Chapter 1

Damen sighed. This day was most likely the worst of his life. He had always managed to be absent when the Searchers went through the school, but not today. Today he has a test and his foster-mom knew it and drove him to school to make sure he went.

The Searchers had barely walked through the door to his home room when one of them walked up to his seat and motioned him to come with them. Damen didn't protest just asked if he could take his stuff. The Searcher nodded and Damen took the school books out of his bag before walking out of the classroom. He didn't look back as the Searcher followed him.

He was escorted out of the school to a dark van. No one else was taken from the school and the three Searchers got in the van. Damen noticed that the driver checked that he was wearing his seatbelt before leaving the parking lot. They arrived at a hotel and he was escorted up to a suite. Damen watched as one of the Searchers disappeared into a bedroom. The only female Searcher glanced over at the remaining man before leaving the suite.

The man watched him a moment before speaking, "You weren't surprised."


"You know this is for your own good right?"

"Sure." The sarcasm dripped from the single word.

"You'll see." He man smiled at him. "My name is Tristan."

Damen glared.

"You do realize we will find out who you are, yes?" Tristan sounded amused.

"Damen Walker." He stated flatly before turning away and refusing to look at him.

"If you'll sit I'll explain what happens now." Tristan said calmly.

"Oh joy," Damen muttered but sat down.

"We have a flight in the morning to Colorado then a four hour car ride to Westridge." Tristan smiled at Damens' scowl. "Westridge is a school that teaches Talents. When you are adequately trained you will be provided higher education and any assistance you desire to get a job."

Damens' eyes narrowed. "What gives you people the right to rule my life?"

Tristan leaned forward and looked intently at him. "We do this not only to keep you safe but to keep others safe from you."

Damen glared.

"Many Talents are very dangerous and unless they are kept contained Normals will start to persecute us once again. We are not willing to give up our freedom because our methods offend you."

"I have a feeling I'll never agree with your 'methods'." Damen snapped.

"Which tells me that you are a dangerous Talent." Tristan said softly. "I am a Shield. I can completely suppress a persons Talent. My ability is why I am a Searcher."

Before Damen could respond the female Searcher returned calling out cheerfully. "Tristan I got his info." Seeing Damens' scowl she grinned at him. "Hi, Damen, I'm Selena. I'll be one of your teachers once you graduate from High School."

He said nothing just watched as Selena handed Tristan two folders one he recognized as his school file the other his file as a ward of the state.

Abruptly Damen heard a strange buzzing noise. Frowning he looked around trying to place the sound. Finally he asked, "What is that?"

"What?" Selena asked puzzled.

"That buzzing noise."

Tristan and Selena shared a look before Selena asked "This?" just as the buzzing came back.

"Yeah." He answered uneasily not liking the look but wanting to know what it was.

Selena smiled. "That is Telepathy. Apparently you can hear it even if you can't hear the words."

Damen blinked considering this as the buzzing continued. He hesitated a moment before focusing on the 'armor' he had built to stop the constant thoughts of others. Thinking about it he shifted it changing it into something resembling chainmail. The background 'hum' of others thoughts immediately become over powering and started to give him a headache. After a few seconds of thought he changed the 'chainmail' into mythril and the 'hum' dimmed back to its original volume and he heard –should do well.-

-If he can learn to follow orders first.-

-Cool!- Damen said –It works just like the books I read.-

Selena and Tristan flinched. "Not so loud." Selena said rubbing her temple. "You don't need to shout we can hear you."

Damen shrugged uncaring. –If it works it works.-

Selena glared. –If you shout so will I-

Damen cringed. "Ow."

"Now you know how I feel." She retorted. "What books?"

"Fantasy books." Damen answered with a shrug. –Is this what you're going to 'teach' me? Cause I gotta say it's so not that hard.-

-You learn quickly but there is still much more you need to discover about your talent.- Selena replied.

-I haven't needed help so far. If you think you people are gonna run my life you have another thing coming.-

-You will do as you're told.- Tristan said firmly, -Especially since I have your power's muted. I am allowing you to use your telepathy but I have your other talent locked down.-

-Obviously you aren't very good if you don't know what it is.- Damen said tauntingly.

Something hit his shields and he flinched glaring at Selena. –What was that for?- he demanded.

-You will be polite or the next one will hurt.-

-Ha.- Damen said sarcastically. Instantly there was a hit to his shields, Damen didn't flinch, merely hit back. Selena swayed and Tristan reached out and steadied her. Damen glared. "If you can't take it don't dish it out." He snapped. Tristan glared furiously and suddenly the world became muffled. Damen blinked startled. "It's quiet," he murmured stunned.

Selena stared at him. "How long have you been hearing things?"

"You mean peoples thoughts? Always." He answered easily.

"Where did you learn to attack?" She demanded.

"You just showed me how," Damen pointed out "when you attacked me."

Selena stared, "You learn that quickly?"

"You don't?" He asked sweetly. "Well, I guess you just aren't as good as me. Could you stop the shield? I don't like the quiet. It's creepy."

"No, you are much too dangerous to be allowed to wander around unshielded." Tristan said flatly. "I suggest you retire to your room we will be leaving early in the morning."

Damen scowled and lashed out at the shield. Tristan flinched. "I won't stop until it's gone. If she hadn't hit me I wouldn't have hit her."

"You will remain shielded." Tristan snarled.

Damen glared and lashed out again as hard as he could. Tristan cringed and looked sick. Damen hit it again making sure to hit the same spot. Tristan gasped in pain and Damen felt the shield falter. Instantly he hit it again and felt it shatter, at once there was the background hum of thoughts. Damen relaxed once more at ease. "I don't like the quiet." He said flatly. "What room do you want me in?"

Mutely Selena motioned to one of the rooms. Damen entered and shut the door behind him. Reaching out Selena wrapped her bare hand around Tristan's to be able to talk to him without Damen being able to overhear. –Do you think the school can handle him?-

-I don't know, but we just have to get him there. Then he's not our problem any more.-

-It's going to be a long night.-

Damen looked around the small room. It was very plain but since it was a hotel room he wasn't very surprised. He sat on the bed and opened his back pack. He pulled out a book and fell back on the bed with his backpack tucked close to his side. Flipping it open he started to read. At least he tried, unable to focus he stopped frustrated with a headache starting to build. Dropping the book he stared at the ceiling and tried to think. He didn't like the way that the Talents just up and took people but he knew he couldn't fight them all. Escaping shouldn't be too hard though. He fell asleep planning.

He woke abruptly at the knock on the door. Gasping he struggled against the panic as he couldn't remember where he was. He was standing and couldn't remember doing so. The panic faded as a semi-familiar voice called out. "Damen? If you want to have breakfast get up now. We need to be at the airport in less then two hours."

"Alright," he called back. 'Selena, that was Selena. The Searchers came and I'm in a hotel. They're taking me to a Talent school.' He thought further calming his panic. Leaving the room with his back pack he sat at the small table in the kitchenette. Silently he ate the cereal offered. Once finished, Selena motioned him to follow her.

The drive to the airport was long and boring. The only good thing about it was all the practice he got speaking telepathically with Selena. Selena also told him that they had retrieved his things from his foster home. The plane ride was almost as dull and the second drive to the school was mind-numbing. The school looked like a cross between a fortress and a prison. –This place is not appealing.- Damen noted sourly. –And you people wonder why no one wants to come here.-

Selena sighed. Damens comments had become more irritating the longer the travel went on. "Damen, I'm not going to answer you anymore. I'm going to pass you off to Headmaster Stone and go on a well deserved vacation."

"Really? How long dose it take to get a vacation?"

Selena ignored him as she got out of the car. Tristan followed and the two of them waited for Damen. The other Searcher had left them at the airport. Damen got out and slung his back pack over his shoulder. Without another comment he followed them inside. A wave of silence followed them through the halls as every one stopped and stared at the new arrival.

Upon reaching the headmasters office they were immediately admitted. Headmaster Stone was a tall imposing woman who glared at the three people in her office. "Damen, welcome to Westridge."

Damen scowled at her. "You won't be happy to have me here in a real short time. No body want's to keep me and I sure as hell don't want to be here. I'm not agreeable and I'm not going to bend to your will or plans for my life."

"We shall see." She said crisply, "Henry will show you to your room. The rest of your things are already there."

Henry turned out to be a senior who chatted at him the whole way to his room. Henry cheerfully pointed out the library, cafeteria, health wing, and where the girls' dorm building was. As they entered the boys' dorm he explained that the kids were separated by age and type.

"Type?" Damen asked the first thing he had said since leaving the Headmasters office.

"Mental powers, physical powers and healing powers." Henry listed. "I was told you're mental."

"Telepathy," Damen nodded.

"Yeah, you'll be in my building. The dorms are a bit misleading each dorm is actually three buildings." Henry explained. "You can get to the other parts of the dorm with out going outside but really they're all separate. There is only one inside way to get from one section to another. There aren't any elevators so the seniors get ground level, juniors get second, sophomores get third and freshmen get the top. Mrs. Stone said you're a junior but they're gonna test you to make sure."

"Why?" Damen asked suspiciously.

Henry shrugged. "She didn't tell me."

"You know though." Damen said eyes hard.

Henry stared at him, "You can read me?"

"Why are they testing me?" Damen demanded.

"'Cause you barely passed every grade and they guessed that you were passed just to get rid of you. Happens to a lot of foster kids. How did you read me?"

"Not with telepathy." Damen answered cryptically following Henry up the stairs. Henry frowned thoughtfully as he showed Damen his room. He watched as Damen checked his duffle bag that had been left on the bed and dumped his backpack next to it. There was a small private bathroom adjoining it. "I get my own bathroom?"

"They discovered with the first Talent school that sharing bathrooms doesn't work well with Talents. It was way worse than normal kids. After that they paid to get everyone their own small bathroom. It's your responsibility to keep it clean though and your room. There's cleaning supplies under the sink and if you run out you have to tell one of the school janitors and they'll replace it."


"You don't like this at all do you?"

"Ya think?"

"You'll get used to it." Henry reassured. "Really it's nice here."

"A gilded cage is still a cage." Damen said flatly.

Henry shook his head. "Better then living on the streets. Been there done that, don't want to do it again."

"I prefer freedom." Damen said dryly.

Henry shrugged. "To each his own. I got to go. The dinner bell rings at seven follow the crowd and you'll get back to the cafeteria." Henry waved as he left.

Damen set about systematically unpacking his clothes from the duffle bag. He finished all too quickly and ended up staring blindly out the window and wishing that he was any where else.

Mrs. Stone waited until she was sure Henry had taken Damen far enough away before speaking. "Report."

Selena started. "He is very strong telepathically. I'd say he's a level eight and could reach a high nine or even the unprecedented ten. He almost broke my shields with one blow and he didn't actually know what he was doing. Controlled, he could be unstoppable."

Tristan continued, "He broke the shield I put on him after he hit Selena's shields. He has at least two other Talent's. One felt about the same level as his telepathy the other felt much weaker, but I was comparing it to his other talents. If Selena would rank his telepathy as an eight then his other main Talent would be a seven or a low eight. His minor talent would be a five or a low six."

Mrs. Stone stared at him. "It wasn't a talent you recognized?"

"The secondary Talent; no." Tristan admitted. "The minor felt familiar but he felt me and blocked me out before I got a fix on it. I don't think that he knew he was doing it either. He didn't react to my probe just seemed to shield it out."

"This is not good." She said slowly. "How do we train someone like that?"

They glanced at each other then Selena shrugged. "He's your problem now. We need to go. Our flight leaves in six hours." Mrs. Stone nodded and watched them leave. She sighed and slumped slightly in her seat once they had gone. "I hate new students." She muttered sourly before straightening again and starting to figure out Damen's classes based on what they had told her.

At seven the bell rang and Damen opened the door and followed the mass of students, almost all of them snuck rapid glances at him. Damen ignored them, as a foster kid he was used to the looks. The cafeteria was huge and getting a look at the mass of students he noted they needed it, there were easily one thousand students. He got into a random line behind a short kid who was hunched in on himself almost cringing away from the boys rough housing in front of him. One of them noted him and grinned. They shoved the kid out of line who fell and the leader addressed Damen. "Hey, you must be the new one the staff were talking about."

Damen scowled at him and turned to help up the kid totally ignoring the bigger boys. "You ok?"

Frightened, pale green eyes met his as Damen pulled him to his feet before cutting over to the others. He cringed backwards muttering, "Fine, I'm gonna go in a different line."

Damen followed his gaze to the now furious boys. "Why?" The kid stared at him. "Bullies don't scare me." He said with a shrug.

"They scare me." The kid said then flinched obviously he hadn't meant to say anything.

The leader grinned viciously. "Yeah, newbie we scare most people and if you know what's good for you you'll bend over backwards to accommodate us."

Damen looked him up and down and clearly dismissed him. He turned back to the smaller boy. "What's your name?"

The kid gulped his eyes on the others. "Get lost, shorty. We're gonna have a talk to our new friend here." The leader half snarled.

Damen turned back to him and glared, "Fuck off. I'm not talking to you."

The other kids around them gasped and they all edged away leaving Damen with the large boys. "What did you say?"

"I told you to fuck off. Are you hard of hearing or just stupid?"

The kid snarled and lashed out Damen dodged and slid out a foot tripping the kid. He fell flat and there were snickers from the watching kids. The kid rolled to his feet and started for Damen. "What's your name?" Damen asked.

"Why?" was the snarled response.

"I prefer to know the names of the people I fight."

"Josef, happy? 'Cause I'm gonna wipe the floor with you."

"Arman! Leave him be!" Henry yelled stepping into the circle.

"Fuck off Watson." Josef snapped eyes on Damen. "You may be in charge of the dorm but I'm stronger then you."

"You're not stronger then me though." Damen said with a smirk.

Josef grinned viciously, "We'll just see about that." He lashed out with all his strength and hit Damen's shields. Damen didn't even twitch just stared at him waiting. Josef frowned and hit again.

Damen sighed. "That's it? How pathetic." Murmurs went through the crowed. Josef lunged forward intent on physical damage when Damen hit his shields. They cracked and Josef dropped to his knees screaming.

A teacher shoved her way through. "What on earth?" she stopped and threw a shield up around Josef, who stopped screaming and started to gasp for air. Her eyes settled on Damen. "You will come with me to the office, now!"

"He attacked me first." Damen snapped.

"Now!" She took a step forward ready to grab him.

"Mrs. Hassin?" The boy Damen had spoken to in line spoke up. "Josef did attack him first. Henry tried to stop him and he hit him with telepathy. The new boy didn't attack until Josef tried to hit him a second time."

Mrs. Hassin frowned, "I think we all need to go to the office to sort this out. Watson, Field, you will come as well." She went over to Josef. "On your feet Arman." Damen sighed and followed as Henry beckoned him.

Mrs. Stone was not happy to see them but listened to Henry's account of what happened followed by Josef and Field. Mrs. Stone nodded when they were through. "Do you have anything to add, Walker?"

"No, but I didn't mean to hit him so hard. His shields must not be as good as Serena's or Tristan's."

Henry stared at him wide eyes. "You attacked a Searcher? One as strong as Serena Yolan?"

Damen shrugged, "She hit me first I just hit back."

"You're insane."

"Boys," Mrs. Stone interrupted. "I believe you'd like to get dinner? Arman, you have detention for fighting. Two days for the physical and two weeks for the mental. We never attack with our talents you know this rule. Walker, even if you had known our rule about attacking with our talents you would not have detention since you were merely defending yourself. You are dismissed back to dinner."

They nodded and filed out. Once out of the office Josef sped up to get away from them. Damen glanced over at Field who was staring at his feet as he walked. He had an almost defeated slump to his shoulders. "So, what's your name?" Damen asked.

The kid jumped startled. He looked up at Damen clearly startled before dropping his gaze back to the floor. "Ace Field."

"Damen Walker. Why were those kids so mean to you?"

Ace didn't answer but Henry spoke up. "They're like that to every one. I'd watch your back, Damen. They'll be gunning for you since you messed with Arman."

"They don't scare me."

"They should." Ace said softly. Henry winced and Damen frowned.

"They're gonna try to get at you too aren't they?"

Ace shrugged. "I'll stick to crowds. I'll be fine."

Henry was frowning but looked resigned. Damen realized that he didn't think there was anything he could do about it. "What year are you?"

"Junior." Ace relied puzzled. "Well, I should be a sophomore but I skipped first grade."

Henry chuckled. "You're only a Junior because that's the lowest class you're taking. Ace tested out of a ton of stuff. He has two advanced Junior classes and the other two are Senior level. If you could test out of everything he'd probably have graduated by now."

Damen nodded his understanding as Ace flushed clearly embarrassed. "So how old are you?"

"I'm fifteen." Ace muttered.

They reached the cafeteria. It was mostly empty but Damen didn't mind. When Ace went off to sit at a table way in the corner Damen followed. Ace frowned, "Why are you following me? I have no status. You want to make alliances if you want to get out of Westridge intact. I'm a nobody."

"Why?" At Ace's look he elaborated. "Why are you a nobody?"

"I'm an Empathetic Healer." Ace explained. "Most groups want a Healer but there are more healers then groups. I'm decent but not the best and I'm too young to be on a team anytime soon."

"When do kids get selected for teams?" Damen knew of teams just like everyone else. Talents formed teams and contracted their services out to the government, but the Talents had limits among themselves the normals didn't know about.

"You have to be at least twenty-two and have a four year degree." Ace said not looking at him.

"I'm sixteen and have no interest in joining a team. I'm not looking for a group."

Ace looked at his suspiciously. "What do you want then?"

"A legitimate reason to beat the crap out of bullies." Ace stared at him mouth open. Damen grinned. "I hate bullies. I always have and always will. I figure they'll make a pass at you and I'll have my reason to beat the shit out of 'em."

"Henry's right, you are insane." Damen just laughed and followed him back to the dorms.