Everybody had to be gathered around the kitchen island, which had sumptuous amount of food and ten stools.
Sapphire glared at me when she saw me at the table, which I was happy to annoy.
“How did the check up go?” Xander asked. “You are uncommonly quiet tonight.”
I shrugged. “Nothing to report, the nurse says my synchronization seems to work perfectly fine. And I also met an old acquaintance from the slums.”
And I discovered my parents are dead.
“Hmm, sounds like you had a revelation.”
“He is from Area 50.”
“Ahh, that is why.”
“The most stupid mistake was to invite that plebeian into our Area.” Sapphire seemed to be talking to her neighbour, but the volume of her voice and the directness of her comment betrayed her.
“There is more than meets the eye,” I mused loudly. “I thought you were educated and would have the courtesy of saying things to my face. I guess I was wrong”
“Listen, I just want a peaceful meal, why do you have to ruin that too?”
“Geez, are you still mad because of the stupid ranking?” I rolled my eyes. “You are ridiculous.” I could feel Sapphire’s life force burning with anger. “And you know what, on every single one of my battles I’ll throw myself against that force field until I am through it or I die and your precious ranking will go down and...”
I couldn’t finish the sentence. In a split of a second she jumped on her stool and pounced across the table at me, knocking me out of my stool. I fell flat on the floor. Sapphire was on top of me, one hand gripping my neck while the other had morphed into sharp claw-like nails. Xander was trying to get me but a mass of arms had him tangled and pulled back.
“I should’ve done this the night you came back from your fight.” Sapphire hissed.
“I bet you always wanted to be this close to me.” I said, holding off her claw hand from ripping my face. I found an undefended slit on Sapphire pose, balled my free hand, and hit her hard across the head. The impact sent her off my body and hard on the floor. I was scrambling to my feet when she yanked me back to the floor and her palm was swung in my direction. I deftly stopped her hand in midair and twist her arm, forcing a scream from her.
She threw back her head and hit my head with hers. I was flat on my back again and the world was spinning. I could see her coming at me on all fours, a dangerous hunger in her eyes. She was over me again; her nails now dangerously close to my face. I did what I had done to survive; I looked at her and locked our gazes. My mind tasted of dying embers and acid rain, it was inhospitable, but I had to cling to this taste to live. Sapphire’s body tensed. I tasted her luxurious and power-prone life and her ambition to be the best. I located the golden bead of her life force, embedded in her soul, and wrapped it with my own silvery essence.
“What...are...you...doing to me?” She seethed.
I yanked at her life force and she staggered to her feet. I raised, our minds still locked in one.
“Lorrie, listen to me, it’s not worth it. If you kill her they’ll kill you too.” Xander’s words seemed so far away. It was like I was stranded in an island surrounded by Sapphire’s mist.
“I can’t stop it!”
From the corner of my eyes, I saw Xander wriggling free of the arms and charging toward me. He tackled me. I was on the floor once again, but my connection had snapped. The golden bead slipped away from my silvery mantle. Sapphire slumped to the floor, wide-eyes.
“Are you okay?” Xander breathed in my ear.
The main doors opened and two impassively-looking guards stepped in.
“She tried to kill me!” Sapphire screeched, like the little snivelling rat she was.
“Lorrie Lockhart, come with us.”
Xander stood and pushed me behind him. “She is not going anywhere.”
“This is a direct order from the higher levels.”
The guards approached and took me away. We walked down the hallways to an elevator where it took us down several floors. The door reopened and I was standing in a lavishly decorated office room where a balding man was sitting behind a desk, scribbling in a ledger.
“Sir, Lorrie Lockhart as you requested.”
The man looked up and I saw a hint of recognition on his eyes when he saw me.
“Miss Lockhart, please take a seat.”
The guards stepped into the elevator and disappeared.
“Area 34 doesn’t seem too happy with you.”
“Correction, Sapphire doesn’t seem too happy with me.” I immediately wished to claw back those words.
He chuckled. “Well, Sapphire has always been quite enthusiastic about battles, even since she was a little girl. But we’re not here to discuss about her. It’s you I want to discuss.”
“Why did I run into the force field? Everybody knows that answer.”
His kind smile was unnerving. “Tell me Lorrie, why did you come here?”
The truth slapped me hard. This man was truly concerned for me, not because that was his nature, but because he was my foster father’s brother. He dismissed me after my five-minute silence. To punish me, he had reassigned me to another area, Area 50. Before I jumped into the elevator, I turned to him.
“I came looking for my parents who turn out are dead.”
“...I am Lorrie, the new transfer.”
I was greeted by Apex. Shortly afterward I saw Visp, and I allowed myself a quick smile, his taste was exquisite. Then Newt came and another taste fully registered in my mind. Newt tasted like the desert, spreading forever in all directions like it was infinite. The desert was quiet but within it contained a spirit just waiting to be freed; it had a nurturing warmth too.
One more taste registered in my mind and it made me shudder. I tasted fresh blood on cold steel, like after a successful hunt or kill. I found the owner and he was arguing with Apex. Then a fight broke and Visp jumped in between to stop them. They went their separate ways.
“Hey, are you okay?” Visp asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Who was that?”
“A transfer, just like you. His name is Shard as you’ve seen; he’s not friendly, especially not to Apex. He and Shard fight our area’s first duo battle.”
I nodded. Now that I was in another area, a much friendlier one by the looks of it, I had to adjust a little. It was easy to fight with Sapphire because I didn’t care about hurting her feelings, but with these people, who apparently liked me, I had to try to be nice.
“Now that you’re finally here, how about we resume our conversation?” Visp asked a little too eager. After seeing my blank face he added, “When you hit the field, what did you see?”
I lowered my voice. “I don’t know if I saw correctly, but I could see this entire place, every corner, every room, every underground network with my mind. I had a mental picture of this compound.”
That piece of information seemed to ignite something in Visp’s head. “Can you keep it a secret? Especially from Shard and Tiamone? Apex will be excited when he finds out what you can do!”
I looked at him puzzled, and then felt the appearance of someone else. His taste was like hitting a block of ice.
“Tiamone, she’s our new transfer.”
“Our infamous transfer.” He then disappeared to his room.
“What’s up with him?” I asked.
“He’s weird like that.”
Only Newt and I were in the room the next day, though she was confined in her room and refused to watch the fight, and Tiamone and Visp had gone to watch and cheer for Apex and Shard.
My mind was focused on Apex all the time, tasting the radiance of early morning mingled with the golden warmth of the afternoon. Shard morphed his body into spear-like objects and used Apex’s body as distraction and shield to pierce through his opponents. The blood that poured out of Apex was unstoppable.
My breath caught in my throat. There was another powerful presence on the arena aside from Apex, Shard, and their opponents. This one tasted of nothingness and void, of a black hole devouring everything, clawing it toward its center. At the same time, I saw Apex flashed between his two opponents, catching them by the arm. Apex’s arms started glowing like embers on the fireplace.
“No Apex, not like that.” The warmth of sunset was gone from his taste, replaced by nothingness, a black mass that only absorbs and kills. Then there was nothing but bits of flesh and blood.
Apex was wheeled in shortly after his battle was over.
“The doctors gave him something to stop the flow of blood,” Visp said with unease. “But didn’t do much about the wounds.”
I walked past him and entered Apex’s room. It stank of blood and raw flesh. As I closed the door, I saw Visp going to check on Newt.
I didn’t know what to do so I just cut bandage, anoint them with some healing cream, and wrapped it around his wounds. “If only I could give you some of my regenerative powers.”
Hours had passed before Apex gave any indications of consciousness. The first thing he did when he woke up was shout, “WHERE IS SHARD, I WANT TO KILL THAT BASTARD!”
I applied clinical alcohol to a wound on his knee, which silenced him from hysteria to cursing.
“The hell did you do that for?!” he yelled at me, then he recognized who he was yelling at and murmured a sorry. We remained silent for a long time.
“Tell me, why did you do that?”
“Kill them the way you killed them.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, last thing I know, Shard run those spikes through me and I was bleeding.”
“You’re a liar.”
He turned to looked at me, there was hurt in his eyes which quickly turned into anger. “Why would I lie about that?! Do you think I’m this beast that enjoys killing like your friends from 34? Maybe you should’ve stayed there, suits you perfectly!”
Okay, this verbal offense I could forego. He was in pain after all. “You didn’t feel remorse, did you?”
“I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
“But I want to. I need to know, I need to know that I’m not losing you to these people!” I shouted.
Newt burst into the room, her telepathic scream tearing us apart from strangling each other, then as gently as she could, she said. “Guys, this is not the time to be shouting at each other.” She gestured with her hands. “Please, Apex needs to rest, don’t you see in the state he’s in!”
“This is none of your business.” I snapped at Newt, who had her eyes brimming with tears. I bet nobody talked to her like that.
“Don’t you talk to Newt like that.” Apex snarled at me, furious. I looked into his eyes and recognized a certain familiarity from the slums when he was expressing his anger and resentment toward the bullies. That was how he saw me, like one of them. His comment of area 34 and his anger at me was the proof I needed. I had changed in his eyes and it hurt like hell. However, I couldn’t let him see me hurt so I pulled on a mask of rage.
“Whatever, ask Newt to change your bandages then.” I stormed out of the room, past a gaping Visp.
On my way towards the balcony I found Shard just walking in. He, unlike Apex, seemed fairly unhurt. We stayed frozen, regarding each other, one with distaste and the other with amusement.
“Let me make something clear,” I said. “If you ever hurt Apex like that again, I will hunt you in your dreams and kill you.”
Shard laughed wolfishly. “That idiot asked his girlfriend to protect him?” He took steps full of intention toward me, but I didn’t back down. Instead, I allowed his taste to immerse me while I looked for his life force. I found it, a crimson bead in the center of his heart. I made a grab at it, silvery threads engulfing the tiny red. Shard features froze. I felt his experience in my mind, the people he had killed, his ruthless training, and his lack of affection.
He looked confused at first, then belligerent. He tried to fight against me but I had his life force. He was my marionette until I decided to get out of his mind, killing him in the process.
Something in the atmosphere changed. His taste withdrew from my mind and I was losing control of his force. He covered the space separating us in three quick strides, held my neck, and slammed me against the wall. I heard my head crack and blood trickling.
“Let me warn you too, that if you ever get in my head again I will not only kill you, but your dear boy as well.”
I smiled, bemused. “Military training made you immune to psychic powers?”
His fingers lifted against his will from my neck. Visp had used telekinesis.
“Get away from her Shard.”
“Fine, we were just talking. Get your filthy power off me.” Shard spat.
Visp dropped his hand. Shard went to his room.
“What was that about?” Visp asked.
“Nothing,” I said. My head was completely healed, though I had a headache. “Promise me you’ll not say a word to Apex.” The intensity in my eyes made him promised it. Then I went to found consolation in the salty ocean breeze.