A song of birds woke me from my sleep. I should tell Taylor she looks gorgeous this morning, just to mess with her. I thought. I sat up and looked around. A slender piece of smoke was rising up from a rotten piece of wood that had been burnt. I looked around for Taylor's smirking face. But, my smile quickly disappeared. Everyone was gone. The grass was matted down where they had been laying, but they themselves and every piece of equipment we salvaged were gone. I stood up, and looked down and realized what I was wearing. I was wearing a cream lace dress, with one shoulder gone, and had a full skirt. My dark copper hair was in braids, with white daisies placed in them that matched the color of the gown.
I had no idea what to do. I looked down and found a tiny piece of metal, and looked into it. I saw my reflection and gasped aloud. In the image of myself, my reflection was beautiful. My makeup was done perfectly, and looked like a professional had done it for me. I suddenly heard laughing, Dameon's laughing. I followed the noise that echoed through the forest, until I came to a set up. There were chairs unfolded, sitting delicately in the freshly mowed grass, and in them sat my mother, father, brothers, and sister, and behind them were Hammer, Mrs. Hammer, and their firstborn. On the other set of chairs sat other people I had never seen before. Up at a foyer were Taylor, Tess, Summer, and a girl I didn't recognize with flaming red hair and subtle forest green eyes and freckles all in light turquoise dresses holding an arrangement of white flowers. On the other side was Blake, but then Stehrling, but then Astyr, but then a boy I didn't recognize, and then back to Blake again, holding his hands in front of him, beaming with pride when he saw me. Next to him were Stehrling, Dameon, Seth, and then Astyr, looking depressed a few steps away from Seth. I smiled as I finally understood what this was, it was my wedding, and took confident steps forward towards the altar.
Everything blurred, the wedding, the reception, until we were sitting in a hut, and we were all sitting in very uncomfortable seats, all surrounding an elderly woman. She had dark hair that hung dead, framing her face. She had soft, intelligent hazel eyes. The woman wore a white blouse that had ruffles down the front by some unique buttons that looked like they had been added on later. She was telling each one of us our futures and our purposes on earth. I couldn't understand what she was saying, as if she were speaking a different language, but somehow I knew what she was talking about.
She suddenly turned to me and pointed to my stomach. "You carry the Child of Destiny. Not yet conceived, but in you. She will be your firstborn, arriving on the fourteenth of August, many years from now. She will be the creation of true love."
"What will be her fate?" I asked the woman.
"That, unfortunately, I do not know," she answered.
The world then suddenly went blurry, and I heard yelling in the distance that seemed to get closer and closer. I opened my eyes grudgingly to find myself an inch away from Tess' nose. "Finally! You're awake!" she exclaimed when I woke up. She shoved an unrecognizable purple, oblong vegetable about the size of my palm in my face and said, "Don't eat the meat everyone else is having, it's making me sick."
"Fine," I grumbled as I grabbed the vegetable and took a bite out of it. It tasted like dirt at first, but then a surging of flavor erupted in my mouth. It tasted incredible; it was probably the best vegetable I had ever tasted. "Where did you find this?" I asked.
She pointed sheepishly at Summer. "She grew them because she knows I'm a vegetarian. Aren't they good?!" She exclaimed. I nodded enthusiastically and took another bite, and it was even better than the first. I ate the whole thing in about three bites.
I looked around and noticed that the fire had gone out, and now only a wisp of smoke curled up into the air, disappearing in the treetops. The others were up, walking and talking. Summer, Taylor, Dameon and Seth were in a circle talking and laughing, while Blake and Stehrling were standing on a rock looking over the fields that led to the school. They appeared to be in deep conversation, and when Blake looked back at me, we locked eyes and held a stare for a few moments, before he dropped it and looked back at Stehrling. Tess watched my eyes and grinned at me knowingly when I looked back at her. "What?" I demanded.
"You know what," Tess said teasingly, grinning from ear to ear.
"No, I don't know what," I replied.
"You were looking over at my brother. You told me last night you liked him, remember?" She answered.
"That's right, last night. I forgot about that," I mumbled as I looked down at my hands.
One of her tiny, gentle hands touched mine, "Don't worry, McKenna, I won't say anything to him. You can tell him yourself when the time is right. I'm not a tattletale. That is, unless you take too long," she said with a mischievous grin.
"You wouldn't dare," I teased as I pushed my frizzy hair out of my clammy face. I stood up and brushed myself off from the various dirt and leaves that I had picked up on my clothes overnight. I rolled up the mat that I had slept on and put it in my backpack.
As everyone was going around quietly, doing their morning duties, I walked over to where Blake and Stehrling stood by a large boulder on a cliff that looked out over the School and fields around it. I looked out over the land with them. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" I breathed as I looked over the waving fields where I first learned how to use my gifts and the tiny cluster of skeletal grey buildings jutted up from the earth standing proud like a monument. The mountains towered, scraping the sky with their cold, harsh peaks. What caught my eye was a lone column of smoke, drifting upwards into the sky, and with a gust of wind blowing the scent of food in it.
"There's someone down there," I said as I glared down at the spot.
"I know, I can smell them from here. There's at least a dozen of them, if not more. Their scents are very similar. They might be Greys," Tess said quietly from behind me.
"This is bad. We need to get out of here. They will be here soon," I said as I turned and looked at our little campsite that was disappearing.
"We need to be careful with your ankle," Blake said as he looked down at my swollen chub of a leg.
"I will carry her," Astyr said in a low voice.
"Nonsense, I can carry her fine," Blake said as he stepped up to me.
"It won't slow me down, and if needed I can easily go through the shadows and we can rest," Astyr said as he began walking towards Blake. He towered over him; Astyr was at least six inches taller than Blake and Blake was already pushing six feet. "If you cared about her, you would let me carry her. I'm obviously the best decision."
"I could carry her on my air board," piped in Stehrling. "I mean, both of us could rest, we could watch out for anyone chasing us, it would be an ideal situation."
"You would tire too quickly. You can't carry someone on your air board for that long. I could carry her. I'm the one with the super strength and speed," chimed in Seth.
"No. I will carry her," Astyr said, and with one quick movement he scooped me up into his cold arms and I felt a rush of cold and pressure around me, and we were in the shadow world.
"You know, you could've taken my opinion too," I pouted as I jumped out of his arms.
"Maybe I just wanted to spend a little time with you. I mean, we haven't really gotten to talk when I'm not saving your life," Astyr said with a sarcastic grin.
"Well you're just a funny one aren't you," I said as I marched away. I wandered through the dark, when I tripped on a root of a tree. My ankle throbbed and I bit my lip trying not to cry out. I limped pathetically over to a fallen log and sat, defeated.
"Why is it that we are always in this situation?" Astyr asked quietly beside me. He took my ankle forcibly from my solid grip and gently put some black ice on it. "You're always getting hurt, and I'm always the one who comes and saves you. Remember that time at the playground? When we first met? I sure do. That was the day after I learned that someday I would have superpowers, but I couldn't tell anyone. I didn't have many friends, but one day when I was playing on the swing set, all alone, I saw the most beautiful girl walking down the sidewalk. Usually I am very shy, but I felt the urge to go talk to her. I left my swing to the vultures, which scrambled for my spot, and I began to walk towards her. I was almost to her, when I saw a group of boys surround her…
The memory came rushing back to me, very vividly, which I'm sure is a side effect from being in the shadow world. The boys surrounded me. They were all much bigger than me, they towered over my small stature. They were probably almost James' age, but a bit older than Tucker. The boy that I had been watching across the playground had disappeared, and my heart sank. "Hey, little girl, where are you going? The pre-school class doesn't get out until two," said a boy with light hair and light eyes.
"I'm not in pre-school! I just got into kindergarten!" I shouted defiantly as I tried to push through them. They just laughed and pushed me to the ground. Tears began to well up in my eyes.
"Aw, come on guys, don't make her cry," said one of the nicer ones. He looked at me sorrowfully.
"Hey, don't tell us what to do," said the biggest one, who looked older and meaner. "You're going to feel sorry now won't you…" he began before a fist landed right in his jaw. We all gasped and the group quickly scattered.
A boy tall for his age but young looking stood, fists clenched, looking angrily at the group's leader. "Leave her alone," he said in a deep voice, which was terrifying, but for some reason, I wasn't afraid. The leader gave him a disgusted glare and wiped his chin, which trickled blood, and motioned for his group to follow him as they walked back down the sidewalk. The boy came up to me and grabbed my hand. His grip was icy cold, as were his eyes. His skin was pale, and his hair hung down over his face in oily black clumps. "My name's Matthew," he said as he shook my hand lightly.
I smiled and replied, "My name's McKenna. You seem awfully familiar. Do I know you from someplace?"
"I don't believe we have met. Do you want to be friends?" Matthew asked.
That was the day that Astyr and I had become friends. I would never forget that day.
"I knew that you were something special the moment I saw you. But never would I have imagined all of this," Astyr said.
"I would have never imagined anything like this either, especially then. I wish life was the way it was before all of this, before you left, before the incident with my family. Sometimes I wish that I was a normal person, and that I didn't have powers or anything," I agreed.
"You know, if the whole incident didn't happen, and you hadn't have met Blake, we would end up together," Astyr said as he wrapped his arms around my waist and looked into my eyes with a look of pain.
"What do you mean, 'if you hadn't have met Blake'?" I asked stubbornly.
"Oh, don't think of me as being stupid. You look at him like the way you should be looking at me," Astyr said, finally breaking eye contact.
"Excuse me?" I asked. My head was spinning, running off in random directions. Astyr's face turned as red as a tomato.
"It would actually be easier to explain if I just-" Astyr cut off midsentence as he suddenly leaned in and kissed me. He kissed me on the lips. At first I struggled, as this was not what I wanted, and then suddenly we were moving together, his lips locked with mine. His hands moved down my back, and mine went up and my fingers entangled themselves in his thick, coarse, black hair. Suddenly it all felt very wrong. Every fiber in my body screamed No! We got out of sync and I pulled away. "Don't tell me you didn't enjoy that," Astyr said as he looked into my eyes. He leaned in again but I turned away.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I enjoyed that, especially that being my first kiss, but I can't. It feels too wrong to me. I feel like we weren't meant to be."
My response was silence. Then finally, "You two really are meant to be together, aren't you? That would have swayed any normal girl's heart…" he trailed off, looking through the clusters of charcoal trees.
"But you forget, I'm no normal girl," I said, trying to lighten the mood a little.
"That's for sure. You're much better than any normal girl. You know I missed you when I had to leave. Go to the School. I never made any friends. I didn't want any; I just wanted to get back to you, Taylor and my parents. You have no idea how much it hurt when I found out my parents were dead, my little sister and you were gone. I felt so alone. I know Hammer knew that. He knows that I'm stronger than most students, and that's why he kept tabs on me. When he finally got word that everything I was going back to was gone, he stationed me in that city in New Mexico. I hardly did anything out there. I never went to any trainings, I never tried to do something with my life, because my life was gone. I thought about killing myself multiple times, but the thought that I obsessed over was possibly being able to see you again. That kept me alive. But you weren't the same. That's alright though. Other boys that think they know you are getting in the way of us. I just want you to know that I love you more than anything in this world. You are my world," Astyr said as he looked at me with a new intensity that I had never seen before in him. His eyes no longer seemed like black holes that sucked up all light, staring at me with a demonic look. His eyes turned into flaky pieces of charcoal, and after a while it would turn into diamonds. I looked away to save myself from changing heart.
"I'm sorry. I wish I felt the same way, but I don't. But that doesn't mean that you aren't a part of my life. I still love you, but not in the way that you love me," I replied.
"I respect that. But just know, if Blake ever screws up and breaks your heart, I'll be there. That's what shadow creatures do. I can sense it, especially you because I'm in love with you," he said as anger began to bubble up in his voice.
"Listen, we need to meet up with the rest of the group. They've been walking or running the entire time we have been here. We need to come up with a plan," I said as I stood up from the log.
Astyr came up from behind me and wrapped his arms around me and nestled his face in curve between my neck and shoulder and whispered, "Be careful out there."
The pressure and cold lasted for a moment and we suddenly appeared in the middle of a thick wood. I looked around but I could not find Astyr. He probably came up somewhere else. I thought as I tramped through the underbrush. I reached a small, snaking path and when I looked I saw our group heading our way. Tess lead the way, either that or they randomly found a horse in the middle of the woods. I saw Stehrling laying in midair, probably on his air board, and Summer following up the rear, a line of green grass and trees following in their wake.
I assume Seth saw me first because I saw a streak of black hair, red t-shirt, khaki shorts and blue sneakers shoot by me before turning back around and go up to the group that had now stopped. I stood up and started limping up the pathway to meet them. I rush of joy filled me when I realized I was going to see Blake.
Suddenly, the group began an all-out sprint. Tess changed into a cheetah and ran up to me, transformed into a horse, and I instantly realized what she wanted me to do, and mounted her back. We galloped off, and after a few moments I looked around to see Summer on Stehrling's air board, Seth carrying Blake, and Taylor and Dameon were missing, but I didn't question it.
I turned around to see exactly what we were running from. About seven Greys in clone form were chasing after us, animal-like, on all fours. Foam was running out of their mouths, their sharp teeth were gnashing wildly. Their bright red eyes hungered for blood. I could hear them panting from a few hundred yards away.
About half an hour had past, we weren't going any slower, but neither were they. I could tell everyone was starting to get tired, but we were going for our lives. The sun was starting its trek on the other side of the sky, dappling the ground in front of us. A thunderhead was off in the distance, a dark turmoil of clouds reaching up miles into the sky.
Another fifteen minutes went by, and we were beginning to slow down, but the Greys weren't. As we kept going, we began to go through a village that only had the skeletons of houses left. Suddenly, there was a loud banging sound in front of us, and I clenched onto Tess' hair until my knuckles turned white. There were about ten, and suddenly we stopped. I lifted my face out of Tess' neck and turned behind me to see seven dead Greys, still twitching. I looked ahead of me to see an elderly woman with grey hair tied up in a bun with forest green eyes. She held a long rifle in her hands that still had smoke coming out of the barrel. "Come with me," she said in a stern voice. I dismounted from Tess, and she transformed into her human self. Everyone else followed the lead until each of us were walking along the ground behind the woman.
She led us through the village, and I couldn't help but look at the burned beams and bits of cloth that were scattered about. Here and there a bone laid, but the only real structure was the skeletons of homes. The woman brought us to a well that was in the middle of the road. She took a chain out from a pocket in her dress and attached it to a hook up in the top of the well. She yanked on it as hard as she could, and water flushed away from the well into a pipe in the bottom where the water was pumped from, and the pipe was closed up. There were wooden planks at the bottom of the well, and she knocked on them in a certain pattern, and the bottom slid off. There was a metal casing underneath the wood planks, and she inserted a code, and metal casing loosened. It then exposed a hand scanner. She scanned her hand, and there was a noise, and the door finally opened completely, showing a dark hole that went down deep into the ground. Rungs lined the wall of the well. She took the chain off of the hook and put it back into the pocket of her dress, where she had originally retrieved it. She took a lantern that was hanging from the top of the well and turned a knob on the side, which started a steady flame. She put it on the edge of the well as she positioned herself on the rungs and began to climb down.
We all looked around each other. Seth shrugged and began to scramble after her. Blake and I stared at each other that ended up in both of us looking away, embarrassed. I crawled in after Tess, and Blake brought up the rear.
Once everyone had reached the bottom of the well, she pressed a button which apparently closed up all of the doors and unplugged the pipe, because we heard the gurgling of water, and a steady dripping began. "This way," she said as she turned and went down one of many tunnels. We went through the tunnel, our sneakers making a squishing noise from the water that was up to our ankles at one point. She led us through many snaking tunnels until we finally reached a very tall, large mahogany door. She lifted a golden knocker and knocked four times with it. After a few moments, the door was opened.
I was stunned to see a girl around me and my friend's ages had opened the door. She slightly resembled the older woman, so I assumed they were mother and daughter. She had bright red hair, and the same forest green eyes. They led us down a long hallway that eventually became smaller, like what would be seen in a house. We entered into a kitchen area, where I was mildly surprised to see Taylor and Dameon talking quietly over a cup of hot coffee. I was also surprised that Taylor did not ask where her brother was, so I assumed that maybe she knew where he was, with her unknown powers to me or if she just didn't care.
"My name is Peytin," the girl with the bright red hair said as she looked at us with excited, slightly childish eyes. We all told her our names in return, and she responded in an enthusiastic manner, "It's so good to meet you! You have no idea how long I've been waiting for you!"
I noticed her eyes lingered on Seth, and noticed how she just said "you", like there was only one of us that she has been waiting for for a long time.
"Come, sit down," the elderly woman said. After we all sat she said, "I apologize for our ways in advance, it's just been my granddaughter and I living here alone since she was a toddler."
"We're not quite used to having company, you see," Peytin chimed in as she poured us all coffee from an old fashioned copper tea kettle. The whole place was old fashioned and made of wood. The table was made out of a rough wood, and there was only one stable chair that was at the table. Unfortunately I could not see into the other rooms because the kitchen was closed off from other parts of the house. I looked over to see white laced curtains covering some windows which let a muffled light in.
"My name's Maria," said the older woman as she slid open a panel in the kitchen wall and put her rifle into it, then shut it again.
"Maria, what is your view like? I see you have curtains, but at this point I am hopelessly lost on where we are," I said.
"Well, we are underground in a mountain in the neighboring mountain range to the one that's behind the Delinquent School," Maria said as she began to make her way over to the windows. I stood up and followed her. She looked at a device beside the window and then pressed a button underneath it. A rumbling sound followed for a few seconds, and then she pulled apart the curtains. We all peered out at the surrounding mountains. I guessed we were towards the peak of the mountain that the house was in, which made sense. The view was beautiful, but Maria didn't let us look long. She pressed the button again and there was the rumbling sound again, and a wall came down in front of the windows with lights that mimicked the sun behind them. She pulled the curtains shut.
"Peytin, I'm sure our guests are exhausted. Why don't you show them to their rooms?" Maria said as we all finished our coffee.
"Would you like anything to eat before I show you to your rooms?" Peytin asked politely.
We all responded in a collection of "yes", "I'm starving" and from Taylor a "yes just bring out some food already". Peytin disappeared through a door that had swinging hinges on it to what I guessed was the kitchen. She was gone for several minutes before returning with three loaves of bread, a clump of butter, and an oil that the bread was supposed to be dipped in. She put these things out on the table and we ate until there was not a thing left. The bread tasted fresh and warm, like it had just been pulled out of the oven. The butter was obviously fresh, this was no store bought butter. The oil was a beautiful blend of Italian herbs and olive oil. I alternated between buttering my few chunks of bread with putting butter on it and putting oil on it.
She happily picked up all of our plates, enjoying the fact that we had liked her food, very much, as we were grumbling praises about the food as we stuffed it down our throats. She disappeared into the kitchen for another few minutes and then came out with a plate of assorted cheeses. We all ate the cheese until there was nothing but the bare plate. Again, it tasted like very natural, just-made cheese. We all ate it, and in the middle she brought out an assortment of fruits that we ate with the cheeses. By the end we had stuffed ourselves with bread, cheese and fruit.
She disappeared into the kitchen, but didn't come out with food. "I will show you to your rooms now," she said quietly as we all stood up from the table and stretched our full bellies. Once we were all up with our backpacks at the entrance to the kitchen, she led us down the same hallway we had entered. She ran her delicate fingers along the wall until she found what she was looking for. There was a nail sticking out from the wall that I didn't notice until she reached up and pulled it down, like a switch. The wall rumbled for a minute and then slid over into the rest of the wall. A long, dark hallway stretched before us. She flicked the switch and lights that were spaced all throughout the hallway turned on. We each got a room, there were ten rooms down the hallway, five on each side. The boys got the left side of the hallway and the girls got the right. I was in a room between Summer and Tess and across from Stehrling and Blake.
"I'm too tired to have a group meeting. Let's just sleep for a while before having a group meeting," Tess whined as she pushed her hair out of her face.
Everyone agreed and went into their rooms. As I went into mine, I was surprised on how nice it was. There was a twin sized bed in the far right corner, and a closet on the far left. A dark brown, wooden dresser with brass handles was on the right wall, and a desk with a pile of books on it was on the left. On the wall with the door was a wall-sized mirror that took up most of the wall. I put my backpack on top of the dresser and went over to the pile of books on the desk. The book Wuthering Heights caught my eye and I picked it up. I went over and laid down on my bed and began reading, but before I could get through the first chapter I was sound asleep.