I accessed my parents’ taste, which was in a bottle next to my heart, and let it flow through me. I hadn’t cried when Apex told me about it, but now that he wasn’t here I let my tears flow. It was bitter; to think that the two people I loved most in this world were gone, forever. Almost unexpectedly my awareness of everyone and everything returned, pushing my parent’s taste from me. I cursed for not being able to fully control my power. With my parents dead, I had nothing but dear life to cling to and I wasn’t so sure that was enough motivation to keep me alive.
I looked out the window and saw an extensive amount of red, barren wasteland beyond the walls of the Martian capital. I closed my eyes, willing all the life forces around me to dim so I could feel the topography and everything on the Martians’ grounds. My mind’s eyes snaked through the compound, passing through doors uninterrupted. I felt the jostled of the busy city life of Mars and I knew I was out of my imprisonment. I felt a fierce necessity to revisit the slums, but I refrain. The slums had nothing else for me, not my parents and not Apex (since he was here and hated me). Instead, I veered to my left to the border of the city. Mars was a developed nation of its own; having severed whatever ties it held with Earth. Earth people weren’t too happy about it, since they still considered Mars a rightful colony of theirs.
I wandered close to the border, where a huge wall of steel and concrete laced with electrified barb wire on the top had been erected to confine the capital inside, or to keep whatever it was outside from coming in. I opted for the former, I knew of no one who would enter voluntarily, except for the filthy rich and innocent children and murderous thieves alike from Earth who were shipped off to Mars. Apparently Mars was a viable solution to overpopulation on Earth and their orphanages and jails. Beyond the wall I could feel red hot sand, dryness, and freedom. I had a mental map of the area plastered on my mind, now I needed an escape plan.
I needed Visp, since he briefly mentioned that he and Apex were plotting something similar. Visp, I forgot he had been badly hurt by Tiamone, his own partner, in their battle. Area 50 had won. When Visp went unconscious, Tiamone had received hit from his sole standing opponent. He was on the ground and as his opponent was advancing toward him he caught sight of his brother’s body and slashed neck and committed the mistake of falling to his knees and cry for his loss. Tiamone took advantage of the situation and stabbed him on the back. It was all too gruesome to watch. Two of our teammates were sadistic enough to harm their own partners. I added Tiamone to my to-kill list, right next to Shard, and maybe Apex.
Apex. I didn’t hate him, just hated the way he made me feel when he looked at me with eyes full of disdain. I didn’t want him to think I had become one of the people he hates but his words had made it clear and it hurt. I didn’t care about a lot of things, not about suitors, not about hurting anyone’s feelings (especially my foster parents and their entourage and acquaintances), and not about etiquette, but I did care about what Apex thought of me, and strangely enough, it gnawed me to the core.
There was a knock on the door and Newt’s soft telepathic voice came through. I had been so lost in the Martian landscape that I hadn’t felt her presence coming.
“Lorrie, are you busy? I kinda need your help. I would ask Apex but he is nowhere to be found, maybe he’s in the training room but dunno.”
I wanted to tell Newt to go away and leave me alone with my ponderings, but she had been nothing but kind and friendly. Besides, our battle was tomorrow and I didn’t want Newt to turn on me like Shard and Tiamone had with Apex and Visp respectively. Though I doubted Newt would do that.
I opened the door and looked at her. She was so small; she couldn’t possibly be my age. I towered almost six inches above her, yet her spirit was something else, much grander.
“What do you want?” I asked. I failed at being nice sometimes, but Newt apparently didn’t noticed.
“Visp’s back really hurts from where his lightning struck him and I think he’s bleeding or something. There are red smudges on his shirt. Could you please take a look at him?”
I searched for Visp’s taste of wind and found that it was barely a breeze. I nodded and followed Newt to his room. It was remarkable how Newt seemed to take care of all of us here. I scanned the rooms for the rest. Apex and Shard were apparently in the training room. Maybe Apex had kept his word on killing Shard, which I hoped he didn’t since I had unfinished business with Shard. Tiamone was in the confines of his room again.
I entered but Newt stay out.
“Just in case.” She signed and smiled feebly.
I walked over to where Visp was prostrated. He face was gaunt and drained and his eyebrows were knitted in a frown like he was still reliving his fight in the arena. I saw the red smudges Newt was talking about. Slowly and carefully, I raised his ragged shirt, careful not to touch the possibly burnt skin. His back was pale, made even more by the ugly, red, unhealed wound on his back. I went to the washroom to wet a cloth and applied it to his back. I cleaned his wound and spread some white powder over it. Then I wrapped him with bandages and touched his naked back and chest. The touch sent ripples of electricity through my body and it felt nice. After I had him patched up, I leaned close to his face. His whole essence came into view, his life force pulsating blue at the center of his heart, enticing me to wrap it with my own silvery force. But I dared not, for fear of the consequences, and I did not have Xander with me, who had tackled me when I had Sapphire’s life force. To let go meant death and I certainly didn’t want to kill Visp. But gosh, I wanted to kiss him.
My face hovered just inches from his face, our lips so close. This was not right though, to kiss him while he was unconscious meant robbing him from his will of choosing who can kiss him. After living with my foster parents for five years, I was no stranger to plundering other’s will, like they had done to me. Instead I pressed my cheeks against his cold cheek and whispered in his ear.
“I have a plan to break us out of here.”
I didn’t know if he could hear me and I walked out before finding out. Newt was outside; she had seen or heard nothing.
“He’s all bandaged. You can go inside now.”
Newt nodded a thank you. She seemed exhausted with all the worrying about and her telepathic power must be a drain too, like my psychic navigation was with me. Newt got into the room. As I was walking away I heard her say. “At least you could’ve covered him with a blanket.”
I smiled despite of myself.
I was studying our opponents in the kitchen when Shard walked in looking exhausted and tired. Apex had given him a hell of a fight, it seemed. Our gazes locked, his was impassive, mine was searching, but to no avail.
“It’s not going to work again,” he said looking away, “I have you memorized, you’re not invading my head again and you know what will happen if you do.” This, he said with less conviction, and I wondered what had happened between him and Apex.
As I mentioned before, I suck at being nice. “How do you do it?” I asked. “How do you hide your humanity and replace it with the cold-blooded mask of a beast that beats its opponents senseless and enjoys it?”
He literally barked a horrid and rumbling laugh. “You got a good look into my head, didn’t you? I’m sure you and I have a lot of things in common. I can see it in your eyes, you’re a survivor, like me, and would do anything to get what you want.”
“I wouldn’t. I may be selfish but I’m nobody’s slave.” I added more quietly. “And you assume that nobody understands but I do...”
"Don't you dare say you understand!" He shouted and was immediately upon me, a hint of savagery in his eyes. I was ready for him; I leaped to my feet and clutched a butcher knife, a feral intensity in my eyes. If he thought he could touch me again he had another thing coming.
It was Apex’s warning voice.
“What?!” snarled Shard. “She is not part of the deal.”
I could see Apex advancing stealthily behind Shard. He looked tired but more confident.
“What deal?” I asked.
“Nothing.” Apex said quickly. “She didn’t mean anything she said.”
“Yes I did.” I matched Apex’s vigour.
Shard inhaled sharply. “Whatever, I don’t care.” And he walked away.
Apex took the knife from me, when his fingers touched mine I relished on his taste of waning sunlight. Then I remember the look of hatred in his eyes towards me and suddenly I wanted to hide from him, so I shuffled away, averting his eyes.
“Lorrie, wait...” He grabbed my wrist but I pulled free.
“Need to talk to Newt. Battle tomorrow.” I said curtly and went for Newt, whom I sensed was in her room. Maybe if I didn’t think of the problem it would eventually go away. As I was making my way to Newt’s room, I heard Apex’s fist pounding on the table.
I knocked on Newt’s room. “Hey Newt, can I come in? We have things to discuss for our battle.”
I opened the door and closed it. “Hey. I was studying our opponents for tomorrow.”
“Yeah, scary isn’t it?” Her smile was shaky but brave. “I never thought I’d be back to the arena again. I mean, I know we have to go back eventually...until we die, that is...but still, I just don’t want to do this anymore... the killing and the blood, gosh, it’s horrific. I just wished there was a...nicer way...” Tears were pooling on her eyes.
“Newt, there is no decent way to kill.” I told her flatly and sat beside her on the floor. “Unless you count ending someone’s suffering.”
She blinked back tears. “I wish I was stronger, like you, this environment seems not to affect you. You can cope with anything, though in a loud and obnoxious way, if I may be honest.” She giggled and I found myself laughing too. Newt did have a sense of humour, despite her motherly and mature attitude.
“Well, to be honest I can’t cope with it and can’t wait for the day I am free from everything. But I know how to hide it better and I’m more vocal about it than others. Being loud is partly a ruse. Hurting people is easier when it’s intended because you can live with the guilt of them hating you.”
“Are you talking about Apex?” Her eyes were large and questioning.
“Why did you come, Lorrie?”
I had kept the reasons for my superpowers secret, the only treasure that was mine now. However, I felt safe by sharing it with Newt; she gave me a sense of security and understanding. After all, anything anyone wants is understanding.
“There is nothing for me now that my parents are dead. Originally I came to Mars to find my parents and escape from the people who bought me, hence the reason for my powers. But I found out they are dead and worst of all, I wasn’t there to die beside them.” My body raked with sobs that wouldn’t stop coming. Newt’s small body held my lanky one in her strong and comforting arms.
“Please don’t say that; please don’t say you want to die.”
“I was sold by the butcher when I was twelve. At night he came to our house and took me away. He said a better life awaited me on Earth, with nicer and richer people that could take care of a pretty girl like me. An agent took me from there after giving several gold pieces to him, and auctioned me to several families. They poked me, told me to dance, to sing, to do anything to show my worth. I was sold to the highest bidder. The family took me in and scrubbed me, laid out the rules, and expected me to follow them like a dog. I did all they wanted. How I wished I could escape but I didn’t have the means. I was always brought back by the authorities. The family was running short on money and they had no children of their own, all the orphans were taken to Mars, and Earth would not negotiate with them about adoption. So that’s how human trafficking started. The family wanted a daughter they could marry off to someone rich and old. I already had my fiancé, an old gentleman who collects young wives, and I was to be married at the end of the month. So I ran away.”
We remained silent for a long time, Newt comforting me and I wishing my tears would stop. “How about you Newt, what’s your story?”
“I don’t have parents to run to. I was motherless since birth and mute as well. The drunken bastard that is my father felt it was a bad omen and I was a curse, so he blamed me for everything bad that happened in his life: the death of my mother, my inability to speak, his problems at work, his addiction to alcohol, everything. At night, he would drink a lot, then he’d say he needed a hug and I still loved him at that time, despite that he hated me. So I let him in my room and he’d beat me until I cried, which was pretty quickly. He thought I was a demon because I couldn't utter a cry or wail so he just kept hitting me until he could hear anything. When he was tired he’d leave. He would never let me out, didn’t want the world to see I was a freak. If I attempted to escape he would lock me in a cupboard for days. I never allowed him into my room again. One night, three years ago, I had enough and ran away. In the streets I adopted the name Newt, because I’m small. My father didn’t even bother to name me.”
“You’re strong Newt, and brave. Never forget that.”
“What will happen tomorrow though?” She asked in a small voice.
“Tomorrow, we will win and survive long enough to get the hell out of here.”
We spent the next few hours drilling our opponents’ powers into our heads and discussing the best strategy to kill them in the less bloody way possible. Our opponents were a wiry boy named Alec (eidetic memory, elasticity, and x-ray vision) and a mouse of a girl named Petra (shape-shifting, infrared vision, and enhanced smell).
“I just can’t stand the sight of it.”
“Well, we’d have to come up with something or we’ll get killed. Okay, how about I take on Alec and you on Petra? You levitate when they’re at you, I’d hold one down and you do your hypnosis thing, bewitch one of them and bend their will while I have a go at the other one?”
“And if I see that either of us is in danger I’ll just scream telepathically to disorient them, hopefully giving us enough time to...you know...mentally kill them...”
“Okay, I kinda got used to your scream since you separated Apex and me last night. I should be able to handle it.”
Going back to the arena as area 50 was very different from area 34. When Newt and I entered the arena we received boos left and right. Alec and Petra were already in the arena. Petra (taste of leather) was raging like a bull ready to attack and Alec (taste of honey) remained behind her, unsure of what to do with huge fearful eyes.
“...One! Begin the battle!”
“Just follow the plan, I take on Ale...” I was saying when the wind was knocked out of me. My back slammed against the arena ground as I grazed it. Friction forced me to a stop, the skin of my elbows painfully growing back.
“Thought I’d be an easy opponent and let the small one fight me?” Petra breathed into my face, clasping both her hands on my neck.
I struggled to push her down but she was strong.
Petra then turned her head to where Alec was standing, scared, and screamed at him. “What are you standing there for? Get the mute dimwit!”
Alec looked at her confused, and then did what Petra ordered, and charged at Newt. Newt quickly levitated out of reach but Alec stretched and wrapped his long arms around her, trying to asphyxiate her to death. He was smart too, since he covered her eyes too, but not her mind. She screamed telepathically, and I was wrong, I couldn’t handle it. Petra’s hands went straight to her ears and I knocked her off me, pinning her to the ground. Alec still held to Newt, but with less vigour since he was also trying to block the piercing sound.
“Newt, stop screaming!” I shouted. Petra shape-shifted beneath me, her skin was pale, her eyes yellow, and fangs were protruding from her mouth. She lunged at me with mouth wide open, aiming for the pulsating vein in my neck. I brought my fist down on her forehead and smashed her head on the ground. My knuckles throbbed with pain and my regeneration seemed slower somehow.
Alec dragged Newt to the ground, and when they hit it there was a tangle of limbs. Newt went quiet but I could still sense her life force. Petra writhed beneath me and I straddled her and forced my fist to connect with her jaw, which issued a sickening crack. Newt screamed painfully and was on all fours on the ground, one arm protecting her face from Alec’s punches. Her arms and legs were bleeding from when they both hit the ground and I could see she was trying hard not to look. I ran towards Alec and threw my body against him, knocking him sideways. Alec wrapped his arms around me in an attempt to smother me but I phased from his grasp. Newt seized the opportunity and kneed him on the stomach. I held his hair and yanked back his head.
“Newt, look at him in the eye!”
Newt opened her eyes and swayed. I hadn’t noticed that Alec had been bleeding from the head. She focused on his eyes nonetheless, until Alec was deep in trance. Newt made Alec stand, it was now three to one, but Petra was nowhere to be seen. Then, from the corner of my eyes I saw quick movement coming toward us. It knocked Newt sideways and came straight to me, inserting those sharp fangs into the hollow of my neck. I couldn’t draw a breath, I was too stunned. My knees dropped to the ground, carrying Petra’s weight on my back. Blood oozed from two incisions in my neck, pooling around me. Newt gasped and closed her eyes; she was too weak to even telepathically scream.
“Keep your eyes closed, Newt,” I whispered. She did and lost Alec’s hypnotised condition, which he took advantage of and started plummeting punches and kicks at Newt.
Petra was sucking the blood out of me. I closed my eyes and forced into my mind the taste of leather. Her life force was a brilliant violet feeding on my blood, my silvery force seemed worn thin but I still wrapped it around the violet bead and tugged at it. I focused my mind and drew strength from the taste of desert, which was strong and unyielding. The violet colour dimmed and it was at the mercy of my life force. I could see myself through Petra’s eyes, how Newt was blindly hitting Alec, missing every time since her eyes were closed and the stench of blood was strong. I dislodged Petra’s fangs from my neck and saw my body collapsed, gasping for breath. With jerky movements, I pulled Petra’s force to a stand and her unwilling limbs followed. I saw the sliver of an opening and I went to it, first a finger, then my whole being. I ruptured our connection and Petra died.
I was back to my own body using my hand to cover the orifices in my neck.
Newt heard my thoughts, with the energy she had left, she screamed, which forced Alec to stop hitting her and cover his ears. I locked an arm around Alec’s chest and one on Newt’s waist.
Newt levitated, taking us both with her.
“Lorrie, what are you doing?” Newt asked.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Alec shrieked.
Newt was already twenty-five feet high up in the air.
“Lorrie, do not think of letting go!”
Newt had guessed my plan because at that moment I let go of her waist, dragging Alec with me to the ground. My left shoulder hit first and I heard my bones shattering along the left side of my body. The pain was excruciating, it was like splintering your bones with a hammer and chisel. Alec hadn’t fared any better, he had screamed all the way down and the same sound of crunching bones followed. There was silence, aside from the occasional moaning.
“Gosh, you’re not dead yet...” I dragged the right side of my body over his, willing my bones to restructure faster. Without knowing what I was doing, I swung my shattered left hand and placed it at the back of his head, my right hand hooked under his chin. With whatever strength I had left, I twisted his neck to the side, ending his whimpering. His life force was gone and the crowd went wild. The last taste in my mind was of blood on steel. Somehow, I had learned to snap a neck.
Newt landed beside me. The left side of my body was regenerating slowly, the skin raw and bloodied and Newt saw. The next minute she was lying next to me, unconscious. She had passed out and I eagerly waited for my turn.