though I were going crazy or something. ‘I mean, after we go in there… well we might never have the chance again.’
‘And that’s supposed to be a problem?’
For a few moments Rebecca glared at me. Then her eyes turned back towards the villa and her face took on a solemn look.
‘Things could have been a lot different, you know. If Dixon had never found me…’
‘Well obviously.’ I couldn’t help but roll my eyes again. ‘I’m presuming from what you said earlier he was the one who sired you.’
‘He said family should be together forever and those who create their own family should make it last.’
‘And he created his own family and found a way of making it last.’
Rebecca lifted the arm which had been reattached and gripped it at the wrist with her other hand. She then flexed the fingers and studied the movement with a sad kind of curiosity.
‘In the same act he can be so kind and so cruel. I’ve known that about him for almost as long as I’ve known him. If you’re in his favour then there’s nothing… absolutely nothing in the world which can compare.’
‘And that’s why Obin’s presence is so threatening to you? Because right now he has Dixon’s favour.’
‘I shudder to think what Dixon would do to me if I were to ever fall completely out of his favour. I may have a lot more sense about me than some of the other flunks he’s woven into our… extended family. But as you’ve said yourself, I’m nothing special. Not like him.’
‘You think he’s special?’
‘He’s something else.’ For the first time I got a genuine sense of Rebecca’s conflicting emotions. ‘Something else entirely. I know he can be dangerous. But he’s the only person who ever made me feel worth anything. I can’t leave him. And I don’t want him to leave me.’
We’d stood in silence staring down at the villa for what felt like hours. Something in me didn’t really want to go down there. Not again. I felt more vulnerable now I was without my friends.
Friends. It felt strange to be thinking of them like that. Less than a day ago I’d known very little about them apart from all the ways in which they annoyed me. But it was true. They were my friends now. I had to laugh at myself for not noticing before. I’d spent so long trying not to make any real connections in this time, partly because I knew what was coming and partly because I didn’t wholly want to be here. To think in the space of one short day I’d not only made a connection with my new teammates, I’d also begun to consider them friends... It felt unreal somehow. As though it wasn’t really happening to me.
‘What’s so funny?’ Rebecca folded her arms and tried to act all impatient.
For a moment I could do nothing but smirk at her. I knew her impatience was put on. She no more wanted to make her way down into the villa than I did. Nothing good lay down there for either one of us. We both knew we were doing nothing more than putting off the inevitable.
‘Seriously?’ Rebecca huffed when I still hadn’t answered her question. ‘The way I see it…’
‘I don’t really care how you see it,’ I cut her off. ‘What I was laughing at is none of your business.’
‘Really.’ I prodded her forward.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Rebecca ground her heels into the ground.
‘We have to go in there sometime.’ I indicated towards the villa. ‘And the longer we wait…’
‘No.’ She forced me to stop. ‘I’m not going in there.’
‘What’s wrong? Not afraid of what Dixon will do to you when he realises you’ve failed him?’
‘We’re not done talking yet.’ Rebecca shook her head. ‘I’m not going in there until we’ve finished.’
‘I don’t see what part of our conversation is unfinished.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘I’ve told you all really need to know and then some. If we put off going in there any longer my friends will think I’ve abandoned them. Or worse.’
Rebecca continued to resist me. There was something about the look in her eyes which made me wonder if there was another reason why she didn’t want to go down there. I almost found myself hesitating.
‘About the future.’ Rebecca’s eyes stared searchingly into mine. ‘You keep hinting about how the Marellas are the cause of a lot of… whatever it is which makes you so sure the future is hell. But… had you ever heard of… Dixon…’
‘What?’ I frowned at her.
‘Dixon… or any other Marella-Vampire hybrid. I mean, I know you didn’t pay much attention to what your parents were telling you as a kid, but you also appear to have a good memory for their horror stories. And I was just wondering if…’
‘Anyone like Dixon was in any of them?’ I finished for her, wondering why I’d not been wondering about that myself in the time since I’d learned the truth about him.
I pressed my lips together and racked my brain for any memory which might connect back to Dixon. If I were being truly honest with myself I already knew the answer and I was pretty sure it was not one Rebecca would like to hear.
‘It’s another fifteen years until I’m born.’ I tried to be tactful. ‘And then another seven before my parents even attempted to talk to me about the horrors which lay outside of our haven. That’s a lot of time for someone like Dixon to… drop off the radar.’
‘What you mean is no.’ Rebecca sighed. ‘Which means you probably win here.’
‘Or someone else did before me.’ I shook my head. ‘My achievements have yet to affect the timeline, remember?’
‘So you think someone else might have been able to… conquer him?’ Her gaze turned to study the villa. ‘Like one of them in there. I mean, they would have all existed in the original timeline and probably would have come together in exactly the same way. Just minus you.’
‘It still might not have had anything to do with any of us.’ I had no idea why the hell I was trying to comfort her. ‘Maybe something happens after this. Maybe it was Obin. We don’t know… We can’t know.’
‘Until it happens you mean?’
‘Or doesn’t.’ I shrugged. ‘Maybe I mess up and cause Dixon to live longer than he’s meant to.’
‘Maybe.’ Rebecca rubbed the stitching around her reattached arm. ‘I’d do anything for him. I think you’ve worked that out already. But at the same time…’
‘Maybe it was you.’ I prodded her forward again. ‘Maybe you’re the reason I’ve never heard of him.’
‘What?’ She shot me a horrified look and was allowed me to continue prodding her forward. ‘I… I couldn’t…’
‘Are you sure?’ I continued to tease. ‘I mean, you’re fear of him might drive you to cause… some kind of accident.’
‘I think the lady doth protest too much.’ I laughed.
Rebecca made a disgusted coughing noise. She appeared more than a little annoyed at the thought and I was starting to wonder whether there might have been an element of truth to what I was saying. Or at least whether she’d considered the possibility herself before I mentioned it to her.
Still, I was glad I now had her moving along with me, even if the cold shoulder I was getting for my efforts was more than a little grating.
‘You know you have no right to be in a mood with me.’ I flicked some of my dark locks back from my shoulder. ‘I took you prisoner fair and square, so you should just accept anything I feel like telling you.’
‘Gee, thanks.’ Rebecca pouted. ‘I’ll let them know that when they’re writing up the story of your life. You had the right to tell me anything you pleased just because I was your prisoner.’
‘Oh don’t be so sarcastic.’ I glared. ‘It doesn’t suit you.’
‘Are you sure? Maybe it does suit me, but you just don’t believe I should be allowed the freedom of sarcasm under your command.’
‘You’re not under my command.’
‘Oh right, I’m just your prisoner.’
‘Oh will you just shut up.’ I could feel myself losing my temper at her. ‘I think I preferred your silence to all this moaning.’
‘I’m not moaning.’ Rebecca’s expression was as dark as my own felt. ‘And if I’m in a bad mood then it’s your fault for suggesting I could be responsible for a death that hasn’t occurred yet.’
‘Oh come on, it’s not like you weren’t thinking it yourself.’
‘I was not.’ The offended tone in her voice almost seemed to prove what I’d been thinking. ‘I would never…’
‘Yes you would,’ I interrupted her, my voice sounding gentle on the inclines. ‘You don’t want to think about it, but its more than just occurred to you in the time since I mentioned not knowing anything about Dixon before coming to this time.’
‘Okay, so maybe I have,’ she admitted, as she crawled in through the same window she’d led us through before. ‘But that doesn’t mean I believe that it’s true. I mean… I don’t think that I’m capable of being the one who kills him.’
‘Because… because… I guess because I love him.’ Rebecca helped me in through the window, causing me to wonder at the nature of the relationship forming between the two of us. ‘I think I love him. I mean, I know he’s not exactly the kind of person anyone should fall in love with, but that doesn’t mean…’
‘I understand.’ I lowered my gaze. ‘Believe me… I understand…’
As we made our way out of the small room and into the corridor beyond we moved like comrades. There was an unspoken agreement between us. Until we had to we would not be taking up the stance of victory and prisoner again. I knew from the last time I’d been in the villa it would take a while for us to reach the main hall. And that was assuming the others were in the hall.
Without waiting for Rebecca to issue an opinion, I made my way forward. She pulled her way along after me. Something about her pace suggesting she was dragging her heels a little. But whether that was because she knew we were heading the wrong way or because she really didn’t want to reach our destination I couldn’t be sure. All I knew could be certain of was the fact that she was dragging. I took a deep breath in and tried to resist asking her what was wrong. The boundaries were too blurred between us as they were, I couldn’t allow them to slip any further into obscurity. Still, it did seem only fair I get a little insight into her head after all the delving she’d done into mine.
As I continued to weigh up the possibilities I found myself coming to a stop and turning round to face her. I wasn’t quite sure who was more surprised, her or me. But I wasn’t about to let on.
‘Do you not think they’re in the main hall again?’ I folded my arms.
‘I’d say it was the safest bet for finding them.’ Rebecca shrugged. ‘Why?’
‘Because from the way you’re dragging your heels, either you think we should be heading in a different direction or there’s something going on in that empty little head of yours which is concerning you more than a little.’
‘My head is not empty.’ She shot me a sour look. ‘And there could be other reasons I’m dragging my heels. Maybe I don’t want Dixon to see me as your prisoner and I’m working out a way to escape. Or maybe…’
‘If you can’t give me a definitive reason then you obviously don’t have one,’ I cut her off. ‘Which means I’m right. Something is going on in that head of yours.’
‘And as your prisoner I’m obliged to tell you about it?’ Rebecca turned her nose up in disgust. ‘Is that how this works?’
‘You don’t have to do anything except come with me.’ I half turned. ‘And since you’re currently dragging your heels about that…’
‘You want me to… clear my head of all the extra weight.’
‘You said it not me.’
‘Well it’s not like it’s any of your business really.’ Rebecca pouted and folded her arms. ‘But I was wondering about you.’
‘Then you really should stop.’ I started walking again. ‘I’m none of your concern.’
‘You’re power for storytelling would suggest otherwise.’ Rebecca fell into step beside me. ‘I think you want me to know about you, because you know something about me that I don’t.’
‘What could I possibly know about you?’
‘Well you come from the future, right? You might not have heard about Dixon, but you never said anything about me. For all I know I could be something… something I don’t particularly want to be maybe, but something that works in your favour. And that’s why you can’t kill me.’
‘I thought I couldn’t kill you because I was a coward.’ My voice dripped with agitated sarcasm.
‘I’m beginning to think I was wrong about that. I mean, you’re either really stupid or have a lot more guts than I’ve given you credit for. Because that’s the only explanation for it.’
‘Explanation for what exactly?’
‘For why you haven’t killed me for a start…’
‘So killing is a cowardly thing now?’ I cocked an eyebrow at her. ‘I thought you saw it as a sign of courage.’
‘That’s purely circumstantial.’ It was clear Rebecca was trying to appear blasé about the whole thing. ‘And none of that really matters anyway. What matters is you’re something… and… and I think I want in.’
‘What?’ I couldn’t help but come to a stop again, causing Rebecca to crash into me as I did. ‘Are you saying you want to be a good guy now? What about Dixon? Are your feelings for him really so hot and cold?’
‘I never said I wanted to help change things for the better.’ She shrugged. ‘But if you’re essentially rewriting history, then I want in.’
‘And you think I’m going to let someone like you have any kind of power?’
‘Someone like me?’ Rebecca gave an offended choke. ‘What’s that supposed to mean exactly?’
‘What do you think it means Daynasen? I’ve come back here to save the future from your type, do you really think I’d ruin that by letting you even close to getting in.’
‘Maybe not intentionally. But you’ve already given me enough knowledge to know something’s going to happen. And how I play things might, just maybe, change everything.’
‘You’re like a dog with a bone.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘You think it’s the mother of all power, but you’ve no idea how meaningless it really is.’
‘Are you saying you’ve not told me enough to make a difference?’
‘I’m saying even if I have, I still know more than you. And that means I can… correct any disruptions you cause.’
‘It’s true what they say about Giyans, you are all arrogant little so and sos, aren’t you?’ Rebecca glared at me. ‘What gives you the right to even think you can get away with it?’
‘I AM THE LIGHT.’ I found myself unable to taper my response. ‘Don’t you get that? Giyans are the Light. Or at least a huge part of it. And even a simpleton like you must know that everything begins and ends with the Light. The only creatures in the entire universe with the right to be more arrogant than we are, are the Mistresses.’
‘Being the Light doesn’t stop you from being mortal though, does it?’ Rebecca shot back. ‘Dixon has explained so much about your kind to me that… that half the time I don’t like thinking about it. You are Light, but you’re not the Light. And even if you were, not everything starts and ends with it. Some things start and end with the Darkness. And I am one of those things.’
‘You’re wrong about that.’ I shook my head. ‘You started with the Light and then you betrayed it. You betrayed it and choose the Darkness.’
‘I didn’t choose the Darkness.’ Rebecca shook her head. ‘It chose me.’
‘Oh, right, Dixon chose you because of your poor sob story.’
‘Are you saying that Dixon is the Darkness?’
‘Yes…’ I hesitated. ‘No. I’m not saying that. He’s just part of it.’
‘But he’s also part of the Light, isn’t he?’
‘Stop confusing the issue.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘None of this matters.’
‘That’s what you think, but it’s not the truth. It all matters, don’t you see that? The Light and the Darkness, always at war with one another. Always trying to dominate the other. When what really matters in the end is that they work together. To shape things together. To create Balance.’
‘Oh please.’ I rolled my eyes again. ‘If you’re about to start spouting Balancer nonsense I’ll rob my friends of their trophy and kill you right here and now.’
‘Don’t tell me you have no respect for the Balance either.’
‘Dixon thinks as highly of it as you do. Maybe that’s another Giyan trait. But even a simpleton like me can see the need for the Balance.’
‘The Balance yes, but not those power crazed idiots who govern it. I hardly see how classifying everything helps anyone.’
‘Then you need to look at the bigger picture.’
‘And you need to remember you’re a narrow minded Daynasen and nothing more.’
‘Are you sure about that?’ Rebecca’s face pulled into a strange smile as she pulled forward again. ‘Are you really sure?’
I gave a half choked huff and turned my attention back towards the hall we were now approaching. The doors loomed with the same kind of foreboding they’d had the first time I’d seen them, only now they were partially opened and the sound coming from within was hideous.
‘Did Dixon send all his monsters out with you or does he have some left in reserve?’ I flicked a glance towards Rebecca.
‘The best way to answer that question is for you to go in there and find out for yourself.’ Rebecca shrugged. ‘Unless you’re afraid, of course.’
‘I am not afraid. But your last minute loyalty to him suggests you are.’
‘What do you mean, last minute loyalty?’ Her expression soured. ‘I’ve always been loyal to him.’
‘Then you have a very strange way of showing it.’ I rolled my eyes, before taking a deep breath and pressing forward. ‘Come on.’ I gave her a verbal nudge. ‘Get moving.’
‘I’d really rather not.’ Rebecca crept behind me. ‘It’s not going to look good for me no matter how I appear to be entering in there with you.’
‘Well that’s your problem, not mine. You’re coming in with me whether you like it or not. Just feel grateful I’m not going to force you into fighting alongside me. Once you’re in there, you’re free to do as you please.’
‘Are you sure that’s a wise thing to say?’ I could hear the tone of surprise in her voice. ‘I mean, I could just use the opportunity to finish you off.’
‘I beat you, remember? I’ve absolutely no fear you’ll turn against me. And even if you do, I don’t view you as enough of a threat to matter.’ I made sure she could hear the arrogance in my voice. ‘But from the sounds of things in there, even if I did bring you in with no freedoms I’ll be too distracted to impose them anyway. So why bother?’
‘You’re a strange one Jade.’ Rebecca huffed out an impatient sigh. ‘You know what’s to come and yet you’ve no clue as to what might happen next. You must feel like you’re watching reruns of remakes sometimes.’
‘How this situation makes me feel is none of your concern Rebecca.’ My tone was tight. ‘Nothing to do with my life is your concern. You’d be good to remember that.’
‘If your life is none of my concern then why do you keep letting me in on so much of it?’
‘I’m not letting you in.’ I shook my head. ‘I’m just not keeping you out.’
‘And that makes all the difference, does it?’
We were now stood almost in front of the doors to the hall. From where I was positioned I could see far enough inside to watch part of what appeared to be a fierce battle. The cloaked hybrids were fighting with their hoods down in a last ditch attempt to gross my friends into distraction. It was just their misfortune my friends had seen too much today for it to work. A part of me might have celebrated that fact if the hybrids were fighting alone.
‘Obin is what I think he is, right?’ I dreaded the answer but I didn’t want to go in there until I was sure.
‘That depends on what you think he is.’ Rebecca’s eyes scanned the room in much the same way mine had been.
‘I think you know what I think he is.’ I pressed my lips together. ‘You called him a doll before. There are very few things breeds which get to use that as a translation from their classification.’
‘Classification.’ Rebecca’s whole being scorned the word. ‘For someone so disapproving of the Balance Council, you’re awfully willing to accept their judgement.’
‘And for someone who seems to agree with their ways, you’re awfully quick to criticize my use of it.’
‘I wasn’t criticizing the system.’ She narrowed her gaze on me. ‘I was criticizing you.’
‘Gee thanks.’ I rolled my eyes for what felt like the millionth time since I’d become stuck with her. ‘Would you stop avoiding the question already and tell me, is Obin what I think he is?’
For a few long minutes she was silent and her gaze drifting back towards the gap between the doors. Rebecca then pressed her lips together and drew in a more than thoughtfully deep breath.
‘From what I could gather, yes he is.’
‘From what you could gather?’ I cocked an eyebrow at her.
‘When he first arrived I couldn’t just leave them alone together.’ Rebecca’s expression tightened. ‘I mean, I didn’t trust what you’re little friend would do. So I heard them talking… I’m not sure I fully understood it all myself. But yes, he is just another hybrid… That’s if that’s how you want to put it.’
‘I think hybrids the wrong word when it comes to Marella.’ I sighed. ‘But I get what you mean.’
‘From the looks of it he doesn’t really care which side he attacks.’ Rebecca continued to watch through the gap in the doors. ‘I mean, he’ll swipe at anyone who gets too close to him.’
‘Which is an advantage for my friends, but a disadvantage for yours.’
‘They’re hardly my friends anymore.’ She twisted her face into an uncertain expression. ‘But it’s pretty obvious from the way things are going in there what you mean by that.’
‘If we wait out here long enough it’ll just be my team verses Obin.’ My brain began to formulate half a plan. ‘And at that point they’ll really need someone to help them even out the odds.’
‘Are you saying we should wait until the hybrids are all gone?’ Rebecca stared at me. ‘What kind of plan is that or are you just insisting on cowardice now?’
‘I’m not being cowardly. I’m being strategic.’ I gave a nervous cough. ‘If I go in now guns blazing then I’ll just expend energy best saved for facing off against Obin.’
‘Facing off against him?’ Rebecca cocked an eyebrow. ‘I thought you were here to save him.’
For a moment I couldn’t help but stagger back away from the doors. She was right. I was there to save them, but the logic of what I was about to do was beyond even me. I took a deep breath in and shifted my gaze towards her. Seconds later I turned it away again. I didn’t know how to explain what I was about to do, let alone why I should be explaining it to her of all people.
‘Well?’ Rebecca pressed. ‘Are you here to save him or to stop him?’
‘Both.’ I felt almost helpless. ‘In order to save him I must first stop him. And to stop him I must first save him.’
‘I don’t expect someone like you to understand.’ I kept my gaze averted from her. ‘But my father had to do something similar with my mother once.’
‘Just don’t ask,’ I cut her off. ‘It’s absolutely none of your business why such a thing occurred or the details of what occurred for that matter. All you need to know is that sometimes the best thing to do for a person is to bring about their downfall. To save them by stopping them.’
‘That simple, huh?’
I took a deep breath in and prepared myself to enter the hall. From what I could see it was now down to my five friends, one or two of the hybrids and Obin. The strategic part of my brain was working in overdrive. The odds were in our favour. If I were to come in now there was a good chance I could subdue Obin without risking the lives of the others. As far as I was concerned the less they did battle with him the better. None of them were prepared to face Obin. I was.
My father is a natural born pessimist. When I was growing up he’d told me again and again to never face an opponent more powerful than myself without a well formulated plan. And that if my plan didn’t account for all factors and possibilities it was bound to fail. I took a moment before rushing in to double check my analysis of the situation. Obin. A couple of hybrids. My five friends. Rebecca. I could account for the behaviour of all of them. A smile pulled across my face as I pulled myself into the room. I’d accounted for everything. Or at least I thought I’d accounted for everything.
I entered the room filled with my own sense of purpose. I could hear my father’s voice echoing in my head warning me about overconfidence. I battered the thoughts away. I couldn’t see how I was being overconfident. For a moment my gaze was fixed on the hybrid Obin was dismembering. Everything about the way Obin moved reminded me of my father’s stories. The memories focused me further. My well formulated strategy was focused on Obin. I was focused on Obin.
I readied my body for attack. I moved at speed towards him. Then something grabbed me from behind.
‘Rebecca…’ I snapped round to face her only to notice the more than fearful look in her eyes.
My gaze followed hers. I spotted the gloomy figure looming nearby. For half a second I wondered if it was just another hybrid I’d failed to factor in. Then a set of eyes illuminated themselves. A sharp gasp pulled through me as I watched the eyes hover there for a few moments before they were joined by a whiter than white suit. I held my breath. Then his face came into sharp focus and everything in me jarred to a halt.
If I’d had any doubt about the family lineage before now I didn’t anymore. The shape of his face. The purposeful way he’d picked his shell. The set and colouring of the eyes… I’d seen it all before. This person. This very being. I’d seen him in every single nightmare I’d had since I was a kid. This was the face which haunted me with every one of my father’s stories. This was the face of the only Marella I’d ever met. Only it couldn’t be him, because that Marella didn’t exist yet.
‘So you’re the Aria Obin warned me about.’
His voice was smoother than I could have ever imagined. There was something about it which filled me with a dead sense of hopelessness and chilled me to my very core.
‘Dixon.’ I could hear the trembling tones in my own voice. ‘You are Dixon, aren’t you?’
‘Look at you.’ Dixon smirked in amusement. ‘You’re terrified already and I haven’t even done anything yet.’
‘You’re a Marella.’ My eyes flicked up and down his form over and over again hoping his image would change. ‘Your reputation precedes you before it’s even written.’
At that Dixon laughed. The sound he made was even more disturbing than his voice. I took a deep breath in and tried to push all my fears away. It wasn’t an easy thing to do though. Not when I knew what people with shells like his were capable of.
‘Dixon this isn’t what it looks like.’ Rebecca moved past me. ‘I haven’t betrayed you…’
‘You really think I haven’t been watching every single move you’ve made over the last few hours?’ Dixon glared at her. ‘I know this is exactly what it looks like. And more. You may want to please me Rebecca, but you’re one of them.’
Rebecca went to say something, but the words never made it out of her mouth. Instead she just gawked at Dixon for a few moments, before closing her mouth again. A strange kind of silence drowned the space between the three of us as the rest of the hall echoed with the now faint sounds of battle.
‘It doesn’t matter what it looks like.’ I have no idea why I felt the sudden need to defend Rebecca. ‘What matters is what happens now.’
‘Well you’re certainly as strange as every Aria I’ve ever heard about.’ Dixon’s face took on an almost cocky expression. ‘Unless of course you were saying that in more intelligent way than it sounded.’
I gritted my teeth and tried to stop myself from becoming too emotional. I knew the only reason I’d said what I had was because of the level of fear he instilled in me. Fear which felt as though it was cutting my intelligence in half.
‘I’m sure that’s not what she meant to say.’ Now Rebecca was defending me. ‘She’s just a little overwhelmed. Meeting you would do that to anyone.’
‘Flattery will get you nowhere now.’ Dixon snapped his attention right back towards her. ‘You’ve already blown your chance with me. Besides, I’ve already gotten myself a new family.’ He glanced towards Obin. ‘A true family.’
‘You mean the doll?’ Rebecca sounded horrified.
‘Don’t call him that.’ The level of anger in Dixon’s voice was intense. ‘He will mean more to me than you ever could.’
For a moment I found myself shocked by the switch from the smooth tones to unlevelled anger. I’d been warned by my father that Marellas could be emotionally unstable. But in this case I felt there was more to it than that. If I were more my mother’s daughter I would have told myself I could sense the depth of Dixon’s feelings towards Obin. And at the same time... I flicked a glance towards Obin. This relationship was a poison I had to save him from, because he needed to be saved.
‘You can’t have him.’ The strength of my own courage surprised me. ‘He’s not yours to have.’
‘Then whose is he exactly?’ Dixon laughed. ‘Because I doubt he’d agree to being yours.’
‘You misinterpret my affection towards him. I don’t want to own him. I want to protect him. Because he does not belong to anybody. He is his own person.’
‘But if he is his own person and he chooses to give himself to me then that’s his choice and you should accept it. Because it’s his choice and no one else’s, right?’
‘It’s hardly his choice if you’ve manipulated him into it.’ I glared. ‘And there’s nothing you can say which will make me to change my mind on that one point.’
‘Who said he’s being manipulated?’
‘Yeah.’ Obin’s doll like voice alerted me the fact all battling had now subsided and the others had started gathering around us. ‘What makes you think I’m being manipulated? Is it so impossible to believe I could do anything under my own free will?’
‘It is when this has anything to do with Marella blood.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘Marella blood is the most powerful manipulating force known to man.’
‘Oh really?’ Dixon’s voice sounded more than a little curious. ‘Know a lot of Marella do you?’
‘Not personally.’ I tried to keep my cool. ‘But that doesn’t mean I don’t know all about your kind.’
‘Oh yes, I’d been paying attention to your little stories too.’ He folded his arms. ‘I must say, I’m not sure I like the thought of a future without me in it.’
‘I’m not completely sure that exists now.’ I hoped my voice was low enough to allow the comment to be shrugged off.
‘Oh really?’ Dixon’s eyebrow twitched with a strange kind of curiosity. ‘So you’ve remembered something about me then?’
‘Your face.’ I have no idea why I felt the sudden need to be so honest. ‘There’s something about your face I recognise.’
At that Dixon began to laugh and almost as soon as he did Obin joined in with a creepy one of his own.
‘Uh-oh.’ Rebecca pulled herself in beside me. ‘This can’t be good.’
‘Glad to see you’ve finally shown us which side you’re on.’ Dixon’s eyes met with Rebecca’s almost as soon as she’d made the comment. ‘I would have hated for there to be any confusion.’
‘I’ve not shown you anything.’ Rebecca shook her head. ‘All I said was…’
‘It wasn’t what you said, it was the way you said it,’ he cut her off. ‘How could anything to do with me be bad for you, unless you were siding with the other team?’
‘You can’t judge my loyalty on one innocuous comment. Especially not after you’d already told me you considered me a traitor.’ Her face pulled into an expression of dismay. ‘Of course I’m going to assume whatever comes next will be bad for me too.’
‘How can you have known me for so long and still not spot when you’re being tested?’
‘How can you have known me for so long and still think I need testing?’ Rebecca’s tone was filled with tense agitation.
‘The fact you were willing to betray me to them proved you needed at least one more little test.’ Dixon cocked his head with a suave kind of arrogance. ‘And the fact you failed it so quickly and so miserably proves only that I was so wrong about you. You see betrayed me. And family don’t betray family.’
‘If they’re Marella they do.’ I half wished I could keep my mouth shut.
‘Are you saying Marella have no sense of family loyalty?’ Dixon turned his attention towards me. ‘This coming from someone whose parents loved her enough to get rid of her.’
‘My parents didn’t get rid of me.’ I glared at him. ‘They sent me on an important mission.’
‘Without allowing you the option to refuse.’
‘What makes you so sure I would have wanted to refuse even if that option was there?’
‘I told you, I’ve been watching Rebecca. I know everything about you that she does.’
‘And you think I’m impressed by that?’
‘You think any of us are?’ Pike spoke up in an attempt to take some of the heat off of me. ‘So you trust your minions about as much as a dog would trust another dog with its bone. It doesn’t make you clever. If anything it makes me question whether or not you were foolish in taking on so many untrustworthy people in the first place.’
‘What did you say?’ Dixon glared at him.
‘I said you look foolish.’
‘How dare you say that to me?’ His voice was eerily calm as he turned his body towards Pike. ‘I ought to have Obin kill you where you stand, but I recognise your crest. And I have a much more fitting fate in store for you.’
Pike went to say something, but before he could Summer motioned for him to be silent. She then positioned herself halfway between Obin and Dixon. It was at this point I noticed for the first time how Jonnie had positioned himself. His right arm was pointed towards the floor, fingers closed and stretched to keep the line, whilst his left arm was held with the same tension level with his shoulder pointing out towards the left. His feet were placed into a perfect T shape and his head was lowered towards them.
I recognised the stance instantly. It was known as the Arusee and was only ever used to form a strong link between Mortal and Immortal Plains. It was the last thing my mother had taught me before sending me back to this place. It was my way of getting in contact with her with the assurance that if I needed her help she would come to me no questions asked.
Something in my head made me re-evaluated the twins. The Arusee was not something they would have been taught. It was a focal part of a lot of spells and rituals preformed by Followers of the Light. Summer and Jonnie were not Followers of the Light. At least not as far as I was aware. And none of the new age ideas they spouted had ever made me suspect otherwise. A part of me twisted with curiosity as I waited to see what would happen next.
‘A trio of Giyans.’ Summer’s voice sounded marginally warped. ‘And not one single one of you is truly connected to the Light.’
‘What?’ I don’t know whose voice was louder at that point, mine, Obin’s or Dixon’s.
‘The Temporal follows the path.’ Her eyes, now an eerie dark purple colour, turned towards me. ‘But her heart resents what she must do. She keeps herself from the Light she longs for so desperately. She makes herself impure.’
‘That’s not true.’ I shook my head. ‘I mean, it’s not the way you say it is.’
‘Silence.’ Summer held a hand up towards me. ‘I have not said you may speak.’
‘And just who gave you any kind of permission to decide who speaks?’ Dixon challenged.
‘The Marella have never been as close to the Light as they should have been.’ Summer ignored his question. ‘And you resent it, both of you do. Although you were once on a purer path.’ Her gaze turned towards Obin. ‘You’ve been led astray.’
‘Shut up.’ Obin flutter manifested an axe into his hand. ‘You have no right to judge me.’
He took a swipe at Summer. Something hard glistened around her, protecting her from the blow. Summer smiled at him for a moment, but said nothing.
‘What are you?’ Dixon folded his arms as Obin continued to strike again and again against the solid transparent structure which had formed around Summer.
‘I am the vessel.’ Summer’s voice was calm.
‘Vessel for what?’
‘The vessel for everyone here.’ She turned towards him. ‘I am the sum of everyone present. Of your Powers. Your knowledge. Your thoughts and you memories. Of every one of your feelings. I am everyone.’
‘How is that possible?’ Rachel stared at her in amazement. ‘I didn’t think you were that powerful.’
‘But Jade did.’ Simon pressed his lips together. ‘That’s how she knew Summer was our queen. And not just by default either. What I want to know is how?’
For a moment all eyes turned towards me. It was clear they thought I possessed an answer I hadn’t been able to grasp for myself yet. They were wrong. All I knew for sure was that they were wrong. I hadn’t known this would happen. But I had hoped…
‘Summer has been channelling Jonnie’s personality all day.’ My eyes watched a more than agitated Obin as he continued his assault against Summer’s protective shell. ‘Along with fragments of other peoples. It made sense that maybe, something like this might happen. And…’
Before I could finish what I was saying Obin let out a loud war cry and launched an attack against me. The only advantage I had was the way his own rage slowed him down, allowing me to dodge his haphazard attacks with a great amount of ease. Rebecca wasn’t so lucky. Her screech at being hit was almost deafeningly loud and I couldn’t help but feel my stomach turning over when I heard it.
I couldn’t stop and do anything about it though. Obin’s sights were clearly set on doing as much damage as possible to the one person he now saw as being his own personal enemy. Me. In my head something about that made sense. Obin had been suspicious of me for weeks now. I knew it as well as he did. He’d been weighing me up as a potential enemy since the first time we’d stepped out together as teammates. This was just him venting his frustration at what must have appeared to him like the final nail in my coffin.
I know the potential of a force even Obin can’t beat. My eyes flicked for a moment towards Summer. But I also know the weakness of that force. Summer can only be as powerful as the number of people she is challenging. Reduce those numbers and you reduce the level of Power she is capable of. Right now Obin isn’t thinking clearly, but I’m sure Dixon must have worked it out. And he’s not going to keep it to himself for long. So I have to wrap this thing up before the others start dying or else... It’s just not worth thinking about.
With every swipe of Obin’s axe I managed to avoid, I lost more and more space to hide in. I knew if I didn’t think fast I’d soon be trapped with nowhere to run. I couldn’t allow my fate to become sealed like this. Not when there was still so much that I had to do…
‘Leave her alone,’ Pike’s weapon sliced into one of Obin’s arms, momentarily severing it. ‘Don’t you know it’s unfair to go after an unarmed woman?’
Obin laughed and turned round to face him. As he did his arm made no short work of reattaching itself.
‘Don’t you know it’s rude to interrupt a person in the middle of a game.’ Obin’s voice sounded warped and childish. ‘That breaks the rules and breaking the rules is bad.’
‘You think I care?’ Pike posed his weapon for a second attack.
‘You think any of us do?’ Simon launched an attack of his own somehow managing to sever one of Obin’s arms completely whilst half slicing through the other. ‘We’re a team and if you take on one of us then you take on all of us.’
‘That’s right,’ Rachel joined the others as they prepared themselves for battle. ‘So what do you say we do this thing?’ A large shotgun appeared in her hands. ‘Cuz I’m ready if you are.’
Something about the look on Rachel’s face the split second her weapon appeared told me it wasn’t exactly what she’d been going for. She cocked her head in a confident manner and met Obin’s gaze with calm conviction.
‘Say hello to my little friend.’ Rebecca readied her weapon for firing.
‘Now that’s definitely against the rules.’ Obin’s still healing arms somehow managed to pull his axe into a pre-attack position. ‘I guess that means you get to be punished first.’
‘Not if I have anything to do with it.’ She fired her weapon at him, causing everything in me to leap with sick dread from the base of my stomach to the top of my throat.
I knew without a doubt Obin’s healing ability would allow for the bullets to pass right through him. They would wreak a lot of damage along the way, but they wouldn’t lose enough speed to stop them from taking out the person behind them. And that person was me. In my panicked realisation I managed to slow time down. But that just made everything worse. I felt as though I was frozen within my own fear as I watched as the slow motion bullets pierced into Obin’s body barely fazing him as they did. They then exited him in the same stop time delay speed they’d entered, blood splattering everywhere as they continued on their flight towards me.
I heard the sharpness of the breath I drew as my eyes widen to the point where my eyelids felt as though they were on the other side of my head. Yet still I couldn’t move. All I could do was stand there and watch the slow moving projectiles of my demise.
‘Jaaaaaaaaaade.’ One of the others cried, their voice droning at less than half its normal speed. ‘Waaaaaaaaaaatch oooooooooout.’
I felt something very fast hit me from the side, knocking me off of my feet and onto the ground below. In the same instant my hold over the time around me broke and everything returned to normal.
‘S-Summer.’ I flinched at the sound of the bullet crashing into the wall above me. ‘How…?’
‘I am the sum of everyone.’ Summer smiled at me. ‘And that includes you.’
I gasped with realisation and was able to do little more than nod dumbly at her.
‘You should really be more careful.’ Summer got herself back to her feet. ‘Synth or no Synth, we can’t afford for you to get injured here.’
I nodded again and pulled myself back to my feet. I was still feeling more than a little shaken by what had just happened. It wasn’t like me to be so easily fazed by things and yet that day the opposite had proven itself true. I flicked my attention back towards the others and noticed Obin was laughing somewhat manically as he pressed his way towards Rachel. As he did she prepared to take another shot at him.
This time I got out of the way before she fired. My eyes indicated to the others to keep clear of the projectile. Almost as soon as I was sure everyone was safe I heard Rachel fire again and again and again. It did nothing to slow Obin’s approach.
‘Shit.’ I heard Rachel mutter as she went to reload.
I grabbed my own holstered weapon, loaded the crossbow and took a shot at Obin from behind. A part of me hoped to direct his attention towards me. It worked, but only briefly. Almost as soon as I had Pike and Simon began their attack from either side.
‘We are a team.’ I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I reloaded my own weapon. ‘And we will neutralise him.’
In a moment of amusement I found myself taking aim at Obin’s heart. It was a silly idea to think he might share the same weaknesses the Daynasen had. But to be honest it was still worth a shot. I didn’t expect it to stop him but I was surprised to see how much it slowed him down. For a moment my own confused surprised stopped my brain from working. Then a strange thought pulled itself through me.
I reloaded my weapon and took a shot at his forehead, managing to hit him in a good line just up from his nose. Again Obin’s movements appeared to slow down, allowing my eyes time to analyse the situation. It was clear the others had noticed what was happening, but I doubted anyone other than Summer knew what was going on.
‘Pike.’ I turned my attention towards him. ‘Aim for the palm of his right hand. Pierce it. Simon, I want you to do the same with his left arm just below the shoulder. If you get the right spot it may stop him for a while.’
The two males exchanged a quick glance with each other and did as they were told. The rate at which Obin was now moving made their task almost too easy. As soon as the last of the four points was pierce Obin came to a full and frozen stop.
‘What have you done?’ Dixon’s face was enraged as he pulled himself into our battle. ‘How dare you do this to him?’
‘She had to save him somehow.’ Rebecca appeared just behind Dixon, blood dripping from a nasty gash on the side of her face. ‘And to be honest I’m glad she has.’
‘Traitor.’ Dixon spat as he turned on her. ‘I will punish you for that.’
‘No you won’t.’ Summer shook her head as her whole body began to glow. ‘You’ve lost.’
‘I’ve not lost until I say I’ve lost.’ All of his calm and cool mannerisms were gone now. ‘This is far from over.’
As Dixon spoke several of the dissembled bodies of his former army began to twitch and rise up from the ground.
‘I hate Marella.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘They always have to find a way of making a bad situation worse.’
‘What do we do now?’ Rachel watched the horror show of body parts getting ready to reassemble themselves.
‘We fight.’ Pike pulled a dagger from the back of his belt. ‘What else can we do?’
‘But we didn’t all pick up second weapons like you did.’ Simon stared at him. ‘What am I supposed to do? Go tooth over claw with them?’
‘Well you are part animal, aren’t you?’
‘Here.’ Pike tossed him the dagger. ‘I guess now’s as good a time as any to test Jade’s theory on this one.’
‘It’s time to see if I’m truly a master of all weapons.’ He turned his gaze towards Rachel. ‘Come on Demon Girl, Manifest me a weapon.’
With a surprising amount of flare and dramatics on Rachel’s part a long, silver edged sword with a gold crest decorating both blade and handle appeared in her free hand. She laughed at herself in awe to see it and even I had to admit I was feeling a mixture of impressed jealousy and admiration.
‘I hope you like it.’ Rachel tossed the sword at Pike and he caught it without any effort. ‘I think it’s been designed especially for you.’
‘I’ll say.’ I could hear by the tone of Pike’s voice he was more than a little impressed himself. ‘Just gotta hope it stays around now.’
‘Well, if it doesn’t I can always cover you with this.’ Rachel indicated towards her gun, before reloading it and taking aim at the reassembling hoard. ‘I think we both know it’ll be just as effective.’
‘Right.’ He grinned as he took a few practice swings with the weapon which appeared to grow more magnificent in his hands. ‘This is more than perfectly balanced too. It feels…’
‘Stop being an idiot about this and start attacking them,’ Rebecca cut him off. ‘Admiring your pimped up weapon is only gonna get you axed.’
‘So you’re really not looking to get back into Dixon’s good graces anytime soon then?’ I shot a glance towards her.
‘I don’t even think it’s possible for me to now.’ Her face soured as she made her way towards where our group were preparing ourselves for battle. ‘Right now I don’t even care if he takes my arm away again for this, I just can’t stand to be around those monsters anymore.’ She picked up a rusty looking blade hidden beneath some of the debris scattered around the room.
‘Aren’t you worried about him hearing you say that?’ I glanced towards Dixon.
His eyes so wide with frenzied emotions they pulled his face into a horribly manic expression. I felt a shudder creep along my spine. I’ve no idea how I managed to suppress it but somehow I did.
‘Right now the only thing he can hear is his own madness.’ Rebecca shook her head. ‘He’s always the same when he gets into this state. The only thing which will get through to him now is the destruction of those things.’ She indicated towards the hybrid army which was now lopping its way into a circle around us. ‘And if you six weren’t so pathetically vain we would have started taking them out long before they became this much of a threat.’
‘She’s right.’ Simon bolted forward, taking a clean swipe and decapitating one of the hybrids as he did. ‘Let’s do this thing.’
With those words acting as our battle cry the rest of us leapt head strong into the fray. With each shot I took my aim improved. It didn’t take me long to reach the point where almost all of my shots landed head or heart targets. A part of me hoped a right minded Obin or even my father would have been proud to see my skill. It was just unfortunate for me these new hybrids had also developed the strengths of both their parts and no matter how many well placed shots I landed they still kept coming at us. Worse still no matter what injury the others inflicting on them they just pulled themselves back together.
‘Super Zombie-Vampires.’ Simon pressed his back against mine. ‘Just what I always wanted, what about you?’
‘Couldn’t get better if they’d been sent to me by Santa Claws himself.’ I found myself using the same tone as him.
I heard him give a nervous sounding laugh before twisting away from me to rejoin the close combat.
‘Well asked for or not they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.’ Rebecca ducked a blow from the hybrid she was facing before slicing into it with her blade.
‘And I think it’s about to get worse.’ Simon’s voice rose by several octaves. ‘There’s more coming…’
Simon’s warning came seconds before a swarm of the hybrids broke in through the partially opened doors.
‘Shit, I forgot his Power would stretch that far.’ I took aim at some of the new comers. ‘Why the hell are Giyans so powerful?’
‘Shouldn’t we be asking you that Giyan?’ Rebecca turned her attack against the growing swarm.
‘Just shut up and concentrate will you.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘We really don’t have time for this.’ My eyes flickered towards Dixon.
I knew the only way to solve our problems would be to take him out. I wasn’t stupid. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Even though Dixon appeared vulnerable in his freaked out state, there was still a whole host of Zombie-Vampire hybrid to dodge. I also somehow doubted Rebecca was just going to stand back at let anyone take out the love of her life. No matter how long she was fighting on our side for.
I took a deep breath and reloaded my weapon. I then took a pop shot at one of the new comers and allowed my mind to run through all the ways I could take out Dixon without giving Rebecca the slightest clue about what I was about to do. As if she could read my mind Rebecca placed herself between me and any clear shot I might get at Dixon. No matter how I adjusted my position to compensate for her, she moved to block my aim. I was then left with little choice but to shoot arrow after arrow at the growing hybrid army.
She knows what I’m planning. I felt a mild level of disgust towards Rebecca. She knows as well as I do the only way to stop this madness is to take him out, but she’s not ready to let me do that yet. She’s placing herself between me and him because she believes I won’t willingly take her out. And she’s right. I gritted my teeth. I don’t know why but nothing in me will allow me to take her out. Not completely. It’s been like this since the moment I met her. That’s why I stopped Obin from killing her the first time I’d battled against her. Why didn’t I see it before?
It’s madness. The words sounded through my mind as I continued to take pop shots at the hybrid army. Why do I keep protecting her when she is the enemy…? But... she’s not the enemy. Or at least I don’t think of her as the enemy. Not anymore. She’s grown on me and even if she is protecting someone like Dixon I know deep down she’s really just one of the good guys.
I couldn’t believe the train of my own thoughts. The only thing which made less sense to me was the certainty I had that it was true. I tried to ignore it as I continued to fire periodical shots at the opposing army. I was still trying to get a clear shot at Dixon. It didn’t matter to matter to me what Rebecca’s feelings towards him were. We couldn’t go on like this.
It must have been at least a good twenty minutes before an opportunity finally presented itself. Not wanting to waste it I reloaded my weapon and took a shot at Dixon. With a surprising level of speed Rebecca placed the blade of her weapon in the path of the projectile, knocking it off course. Her gaze shot towards me with an almost unreadable look which sent chills up and down my spine.
‘I’m not ready for that to be the solution yet.’ Rebecca’s voice was as tense as it was dark. ‘And even if I were then I want to be the one who puts it into place. Do you hear me Jade Hamilton?’
‘I hear you.’ I made a noise of disgusted frustration. ‘But I don’t agree with you. We need to get this thing over with and quickly. We can’t hold them off forever you know.’
‘I know that.’ She manoeuvred her way around three attacking hybrids. ‘But I’m not ready to end this yet.’
‘Would you be so quick to put an end to the one you love?’
‘No, not unless he was putting my life in danger.’ I pressed my lips together and edged my hands towards reloading my weapon. ‘But if you’re really not ready to take him out we could try putting him into the same kind of stasis we have Obin in. If nothing else it would at least stop the hybrids long enough for us all to make serious decisions.’
‘What makes you think it’s possible to put him into stasis?’ Rebecca’s voice squeaked as she narrowly avoided a full on assault by one of the hybrids. ‘He’s not like normal Vampires.’
‘You’re wrong.’ I took aim in her direction with my sights set on the male she was guarding. ‘He may be more powerful than your average Vamp, but he’s no different from any of you. Not really. He still has the same weaknesses and that means… You have to let me try this. It may be the only way.’
For what felt like an eternity the two of us stared each other down. I didn’t want to have to hurt Rebecca, she knew that. But she also knew I couldn’t not do what I was about to do. For a heartbeat I felt the battle around us slow to a breathtaking speed. If I hadn’t have known for sure it was just a psychological effect I’d have wondered whether it was me or Summer in control of it.
There was something about it the way it reflected in Rebecca’s eyes which made it all the more awe inspiring. I could sense she was feeling the exact same heartbeat I was. It was as if we were connected on some surreal level. That together we formed Dixon’s perfect counterpart. Or maybe his not so perfect one. After all, Rebecca was still unwilling to allow me my perfect shot.
‘Do you swear not to kill him?’ Rebecca’s voice cut through the air with such desperation I could almost feel a lump forming in my own throat. ‘Do you swear it?’
‘You want to save him, just like I was to save Obin. You’ve allowed me to protect my friend, so I should allow you to protect the one you love.’
‘I want to hear you swear it.’ She shook her head. ‘I want to hear you say those words.’
‘I swear I won’t kill him,’ I vowed. ‘I just want to help you save him.’
A long couple of seconds elapsed around us as she held my gaze. Then Rebecca backed away giving me my free shot at him. I took a deep breath in and prepared myself to fire. I knew I only had one shot at this, after all Rebecca would only see betrayal if I messed up. I had to keep my head cool and my aim steady. If I was going to do this then it had to be right not just right now.
‘A steady heart is linked to a steady hand.’ I heard my father’s words echo throughout my mind. ‘Don’t let your heart waver or so will your aim.’
The completion of his lesson almost caused me to pull my hand away. I’d never known what my father had meant by those words until now. Until I was faced with a situation where keeping my aim was the difference between a lifelong partnership and an insufferable enemy.
‘What are you waiting for?’ Rebecca’s voice edged with more nerves than I was feeling. ‘Do it now before I change my mind.’
‘My heart’s not steady.’ I watched my hand shake as I held the cross bow. ‘I’m not sure I can do this.’
‘Don’t you dare start doubting your abilities now Giyan.’ She glared at me. ‘Be arrogant. Be annoying. Be all those other million things I’ve criticized you for since I met you. You have to be able to do this. Because if you don’t… It you don’t there’s no other choice… I will have to kill him.’
‘You can’t kill him Rebecca, you love him too much. I can see it in everything you do.’ I tried to use the words to calm myself, but they barely registered within me even as I spoke them. ‘I have to be the one. There is no other way. You love and fear him. I hate and abhor him. This is an open and shut case Rebecca. I have to be the one to neutralise him.’
‘Then do it already.’
‘I can’t.’ I pulled my arm away, cursing myself as I did.
‘If I miss… If I get it wrong, even by a fraction of a hair. If I hurt him, instead of neutralising him… you’ll hate me forever.’
‘And that matters to you?’
‘It shouldn’t, but it does.’ I felt confusion at my own confusion. ‘You are… I don’t know what you are, but I can’t risk…’
‘Then don’t worry, you won’t risk anything.’ Rebecca’s eyes pleaded with me. ‘If you hurt him or even kill him then that was just what was meant to happen. We both know that. I mean, there’s no future with him in it, right?’
‘And if I don’t miss? If I put him into stasis? What then?’
‘Then I get my chance to save him, we all know that.’ A strange smile pulled its way across her face. ‘Like you said before, you have yours so I should get mine, right?’
‘Right.’ As if this was all I needed to hear I was filled with a sudden overwhelming confidence. ‘You’re right.’
I lifted the crossbow back up and took aim. Everything in me was certain this was the right thing to do. And even if I didn’t believe it was possible to ‘save’ Dixon, putting him into stasis would to kill his hybrid army. If it also gave Rebecca her shot at trying to save him then that was okay too. Because this was the way forward. The only way forward.
As the arrow was released there was a sharp twanging noise which echoed endlessly around him. The arrow headed across the room in the same kind of slow motion Rachel’s bullet had come at me earlier. Again I knew this was a psychological effect, but I still couldn’t help but admire it.
As the shot penetrated Dixon’s chest a strange kind of calm filled the room. For an instant everything froze. Then, as if someone had hit the fast-forward button, everything snapped into hyper speed. One by one the hybrids crumpled back into their original parts, scattering themselves across the room in a more than untidy manner. I sighed in relief and exchanged looks with my friends. Most were looking a little worse for wear, but all were alive and that was the most important thing.
‘We did it.’ Simon gave a nervous laugh. ‘Didn’t we?’
‘Yes.’ I re-holstered my crossbow. ‘We did.’
Simon made an impressed sounding noise sparking a celebration which ran through the group of us like a wild fire. Out of nothing more than sheer relief I found myself hugging Rebecca. It was a strange sensation to say the least but I wasn’t going to ruin the moment by giving it too much thought.
‘And now it’s time to save them both.’ Rebecca pulled herself away from me, her face was filled with an odd expression and I couldn’t be sure if she shared our joy or not. ‘I just wish I knew where to begin.’
‘We need to start with their memories.’ Summer’s whole being reverting back to her unchannelling self. ‘And to do that they have to be separated. I’m sure Obin will be leaving with James as soon as we get him back to the shop. I mean, we’ve more than proved we’re ready to go this alone. So keeping them apart won’t be a problem as long as they don’t remember each other.’
‘But how can we make them forget?’ Simon frowned. ‘I mean, they’re clearly more deeply connected then any of us have been willing to admit. Why else would Vamp-Boy have gone so ape-shit when we froze the kid?’
‘Summer could channel us all again.’ Jonnie made his way out of his previously unchanged position. ‘And some other things too. I mean…’
‘What you were doing before... the position you were in... Summer had instructed you to do that, hadn’t she?’ I met his gaze. ‘She knew from my memories what it was capable of.’
‘Yes, but now that I’m not channelling those things into her the knowledge will be fading fast. I still have a connection to… to the person she was trying to get me to contact.’
‘No.’ Jonnie shook his head. ‘Someone a little more powerful than that.’
‘Does that mean what I think it means?’ I couldn’t help but shoot him a funny look.
‘That depends on what you think it means.’ He scratched his head. ‘But yes…’
‘You’re right. I mean, if you’re thinking the same thing I am… If you’re channelling who I think you’re channelling... Then yes, that would give us the Power we needed to erase the last few days from their minds.’
‘But that doesn’t mean we should.’ Rachel gave a depressed sounding sigh. ‘Burying the truth can cause just as many problems as remembering it. I mean, look at my family…’
‘I’m sorry.’ I shook my head. ‘But I don’t think we have a choice.’
‘I know.’ She pouted. ‘But that still doesn’t make it right.’
The first thing I became aware of was the dull aching which stretched throughout my whole body. After what felt like a life time this sensation was followed by an even deeper, duller ache which prickled endlessly. I tried to groan, but no sound came out of my mouth. It sounded pretty good in my head and for a long while it just felt good enough to know I was thinking about it.
When my mind roused enough to become aware of the physical sensations around me I realised I was lying on, or rather in, a moving vehicle. The hum of the engine sounded familiar, although it took me far too long to figure out why. By the time I did my eyes were coming round to the idea of opening.
The light which glared in through the windshield almost forced my eyes to shut again. A loud long overdue groan escaped my lips, sharpening the fuzzy focus of my mind.
‘You’re finally awake then?’ My Step-Father’s voice hummed above the engine. ‘I was beginning to worry you’d spend the rest of your life asleep.’
‘What happened?’ The words strained out of me. ‘Why can’t I remember anything?’
‘Remember anything from when?’ He sounded more than a little concerned.
‘I dunno.’ My eyes closed against the light. ‘I remember something about Jade wanting to spar with me. Or go on the hunt with me. I’m not sure. It’s kinda fuzzy.’
‘If it’s the event I think it is then that was about four days ago.’ My Step-Father let out a relieved sounding sigh. ‘You remember nothing after that?’
‘No.’ I gave a slow shaking of my head for drawn out emphasis. ‘Why, what happened?’
‘You’ve been unwell.’ His reply was almost too careful. ‘If you weren’t… well you know, I would have feared for your life.’
‘But I don’t get ill.’ I shifted my position only to have sharp spikes of pain ripple through me. ‘Argh.’
‘Don’t move Obin.’ My Step-Father sounded as though he were speaking to a child. ‘You’re still healing.’
‘Healing?’ I frowned as my eyes re-opened. ‘I thought you said I was sick.’
‘You were… are… It’s complicated. You were attacked and there was some kind of a… poison involved.’ I got the feeling he was lying to me somehow and felt betrayed by the idea. ‘It hit you hard and left your body in pretty shocking state.’
‘That can’t be the truth.’ I managed to focus my gaze on him as my body confirmed something had been in my system. ‘Daynasen don’t use poison.’
‘No. No, you’re right they don’t. But… but I never said it was a Daynasen who attack you, did I?’
‘Then what was it?’ I continued to stare at him, hoping guilt would win out and he would tell me the truth.
For a long time my Step-Father was silent. I could tell from the way his expression soften and harden periodically that he was trying to come up with something I would believe. The longer it took him to figure it out the more anxious I became about what it would be.
‘Please don’t lie to me.’ I begged him. ‘What happened?’
‘Okay.’ My Step-Father’s whole being appeared to relent. ‘It’s a little more complicated than you think. I mean, you’re… It… It was a Blackavar.’
‘A Blackavar?’ I couldn’t help but laugh in disbelief. ‘But I’ve dealt with them before and have never come off with so much of a scratch. How the hell would one get the better of me?’
‘You were distracted.’ He became tense. ‘Or… at least I think that’s what happened. I mean, no one was with you at the time. Jade found you afterwards. You were slumped half-dead over her doorstep. You weren’t healing properly, although of course she didn’t understand that. In her concern for you she took you to a hospital. They started treating you and you reacted badly to it. And…’
‘I get the idea,’ I cut him off. ‘What happened to the Blackavar?’
‘We think you managed to fatally wound him or her before you collapsed.’ My Step-Father’s words were carefully chosen. ‘I mean, I sent Jade with a team of the others out… I had to. Without you around there was no one else… They couldn’t find any trace of the person attack you…’
‘Then how do you know it was a Blackavar?’
‘What else could do that much damage to you?’ There was so much concern in his voice now I couldn’t help but believe him. ‘You have no idea how worried I’ve been. And how worried they’ve been.’ My Step-Father’s eyes lifted upwards for a moment. ‘To the point where they almost… Look, Obin I need to level with you about something.’
‘About what?’ I shifted my position again and felt glad it didn’t hurt so much this time.
‘It’s pretty urgent we get to Mary’s Vail. So urgent I was forced to take you out of the hospital before you were ready.’ There was an edgy kind of tension on his face. ‘You’re still in pretty bad shape. We need to get to Mary’s Vail, but I don’t think you’re ready to handle it yet. We need more time.’
‘So you kidnapped me from hospital to do what exactly? Not take me to Mary’s Vail?’
‘Oh no, we’re going to Mary’s Vail.’ The van slowed down as My Step-Father turned in off of the main road towards the car park of a Travel Lodge. ‘It’s just going to take us a little longer to get there than it would normally.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, we’re not allowed to do more than a few hours a day.’ He smiled at me as he parked the vehicle. ‘I phoned ahead for a room. If you just give me a few minutes to get the key and everything I’ll come back and carry you in.’
My Step-Father left before I could say anything else to him. When he returned ten minutes later he made straight for my side of the van.
‘I’m not an invalid.’ I rolled my eyes as he opened the door for me. ‘I can move for myself you know.’
Even as I said the words I somehow knew they weren’t true. I felt exhausted and my body was still tingling with painful prickles. Without hesitation my Step-Father picked me up and lifted me out of my chair. I found myself wincing against the changing sensation of pain the movement caused.
‘It hurts.’ The words moaned out of me. ‘I feel like I’ve been torn apart a few hundred times.’
My Step-Father flinch and sucked a sharp breath in through his nose. There was something about his reaction which made me more alert. For the first time I realised I was covered from my neck down in a large brown blanket. I felt myself squirm. If I hadn’t have noticed his reaction to my words the blanket would be meaningless, but now...
‘Wha…? How much…? I mean…?’
‘Whatever it was which... poisoned you has also... stopped your natural healing process. Or has at least stopped you from healing as fully as you should. Its also caused some of your former wounds to become… problematic.’ My Step-Father gave a heavy sigh. ‘Obin I’m... I’m afraid you’re… broken.’
‘Broken?’ I swallowed hard. ‘You mean I won’t be able to heal if some one...’
‘No,’ he cut me off. ‘The damage will fix itself like it should but you’ll just be left with a lot of scars. I think.’ My Step-Father became nervous again. ‘I’m not sure. No one is. The only thing we can do is play it safe, at least for now.’
‘I don’t think I know how to play it safe.’ I laugh almost instantly wincing because it hurt my chest to do so.
‘Yeah, I know.’ He shot me a sad smile. ‘Just like I know the best thing for you right now is a lot of rest. And I mean it Obin; I want you to get as much rest as possible before we get to Mary’s Vail.’
‘Okay, okay.’ I rolled my eyes knowing there was no way I could argue with him. ‘So what’s waiting for us in Mary’s Vail?’
For a long while my Step-Father ignored the question. He carried me into the Travel Lodge and up towards the room he’d booked for us. By the time he looked ready to talk again he had me tucked up in bed.
‘A few days ago I wouldn’t have been allowed to tell you this.’ My Step-Father brushed some of the hair back from my forehead. ‘But under the circumstances they’ve said… Well it’ll probably be better if you can prepare yourself for this.’
‘For what exactly?’ I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.
‘Your family, Obin.’ The words tensed on his lips. ‘That’s what’s waiting for you in Mary’s Vail. Obin your family is in Mary’s Vail.’
I’d been too stunned by my Step-Father’s words to make any kind of real reaction to them. Instead my mind swarmed and I felt my eyes fluttering shut again. Almost as soon as they did a whole different world appeared before me. I found myself in a long, dark hall with flagstone floor and walls. Everything about the room felt dank and even though it was an open space I couldn’t help but feel claustrophobic.
I tried to move, but something felt wrong. I tried to look down at myself, but my body didn’t seem to be there. From somewhere in the room there was a dry, almost manic sounding laugh. The sound of it was familiar. Something about it made me feel at once elated and yet at the same time horrified. I hated myself for both reactions. For some reason I couldn’t stand the thought either one was the case and yet…
I tried to talk. To find out who was there, but my mouth wouldn’t work. Something in me began to wonder if I even had a mouth at all. Something in me began to wonder… The laughter became more manic and the shadows appeared to dance in the direction it was coming from. My stomach turned cold as I felt a presence approaching me.
I knew why I was so enthralled and so horrified now. I knew why I recognised that laugh. Why I was feeling the way I was feeling. Why I was here, in this cold, barren hall.
The face which appeared from the shadows was a grim one...
‘NO!’ I screamed as my eyes ripped open and I found myself in a now dark Travel Lodge room.
‘Obin?’ My Step-Father sounded concerned as the lights turned on around me. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘I… I… I don’t know…’ Cold sweat rippled down my body. ‘I… I was…’ I swallowed hard. ‘I…’
‘You were having a nightmare.’ He pulled me into one of his rare affectionate hugs. ‘You… you’ve been having a lot of them since you fell ill.’ I could sense there was something not quite right about what he was saying, but I was too shaken up to question it. ‘It’s okay, nothing can hurt you here, I promise…’
‘I was in this… this hall...’ The words pulled their way out of me. ‘It was dark… and… and… and someone was laughing at me. Someone I knew…’
‘Shh.’ My Step-Father hushed me. ‘It was just a nightmare.’
‘I… I know…’ My heart was still racing. ‘I know. Because… because…’
‘Because what?’ He pulled himself away from me in order to meet my gaze.
‘It was me.’ I swallowed hard. ‘I was the one laughing. And… and I looked so insane. Like a… like I was…’ I squeezed my eyes shut, forcing them open again almost as soon as I had because of the images still lingering there. ‘I don’t like this feeling.’ I sobbed.
‘Shh.’ My Step-Father continued to soothe me. ‘It’s okay. It was just a dream. It didn’t mean anything.’
I don’t know what it was but I got the feeling there was more to my dream than just a nightmare. The same feeling told me my Step-Father knew it too. That there was more to my illness than he was telling me. I felt hurt. We didn’t keep secrets from each other.
I closed my eyes again. This time I willed the images terrifying me so much to the forefront of my mind. The face I was staring at looked manic. More than manic. Insane was probably an understatement. The face I was staring at was twisted into an expression which left me feeling cold. And then to make things worse I saw what the other me was holding in his hands. The vial taste of sick rose up through my body and burnt its way into the back of my throat.
I’d seen worse. I know I’ve seen worse. But there was something about the way the scene was pushed together and the knowledge something was being kept from me…
‘I think I’m going to be sick.’ My whole body seemed to urge. ‘I’m going to be sick.’
Without hesitation my Step-Father scooped me up and carried me into the bathroom. I was sick. Repeatedly. Until everything faded back into a swarm of darkness. There were no dreams I could remember this time and the next thing I knew I was waking up back in bed, with my Step-Father protectively curled up next to me. I took a few deep breaths in and tried to assess the situation. A part of me wished I could just accept my Step-Father’s story for what it was. But something kept eating at me. Something told me I’d done something really bad and that thought made me course with guilt. Guilt and sickening anguish.
I knew if I was right and I had done something bad, it would explain my Step-Father’s cagy attitude. But it wouldn’t explain my weakened condition. It would take something major to have done this to me. Something like a Blackavar maybe. I wouldn’t know for sure until I assessed the damage for myself and I really wasn’t looking forward to doing that. My Step-Father groaned and I used his rousing as an excuse to avoid looking at myself. Instead I just remained where I was, watching him as his waxy face pulled into life.
‘You’re awake.’ My Step-Father breathed in relief. ‘I was worried the shock had taken too much out of you. I shouldn’t have dropped so much on you all at once. You’re too delicate right now.’
‘I’m fine.’ I allowed myself to become passive to him. ‘You were saying something about my family being in Mary’s Vail.’
‘Yes.’ He nodded. ‘Your mother and brother are there.’
‘Brother?’ I felt strange. ‘I have a brother?’
‘How long have you known?’
‘Longer than you would like.’ My Step-Father’s expression tightened. ‘They wouldn’t let me tell you, but… They knew it was important for me to know.’
‘It’s okay.’ If I were in any other state than the one I was in I might have been rattled by his confession, but I was just too tired.
I also think my own sense of guilt was making me passive. Guilt at the thought of what I might have done to cause my Step-Father to become almost… I hated to think of him being frightened of me, but there was really no other way to describe it. He was clearly frightened of me finding out something. My Step-Father wouldn’t be so cagy else, that much I was certain of.
‘I’m sorry.’ His face pulled into an unnatural smile.
‘For not being honest with you sooner.’
‘Honest with me?’ I frowned.
‘About your family. I mean, I know they told me not to tell you and my hands were tied, but… Well there was a part of me which didn’t want you to know.’
‘Why?’ I couldn’t help but feel even more confused.
‘Because I know how obsessed…’ My Step-Father cut off the word as though something about it made him uncomfortable. ‘I know how much you want to be with your blood family,’ he corrected his sentence. ‘And… that made me feel unimportant.’
Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any guiltier, a new surge of emotion rushed through me. I squirmed and winced from the pain of squirming. I’d always had a great deal of love and respect for my Step-Father. I thought what we had was unspoken and unconditional. I’d no idea it hurt him so much when I spoke about finding my true kin.
‘I’m sorry.’ I lowered my gaze. ‘You are my family too. You do know that, right?’
‘I know.’ My Step-Father shot me an understanding smile. ‘But that doesn’t mean…’
‘I know.’ I sighed. ‘That’s why I’m sorry. I’ll try not to… let my own wants get the best of me like that again. I promise.’
The next few days felt longer than they should have been. They followed a pretty consistent pattern. Sleep. Drive for a few hours. More sleeping. And a lot of gentle talking. I still hadn’t drawn up the courage to take a look at my damaged body, but I somehow felt like that didn’t really matter. I would get a look at it when I was good and ready to see it and not before. Although I had to admit to myself the longer I put it off the harder it became to bring myself to do it.
I don’t think my Step-Father had managed to work out that I had been putting it off. Either that or he was so relieved I wasn’t looking at my body damage he chose to play ignorant to it. I knew I couldn’t keep myself from it inevitably. And if I was being perfectly honest with myself I didn’t really want to put it off forever. But my train of thoughts were so all over the place…
‘It’s alright, you know…’ My Step-Father broke into my mental isolation. ‘To want to look I mean. Because we both know you can’t stay under that blanket forever.’
‘How did you know I was thinking about that?’ I couldn’t help but gawk at him.
‘I didn’t.’ He shot me a soft as his eyes met with mine via the rear view mirror. ‘But you’ve had that vexed look about you for the last few days. The kind which can only mean you’re thinking about something. Something that… bothers you. And the only thing I can think of which might be bothering you right now…’
‘I see…’ I lowered my gaze. ‘Its not that I don’t want to look at it, it’s just… Well it’s not that I don’t not want to look at it.’ I laughed at my own contradiction.
There was something about the way My Step-Father scruffed my hair at that moment which made me feel better about things. I hadn’t realised before just how much of a rock he was in my life. My Step-Father was my family. He really was. So why did I still have a deep aching inside me wanting more?
‘How much longer till we reach Mary’s Vail?’
‘A few more hours if we keep going now.’ My Step-Father sighed. ‘Tomorrow if we stop off somewhere. It’s really up to you.’
For a long time I thought about it. I didn’t know how I was going to feel being so close to my family and knowing I still had to wait before I could meet them. I pressed my lips together I found myself half holding my breath.
‘Lets get on to Mary’s Vail. I need to start school there Monday now, don’t I?’
‘You only told me yesterday.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘Come on. Its Saturday now, if we put this off any longer it’ll be midnight tomorrow by the time we get there. And that’s not very healthy for weak little school boys, now is it?’
‘You’re not weak.’ My Step-Father’s eyes shot me a concerned look. ‘You’re just a little under the weather at the moment.’
‘Is that what we’re calling it now?’ I stretched and was relieved to find there was no pain from the movement. ‘A little under the weather? I guess that would make a better excuse when they ask why I’m so late in enrolling.’
‘What makes you think you’re late in enrolling?’ He frowned.
‘Something you were saying to them last night…’ I pulled one of my arms out from under the blanket in order to test my own tolerance at seeing myself.
‘You were listening to that?’
‘Travel Lodges have very thin walls.’ I stared down at my arm, swallowing hard at the ugliness of the scars I could see there.
‘Of course.’ My Step-Father laughed. ‘Yeah, we were supposed to be there a while ago. You know, to avoid any suspicions our timing might cause.’
‘Something tells me that won’t make much of a difference this time.’
‘Those Travel Lodge walls are really, really thin.’
‘Yeah.’ My Step-Father rolled his eyes. ‘You had mentioned. But there is another way of looking at this…’
‘Too bad we don’t have the ability to look at this any other way.’ I pulled my other arm out from under the blanket and winced to see the state it was in. ‘Do you mind if I start wearing really long sleeves from now on.’
‘What?’ For a moment he looked confused, taking his eyes off of the road to glance towards me. ‘Oh…’ He gave a nervous cough. ‘Whatever makes you feel happy.’
‘I’m not sure it is about happiness.’ I shook my head. ‘It’s about living with myself.’
‘I’m not sure I understand what you mean.’
‘I think… I think I did something bad.’
‘I don’t want you to keep it from me. If I… if that part of me got… loose...’ I squirmed. ‘If I have to live with the scars of what I’ve done, then…’
Without warning my Step-Father pulled the van to a stop along the side of the dusty country road we were driving down. He turned towards me, meeting my gaze with a kind of surreal seriousness.
‘Nothing which happened is your fault.’ My Step-Father placed a hand on my shoulder as if to drive his point home. ‘I don’t want you to ever think that it was. Do you hear me? No matter what you hear about what you went through I don’t want you to ever think that it was your fault.’
‘Does that mean I did do something bad?’
For a moment he hesitated as if he had to think about what he wasn’t telling me and judge it appropriately.
‘No.’ The level of sincerity in my Step-Father’s voice was enough to convince me. ‘Nothing you did was bad or your fault. Okay?’
‘Good.’ He started the van up again and continued down the road. ‘So we’re travelling all the way to Mary’s Vail today then?’
‘Yeah.’ I pulled myself up in order to feel less smothered by the blanket. ‘I think I’m ready for it now.’
‘You do realise I won’t be able to let you out for a while?’
‘What do you mean by that?’ I frowned.
‘I mean, no patrolling. Not until I think you’re up to it.’
‘What?’ I was starting to feel like my old self again. ‘But what if…?’
‘No.’ My Step-Father shook his head. ‘I will not risk anything else happening to you, okay?’
‘Is that your way of saying you don’t trust me?’ I pouted.
‘No, it’s not that at all.’ He sighed. ‘I meant what I said just now. I don’t want anything… I mean, this isn’t the ideal situation for you to be in right after what you’ve been through.’
‘But I don’t remember what I went through.’ I felt frustrated by it all. ‘How can it affect me if…?’
‘I’m sorry Obin.’ My Step-Father’s tone was firm. ‘I have to put my foot down on this one. This situation is too… difficult for me to risk anything.’
‘How is it difficult?’
‘If the walls to the Travel Lodge are really as thin as you say they are then you should be able to tell me.’ His jaw line hardened. ‘No patrolling till I give you the okay Obin. And you better believe I mean what I say.’
After years of wearing whatever I felt like wearing, the school uniform I was in was stiff and uncomfortable to wear. It was made up of dull grey trousers, white shirt, a red tie with black stripes and a red blazer with the school’s crest sewn onto the breast pocket. The crest itself was pretty cool looking though. It was made up of a red shield, with a soft white flower in the centre and a pair of doves holding a ribbon banner above with the schools mantra written in Latin on it. Something about it felt proper and traditional. I knew I didn’t have the right to feel proud to wear it yet, but I got the sense it was something I would grow into.
I sat down at my desk, picked up my brush and began running it through my hair. I’d never really been bothered about my appearance before. I didn’t see the point when no one would get to see me anyway. Well no one who would care whether my hair was a complete shambles or how long it had been since I’d last bothered to change my clothes. But I was going into an environment where most people were still told how to dress by their parents and I couldn’t afford to look too far out of place. Not when I had the purple hue of my hair, the violet tinting round my pupils and the chalk white paleness of my skin working against me.
I pulled my shoulder length hair back into as neat a short ponytail as I could manage. My eyes went to study the school plan and timetable I had been given. I had no idea how a school was supposed to work, yet here I was having to pretend as though I’d been to a million or more of them before. The line would be my Step-Father’s work had caused us to move around a lot. And moving had meant a lot of transfers.
I’d spent all day Sunday studying both timetable and school plan, memorising it as best I could. I didn’t know if that’s what constant transfer students did or not, but I didn’t really care. I was more concerned with making sure I gave off the right first impression. Even if that first impression was a complete and utter lie. I took a deep breath in, closed my eyes and tried to bring forward everything I had been trying to learn. I knew I had at least the first couple of days down and thanks to my keen map reading skills the layout of the school was no problem.
So why did I still feel sick to the pit of my stomach?
‘You ready?’ My Step-Father stuck his head round the door.
‘As I’ll ever be, I guess.’ I got to my feet and picked up the school bag he’d prepared for me. ‘So what’s your old school like?’ I turned towards him knowing this was my Step-Father’s home town.
‘It had much better memories for me before I found out the truth.’ He pulled a face. ‘I really don’t know how to feel about this place or anything to do with it sometimes.’
‘This is still where you came from though.’ I tried to smile at him. ‘And everyone deserves to… have some sort of connection to the place they come from. Even if they’re not… you know…’
‘Come on.’ My Step-Father indicated towards the door. ‘Let’s get you off before you turn into a complete softy on me.’
It didn’t take us long to get from our new place to the school grounds. Once there I was ushered around various areas of the school in some kind of haphazard tour. Somewhere along the way I’d lost my Step-Father and gained the presence of a rather pin perfect looking lady teacher. There was something about her face which told me what she really was. And knowing what I did about Mary’s Vail I couldn’t help but wonder if she had once been one of my Step-Father’s friends or classmates.
The lady teacher made a rather prim and quick introduction of herself as her eyes scanned over me with an almost unveiled level of disgust. It was pretty clear she knew what I was. Or at least suspected something was off. As the lady teacher led me into the classroom which was supposed to be my form room I felt every single one of the kids’ eyes turn towards me. In my chest my heart was pounding like a jackhammer. Could they tell I’d never been to school before? Could they tell what numerical and literary skills I had were basic at best? Could they tell I knew nothing about real science? That I didn’t follow sports? And would they think I was some kind of idiot when they found out?
I knew I was being irrational, but I couldn’t help it. Every single one of them had been forced to put up with this world since they were five. How on earth was I supposed to fake it?
‘This was the new student I promised you all.’ The lady teacher’s crow like voice broke into my train of thoughts. ‘His names Obin Johnson and I expect you all to make him feel welcomed.’
As she said my name my eyes darted with a kind of panic around the room. I wanted to try and find a friendly face amongst the strangers. Someone I could get in with later for support or whatever the new kid was supposed to need. What I found instead was a pair of eyes so distinguished they could have been my own. Everything in me twisted with a strange kind of amazement. I knew I was going to find him in this town. But to meet him on my first day... Something told me this was fated.
I continued to study him and couldn’t help but note the differences between the two of us. For a start his skin had more of a soft, human looking pinkness about it. And although his hair was obviously the same colour as mine it was cut into a tidy short French crop. There was also a blank kind of innocence about him. I could see from the look in his eyes he didn’t even have the first clue about me. What was worse it was like he’d never even considered the possibility I’d existed before that moment.
It hurt, but I knew I couldn’t dwell on it. My Step-Father had warned me this might be the case.
‘I suppose you could spend a few moments telling the class about yourself.’ The lady teacher’s voice cut through me, waking me from the trance my thoughts had put me in. ‘But mind you don’t waste too much time with it, first period starts in less than ten minutes.’
‘I’m sure I can tell them everything they need to know in less time than that.’ I tried to appear as calm, cool and collected about the situation as I could. ‘I’m not exactly the most interesting person in the world to talk about.’
The lady teacher folded her arms, shrugged and indicated the floor was mine.
‘Well, like teacher said my name is Obin Johnson.’ I focused my gaze on the tidy little boy I was certain was my brother in order to keep my composure. ‘I was born in a place really far away from here, but as I haven’t been there since I was a baby I doubt I could tell you much about it. My Step-Father and I travel a lot. He’s a doll maker and goes from town to town setting up his doll factories and shops. So I’ve been to a lot of different schools and made a lot of different friends.’
‘Does your mother help in the doll factories too?’ A tall redheaded girl sat in the seat next to my brother grinned at me, her voice making me flinch.
‘I’ve never met my mother.’ I turned my gaze towards her, wondering if she and my brother were friends. ‘When I was born I was infected with the same blood infection both my parents had. By the time I was cured the infection had taken them from me. The only parent I’ve ever known is my Step-Father and I thank the Light everyday that I have him.’
‘The Light?’ My brother’s face was filled with a clueless look.
‘Yes.’ I frowned at him. ‘The Light. I’m surprised you don’t know about it.’
Because we are the Light. I mentally urged at him. Or at least a part of it.
‘If it as anything to do wiv something that ain’t Christian, Dog Collah wouldn’t know it from cheese.’ A girl from the back of the room who looked as though she hadn’t seen the inside of a bathroom in a year laughed out. ‘E’s a God Boy, don cha know.’
‘You’re a Christian?’ I gawked at him, the idea of it making me feel inexplicably uncomfortable. ‘Really?’
‘He’s more than just a Christian.’ A boy just as uncouth as the girl he sat next to smirked. ‘He’s the Priest’s bastard.’
There was something about the boy at the back which filled me with the strangest sense of familiarity. I’d experienced a similar sensation when I’d first encountered Jade although I’d never managed to find a good explanation for it. Something in the boy’s eyes told me there was a connection. Or if not a connection then a definite knowledge he wasn’t like his class mates in a lot more ways than one.
I found myself studying him for the longest moment. Then a sharp bell rang out around me. As if it were the most natural thing in the world each member of the class got to their feet and noisily filed their way out of the room.
In my overly nervous state I found myself sticking as close to my brother as I could as we moved towards the first class of the day. A part of me was so overwhelmed by the situation I’d almost forgotten where we were going. I knew I have to behave like your run of the mill year nine student, but that wasn’t exactly easy when I’d spent less time around people of my own age than I had playing in the sunlight. I was used to dealing with sixteen to twenty-five year olds. Those who had left the educational system and weren’t looking to go back. I didn’t know how to behave. But I knew I had to try.
‘So you’re a Christian?’ I repeated my early question, wanting to start conversation with my brother somehow.
‘Yeah.’ He gave me a tense series of nods. ‘This is a small town so everybody already knows this. But my Mum and I live with the local Priest.’
‘Is the Priest your father?’
I already knew what his answer would be, but since the uncouth boy from the back of the class had made the allegation I had to follow it through. I figured it would be expected of me and if it wasn’t I’d chalk it up to experience and move on.
‘He is not my biological father if that’s what you’re asking.’ It was clear to me my brother found this subject uncomfortable. ‘My Mum had already had me when she first met him. But she was… young and alone and frightened, so Father Michael agreed to take her in for as long as she needed.’
‘And then she just… never left?’ I frowned, something about the idea felt a little strange to me knowing what I did about Mary’s Vail.
‘She didn’t plan for it to be that way, but when nobody would give her work because…’ My brother squirmed as he cut his own sentence off.
It was clear to me my brother was the kind who was made uncomfortable by things just by thinking about them. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I had always believed my siblings would be a lot like me. For my brother to lack so much confidence just felt wrong.
‘Because…?’ I knew it was unfair to push him, but I had to know what kind of a life my mother had been living.
‘Well let’s just say even Christian spirit is a bit lacking in this town when it comes to my Mum.’ My brother shrugged, failing to play it as cool as I was sure he was hoping. ‘Something to do with having a child out of wedlock and apparently seducing the local Priest. Not that she has.’ His mannerisms reminding me of a small child learning to explain his whole life in micro-fractures. ‘Well… She did have me out of wedlock, but she most definitively has not seduced Father Michael. I mean, my Mum’s practically a nun.’
It was odd but my brother’s nervousness was almost refreshing. My Step-Father’s recruits often had more confidence than common sense to begin with and it got a little tiring. My brother might not have been anything like me, but that wasn’t a bad thing.
‘You babble when you’re nervous.’ I hoped I didn’t sound as hopelessly enthralled by him as I felt. ‘Do I set you on edge?’
For a long time my brother locked himself into a strange kind of silence. There was something about his silence which filled me with deep anxiety. What if my brother was frightened of me? What if I was coming on to strong? I mean, I didn’t know how I was supposed to act around him. This was completely unfamiliar territory for me.
Or at least I thought it was. Something inside me told me otherwise, but I just shrugged it off as being a kind of unrequited longing for family.
‘It’s okay.’ I smiled at him when it was obvious he wasn’t about to answer anytime soon. ‘I make a lot of people nervous when they first meet me. I think it’s something to do with my eyes. But I’d guess you’d know all about that.’
My brother nodded. It was clear he was more than a little anxious about saying anything to me now. I almost began to suspect all kinds of thoughts were flying round his brain. My brother knew there was more to our shared looks than just coincidence. But his clear lack of knowledge must have meant his brain was firing all kinds of blanks.
An awkward silence developed between us for a moment. I got the sense my brother was feeling as though I had him under a microscope. That started making me feel nervous. I was so desperate for him to like me that I couldn’t… My insides turned cold for a moment. Why was I so desperate for this? It wasn’t like I was a needy person. And I’d spent so many years planning out this moment that it shouldn’t… I cut off my own train of thoughts and hoped my brother hadn’t noticed my suddenly silence.
‘Your first name’s Jake, right?’ I remembered the conversation I’d overheard in the Travel Lodge and tried to cover up any nerves on both parts.
My brother nodded again and I was starting to feel as though he might be a little slow. Either that or my barrage of questions was too overwhelming for him.
No. I reason to myself. It’s neither of those. He’s just a little shy. If I tone myself down a little I’m sure he’ll relax.
‘What’s your last name?’ I took a deep breath in and tried to sound more curious than demanding.
‘Why?’ Jake choked out, looking a little terrified at the thought of telling me.
How could I tell him the real answer to his question? How could I tell him I’d overheard my Step-Father using his first name, but I hadn’t heard his last? I might as well have just blurted out the fact I had so little idea about being a school child I didn’t know whether or not asking him his last name was supposed to be this offensive.
‘Because I like to know the full names of the people I become friends with.’ I settled for the only reason I felt I was able to give him. ‘And I can sense that we will become fast friends.’
The second I said it I wished I hadn’t. Jake’s face became so unbelievably pale I knew I’d said something wrong. In my head I kicked myself several times for being so uncouth. Of course kids of our age didn’t place any importance on that kind of thing. Well not normal kids of our age who didn’t have to wonder about whether or not the people their making friends with will be killed hunting demons.
And they do all risk death everyday. That’s one of the reasons I don’t make friends. I sighed to myself. Because so many of the people my Step-Father trained have not survived. I’d kind of given up on forming any kind of attachment to others. Well with the exception of my Step-Father.
‘Oh… oh I see.’ Jake broke into my train of thoughts. ‘It’s Marella.’ He forced out the word as though he had no idea what it meant.
‘Marella?’ I breathed.
For a long heartbeat the world slowed around me. This wasn’t the first time someone had told me they were Marella and the last time… My mind stopped dead. I had no memory of meeting a Marella before. How could I? There had never been an opportunity for me to meet one before. That’s why I was getting so out of sorts with meeting my brother. But at the same time…
I felt a strange kind of ringing stretch through my mind reaching for something I wasn’t even sure was there. Everything in me turned over and I almost felt as though I were being possessed by a familiar spirit. Before I knew it a voice was pushing its way out of me backing up all the strange things I was feeling.
‘Oh how I have waited to meet you... Jake Marella…’