That night, as I wandered through the streets that were swathed in the familiar darkness, the moon had hidden her face behind a chalky veil. All of the colours I had become accustomed to still danced around me, yet they had paled through my excitement and intent to see Jacoby again. The flasks were knocking against each other more often that night; I was halfway between walking and flying. I did not stop to look at my reflection in the shop window. I knew I was close. So, when not so much later my eyes took in the form of the familiar figure, I broke into a run.
"Steady, Ayla, where's the fire?" Jacoby enquired jokingly as I collided with him.
"Sorry, Jacoby," I breathed, having virtually emptied my lungs of the more than slightly necessary oxygen, "I'm just excited to see you."
Jacoby laughed, then suddenly stopped, and began to squint.
"What happened to your cheek, Ayla?"
My stomach did another flip.
"I fell down some stairs."
Jacoby tilted his head to the left slightly, folded his arms, and began to shake his head, tutting under his breath.
"You're not fooling me, Ayla. Tell me the truth."
There was a long pause. Jacoby had never seemed so serious before. But he was my only friend, and friends, I knew, shared secrets.
"I was punched."
The fact that I felt better having said this came as pleasant surprise. Then I furrowed my brows and asked,
"How could you tell that I wasn't being truthful?"
Jacoby sighed and replied,
"You always bite your lip when you lie."
For a while, we sat in a comfortable silence, save the occasional pulsing whirr of a passing vehicle. Without warning, Jacoby stood up, and I mimicked him. He broke the silence.
"There are some people I would like you to meet."
I only nodded in reply, then followed him dutifully through the complex maze of alleyways. It was darker here, and much colder. I began to feel a little apprehensive. Jacoby sensed this, and said, "Don't worry, Ayla, you're in good hands." I loosened up a bit as I saw shadows dancing on the wall, visible only by the bright light that was exuding from around the corner. It grew a little warmer too. Jacoby led me towards the light, and what met my eyes caused my eyes to widen.
There were eleven of them all together, settled around a small fire. I could identify newspaper, dried leaves, and even litter, all cobbled together to feed the flames. As they flickered, the eyes of those sitting around it were illuminated, and in the same wide shape that mine had made when I had first seen them. These people were like Jacoby, lost and hungry, and without shelter. I allowed myself to think of the term that they were all branded with.
Jacoby cleared his throat, and announced,
"Everyone, this is Ayla." As I examined their pale, dirty, hungry faces, Jacoby tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "What are you thinking?" I turned to face them, coughed to clear my throat, and exclaimed,
"Jacoby, I think we're going to need more soup!"