Peter sauntered into college, riding the crest of the heady waves that came with romance. He couldn’t wipe the beaming smile from his face and his giddy happiness was plain for all to see. Usually he walked with his head bowed and his shoulders slightly hunched but now he was bolt upright, and shades of Felicio’s confidence were creeping into his character. He’d stopped by his house to get some fresh clothes after he’d left Stacy and the battle with Ash already seemed distant, and he preferred to think of Stacy and all the golden thoughts that came with her rather than succumb to the dark reflections that haunted him when he thought of Ash.
“Hey stranger,” Stephanie said as he sat down beside her in the cloisters. Her words were light-hearted but her tone was dismissive and bitter. Peter was too preoccupied with his own feelings to pick up on it.
“Hey! Isn’t life wonderful?” Stephanie raised her eyebrow .
“Sure. Where have you been?”
“Well there was a big thing in town that I had to take care of. Pretty serious actually,” his face darkened as he thought of Ash lying dead at his feet and the detective’s hollow look of disappointment, “but the last few days I’ve been with Stacy and it’s just been perfect,” the smile quickly returned.
“I’m glad you’ve had fun,” again her tone was sardonic and even he couldn’t fail to realise she was annoyed.
“Let’s see, you run off doing your superhero thing, you don’t show up for class, you don’t get in touch with me, you don’t even tell your parents so when they ask if I’ve heard from you I have to lie to them and say you’re staying with me for a few days. Now you just come back with that stupid smile on your face like you don’t even care.”
“Sorry for being happy…”
“It’s not that fact that you’re happy, it’s that you don’t give any thought to the rest of us. Do you not understand how worried I get every time you’re out there? And your parents…can you imagine how they’d feel if they knew?”
‘They can never know,’ Peter thought. He was about to reply to Stephanie’s rebuke when the overpowering smell of deodorant hit him like a wall. Matthew bent down beside them, as he crouched closer Peter could see how mottled his skin was and how the skin around his eyes was gaunt. He had the reputation of being a handsome, popular boy but there was no twinkle in his eyes and he looked hollow, as if his spirit was being sapped out of him. Quickly, Peter glanced around, and noticed that many of his peers had similar looks, as if the skin had been stretched over their bones and more colour had been drained from their already pale faces.
“I’ve got something better for you,” Matthew said in a low, hoarse voice. He opened his palm to reveal a bag of red pills. Stephanie and Peter glanced sideways at each other.
“Uhhh…actually we didn’t really like it, it’s not for us.” Peter said, worried at how Matthew would react. He knew how dangerous the men in Matthew’s organisation could be, and how unpredictable. Peter didn’t want to risk causing a scene, because he couldn’t allow Stephanie to get hurt, even at the expense of his secret. However, Matthew merely looked at them oddly and was gone as quickly as the wind.
‘She must be anorexic.’
‘I wish I had legs like hers.’
‘Why can’t I just talk to her?’
‘She’d never go out with me. Bitch.’
‘If only she noticed me.’
‘Do they know?’
‘I’m so lonely.’
‘I wish they would all die.’
‘Somebody save me.’
‘Look at her, the precious princess, bet she’s a slut.’
‘It’s not like anything matters anyway.’
‘I’m not ready for this.’
The thoughts blurred into one and Emma wasn’t sure which thoughts were her own and which were other people’s. Her life seemed very fragile and it was as if the pressure of the world were bearing down on her, closing in to squeeze her and seal her doom. All she wanted was peace, a bit of relief from this curse but there was no respite and no cure. When she stepped out into the world she was overwhelmed with foreign thoughts, and when she was in solitude she was plagued by her own. Either way, her head felt like it was going to explode. It was as if a thousand hooks were reaching deep into her mind, ready to tear it asunder and rip her very soul apart. All she wanted to do was scream and yet she was trapped. She was a part of the world and yet separate from it, distant, and any control she managed to exert over her abilities was only temporary. The chaos always returned. The order was always shattered.
Across the corridor she saw Peter sitting with his friend Stephanie. She badly wanted to talk to him and feel the comfort of his presence again. There was something so reassuring about the way he looked at her. In her experience most people wore masks to hide their true feelings, but Peter was a rare one who had always been honest with her. But now it was different. Now when she focused on his thoughts that other girl was there, Stacy. Emma didn’t want to be jealous but she couldn’t help herself. Maybe if she had been normal something may have happened, maybe if things had been different…but they weren’t, she told herself as she scolded herself. Things weren’t different and they never would be. Nobody would ever love her. She would be burdened with the innermost secrets of everybody else’s souls but nobody would ever want to know hers. She could feel herself wanting to cry but she had cried so often and so hard that her body had become numb to it, almost as if she had run out of tears.
The room was pitch black. Skan Idian bent his knees and unsheathed the sharp blade he called Shadow. It stretched out beyond him and felt balanced in his hand. He tilted his head in anticipation and poised himself. After a few moments there came a ‘whoosh’ and Skan whirled his sword about as graceful as the wind and as quick as lightning. The corners of his mouth turned upwards as he felt the satisfying slice of Shadow cutting the obstacles that were being hurled at him, but he didn’t have any time to dwell on that. Shadow was merely an extension of his arm and it flew through the air as he twisted his body, training for the deadliest dance known to man. The blade moved so fast that if the lights had been on it would have appeared as a blur. Sweat formed on his forehead but he remained stoic and kept his breathing steady. More of the objects were cut in half and fell to the floor, then he bent down on one knee and twirled the sword in an arc above his head, and there it remained as the lights came on. Dozens of tennis balls, all cut in half, were strewn across the floor surrounding Skan. The machines that pumped them out stood at the edge of the room at different levels and angles. Skan walked over to the side and picked up a towel to mop his brow. The room was a dance studio and one wall was a mirror. He admired his reflection, flexing the muscles that were only covered by a loose clothes. His tribal markings patterned his ebony skin and he snarled as he put Shadow back in its scabbard. Michael Rowell had called him a few days earlier and these were his final preparations before he joined the hunt for Felicio.