This chapter broke 100 MS Word pages! And it's not even half way done! I don't think I've ever gotten this far on a story before. Though, I apologize for how long the chapters have gotten, haha. Hope you still enjoy them!

Chapter 15

Anton followed, his mind consumed with fighting off an onslaught of questions. He wasn't sure if he wanted to go with them, he wasn't sure if he could take listening to whatever Moray had to say for himself. And he sure didn't want to be pulled into yet another plot that could risk his life or the life of someone dear to him...

Ada!

If Moray was here in town, then Ada was alone back at the poorly named hotel. The man could have done something to her and Rosalie before he came to Cherry Circle for a reason unknown to Anton.

He swallowed, gritting his teeth as he made his legs move faster. His bag thumped against his side, reminding him of the katar carefully wrapped in its sheath. If the positions of his and his friend were switched, the girl would have no hesitation in driving the push dagger through Moray if she found that he had hurt Anton. She wouldn't care if Aquilla or Adam tried to stop her - with her stubborn nature, anything they did to change her actions would prove futile in the end.

There was no way for Anton to follow the same deeds as his friend. He was too weak, too cowardly, and he knew it. So, what would he do if Moray had hurt her or her sister? And first of all, how would he even find out? She was a few hours walk from where he stood; unless he asked the grouchy man, it seemed impossible to figure out if he had left after wounding one of the sisters. Or both, even.

Was it even possible for him to show that same kind of loyalty? Was he just a pathetic boy who thought he has been a good friend?

He already knew the answers to those questions. No, and yes. That realization slammed him in the gut; it was a blow to what scraps of pride he held within him.

His hands fidgeted and he tapped his fingers against the bag, trying to bring his thoughts to the current situation. Adam had moved ahead, scoping the side streets. Moray had disappeared, not visible in any direction or within any shadow the chilly morning light cast along the ground.

"Moray!" The thief's voice rang out through the street, bouncing off the walls and making it to the inhabitant's ears. "There you are! I saw you walking down the street and wanted to say Hi."

Anton turned. From where he was, he could see the man bristle, shock flashing across his eyes and dissipating as fast as it had come. Moray's darker features mixed well with the hue of the uniform he wore, and the well fitted clothing gave him an air of authority that he didn't have before. It radiated outward, even making Adam's voice lower with uncertainty.

"I don't remember you ever liking to wear a matching outfit. You always said that you liked the freedom of mismatched clothes."

"Adam, just go away." Moray's gaze flickered over toward Aquilla and the twins, landing on Anton last of all before looking back up at the thief. "I'm busy."

"Of course you are, 'Ray." Adam gave a disarming smile, placing an arm around the man's shoulders. "C'mon, relax a bit. Supposedly Anton's a cook; maybe he can make better food than Aquilla. We can talk over breakfast, and be best buds again."

"Does that hurt your shoulder?"

"Huh?" Adam blinked, puzzled.

"Holding it at that angle, does it hurt?"

"Ah! Uh, no. Not that much. It's healed pretty well, thanks to that stuff you put on it," his words slowed, his magenta eyes narrowing with a sudden dawning. "What did you put on it-!?"

Moray smirked, triumph dancing in his eyes as he remained silent.

"How long have you been with them?" Aquilla growled, signaling for Adam to pin the man. The data collector grabbed Moray's arms, yanking them back and holding him against his chest. But still, the guy remained calm, the many people around him not even sparking off fear within him.

"A little over a month," he answered without hesitation, staring the black skinned man directly in the eyes.

"So, that's where you disappeared too!" Adam chuckled. "You naughty boy."

"I'm ten years older than you - you have no right to call me a boy."

He smiled, a slight grimace on his face. "Moray, stop elbowing me every time I speak!"

"Stop acting like a freaking three year old."

"I'm not three!"

"I'm not a boy."

Adam yanked the guy's arms back even further, careful to stay out of the reach of his elbows. Moray gritted his teeth. "Was that necessary?"

"Of course."

Moray choked out a colorful word when Adam pulled back again.

Anton officially decided that he hated interrogations.

"You two, stop bickering and answer my question Moray," Aquilla interrupted.

"What question- ruhg."

"Tehe, you said rug again."

"Adam, I swear-"

"Why did you leave?" Aquilla broke in, his words calm and indifferent.

Moray grunted. "Because I wanted to, Aquilla. I don't like the way you lead. You're going against Ugata's wishes of always giving a person two choices. Your decision of dragging a fifteen year old boy into this mess is what finally set me off. Poisoning a girl - making me poison the girl - was the most morbid think you could have ever done." He lowered his rising voice, "I'll change the U.O by myself. I'll convince Fynne to take back her threats and change the way she does things all by myself. At least they are helping, at least they are doing something right in one way!"

Moray lowered his eyes, letting his words settle in on Aquilla. "Sure, they hurt people. But at least they have a valid goal. You don't even know yours, Aquilla. You say you're protecting the people, but in reality you have done nothing. Think for once! Maybe once you do I'll re-join The Phoenix." He turned to Anton, an enraged intensity burning in his eyes. "And boy. You don't have to stay. You do what you want. Stay with the corrupt, join the corrupt, or go back home and do what your parents did: avoid the corrupt altogether. It's your choice, not Aquilla's. In this case, you have three choices. I expect you to choose carefully, with you and your friend's best interests in mind...

"Now, Adam, let go of me."

"A-a-ah... Uh, sure," the thief stuttered, releasing his old partner and taking a step back, shell-shocked.

"Thank you." With that, Moray turned on his heel and stalked away. Then he paused, fingering something under his sleeve. He lowered his head, tilting it so he could see the people behind him. "I'm sorry, but what I do next is an order strictly given to me by J. Carlos. Please, forgive me," he whispered, whipping around once more. In his fingers was a bracelet made of pebbles-

It shot through the air, binding Aquilla's throat in a vice grip.

XXX

Ada panted, leaning against the door frame. The morning breeze brushed her hair, cooling the sweat that dripped down the back of her neck.

Sucking in a deep breath, she forced her heart to slow, placing her hands on the knob.

She had to tell them.

Otherwise it wasn't going to be pretty.

XXX

Aquilla crumpled to his knees, clawing at the tightening bracelet. His face was slowly turning purple, his fingers struggling to release the growing pressure.

Oh, what had he done before!? What had he done before? Anton looked around the stones, eyes moons and shoulders tense with panic.

"You twisted something before, didn't you?" Melina stated, face pale.

He grabbed a pebble with both hands and twisted it to the side. Nothing happened.

"The big one!" Adam shoved him out of the way, grappling with the largest stone. The bracelet released with a click and Aquilla gasped, coughing and sucking in painful breaths of air. He fell onto all fours, shaking his head and muttering under his breath once he could.

Anton sighed, resting back on his haunches and watching his third grade teacher as he came back to life. Moray's words had struck him, hard. And by Mr. West's mutterings, he could tell that he had been his as well.

He had a choice to leave or to stay, or even to become a traitor like Moray, according to the man who had hated him before. A choice… he hadn't had one so far, in those last few weeks of being manipulated by The Phoenix. And right then, as Aquilla slowly stood up, he realized how close he was to his home. If he turned and looked, he might even be able to see its walls in the brightening dawn. He could leave. Right then, while everyone was distracted with making sure their leader was alright, he could run and reach his home and his parents before they caught him and dragged him back.

The thought was so tempting; it tugged at him, trying to gain movement from his legs. But yet, he sat, watching and waiting for Aquilla to regain his posture. Curiosity poked his brain, drowning out his body's call for flight.

What was Aquilla going to do, hearing all that from a former follower?

"Adam, let's go back to our house," Aquilla said, his voice quiet, deep in thought. He fingered his throat and the growing bruise. Snatching the bracelet from the ground he started off back to Cherry Circle, pausing after taking only a few steps.

"Anton, you can go as you please," he whispered. "Moray's right, you do deserve more. A choice. We all do." He continued, his steps heavy with a great feeling of defeat. "Ugata's wish… I had forgotten it. That was our creator's only goal; I can't believe myself for forgetting such a thing, for forgetting the very thing that created The Phoenix."

"I don't fully understand," Anton said, feeling an obligation to follow and hear what Aquilla had to say. He could feel Melina and Brynn press in as well – no doubt they had their own questions that needed to be answered.

"Ugata, our creator, first brought us all together for that one goal, that one wish. He handed us cards one day and told us to meet him at Cherry Circle, in that very house you stayed in last night, Anton. He told us everything he wished for, he gave us some sort of hope that we could grasp. A second chance – that was what all of us needed.

"Day after day we would meet there, talking about the plans Ugata had for the world. He brought up the idea of new prescription drugs, but not long after the U.O showed. They popped up into existence so quickly, since they had been building up their people and resources for years and years before we had come together.

"Ugata… he was happy that it wasn't just him and the six people sitting at his table who was thinking along similar lines. Then he looked into the U.O – took two who months away from the town to research them – and when he came back to inform us… He was different. His face twisted with a rage I had never seen on him before, and he fidgeted so much as he waited for the rest of us to arrive.

"Once everyone was there, he refused to sit down beside us, instead taking to pace around the room, organizing his thoughts. We knew that he would never lie to us, and we believed every word he said.

"He told us that the U.O had turned our government into turmoil. They worked at such a fast pace that their resources were gone within the first month. The other corporations went out of business, and the president banned cars in hopes that only certified organizations would spring back up. He said it was their only option. . .

"But in the second month, the U.O had gathered some sort of army, bribing the forces that the US had once owned into giving them a share of weapons. Then, the part that enraged Ugata the most was when they turned towns and people into ash in order to absorb the area's resources. Afterward they looked at the survivors – the bruised and scared children, scarred men, the senile leaders and grandparents – and told them that it wasn't they who had destroyed their homes and families. They gave them the necessities and a few luxuries that the country could no longer afford. It was stupid, all of it. I agreed with Ugata, everyone did.

"That's when we decided that the U.O was an enemy to be defeated. Ugata, he was brave enough to walk personally up to them and accuse them of what they were doing. He gave them a second chance, and said that if they didn't change that they were going to regret it. He came back the next day and told us what I just told you.

"Then he went missing, with only a letter left to tell us that he had even existed. The U.O threatened us shortly after, and we had no choice but to believe that they had Ugata within the grasp of their filthy hands.

"I-I guess, with all of the problems that came after that realization and being appointed the new leader of The Phoenix, that I must have forgotten the very thing that brought us together. And there I went, forcing my favorite student into something that could hurt him terrible and nearly killing his friend.

"Moray was right. I was corrupt and morbid, and I've made The Phoenix take on that same reputation."

"Aquilla, don't worry about it," Adam soothed awkwardly.

"I am worrying about it, Adam. And I don't want to any more than you want me to. So therefore, I'm going to try and make up for what I did, just like Moray suggested. I will think, for once. And hopefully Ugata will be delighted to know."

"I'm sure he will," Adam teased, pushing Aquilla forward slightly. "Let's get back and check up on Isaac. We'll deal with everything else later, 'kay?"

And they continued down the road, Melina and Brynn following them with no uncertainty clouding their eyes. They seemed to have made up their minds officially. They were members of The Phoenix now and when they got back they were going to have their skin stamped.

Though, Anton wasn't sure. He touched the feather on his collar bone and bit his lip, watching as they headed back to the house. After hearing Aquilla's words, something inside him made him want to follow as well. But… he really wanted to see his parents as well; to stay with them and not even bother with The Phoenix.

That's when a scream split the air.

Anton froze mid-thought, feeling every sore muscle tense in his body. The sound echoed in his empty mind, resounding again and again, filling him with a paralyzing sense of dread. It was familiar, yet foreign. A scream he would know anywhere, but has never heard before.

The thief erupted into motion, flinging himself forward and around the sharp turn. Aquilla staggered when Adam's hands disappeared, but regained his balance. A muscle twitched in his jaw, and soon Anton saw him move after the magenta eyed man.

If recognition refused to bound in his head as a never ending susurration, Anton would have turned tail and ran in the opposite direction. His legs carried him after his third grade teacher, managing to find a burst of energy to take him to the front of The Phoenix's second base.

Breathing hard he slowed, approaching the door cautiously. Fear and apprehension had decided to take ahold on his mind then, and he found caution in very hasty step.

The door blew open and he jumped, stepping back. But his movement didn't save him.

Moray came barreling out, slamming into him and shoving them both to the ground. He yelped as his head made contact with the cracked cement. He found dirt and stones biting into his skin, a massive weight on his chest. The man scrambled up, kicking Anton's head once again into the pavement before launching himself away, each step a struggle to regain his balance.

He sat up, coughing and fighting tears. Pain exploded across the back of his head and neck, sending spots to his vision. But he fought the panic and agony down, holding it in a tight ball within his stomach, and stood up shakily. The already present bruises on his back screamed as he hurried to the wide open door.

Peering through the gaping entrance, Melina and Brynn pressing in behind him, he saw what had transpired through the eyes of a dreamer. The scene flooded through his mind as he saw the wreckage and the blood that covered the carpet.

Moray came crashing in, shoving the door nearly off its hinges, dagger gripped firmly in his hand. He ran into the next room, only to find himself face to face with Isaac. Pure instinct slammed sharply into him, and he raised the dagger-

Only for the man to grab his wrist tightly in his hand, ramming them both to the ground. Strength against strength they wrestled, rolling and fighting for control of the weapon.

Moray kicked Isaac off, sending the man into the wall where he crumpled back to the floor, choking and gasping as he tried to put his feet under him. But he was too slow, and Moray kicked him back down, grabbing him by the collar with his free hand and driving the blade home . . .

Anton shook the images out of his head, glancing over his shoulder in a quick motion before closing the door and turning once more to the scene.

And that's when he fully saw what had happened.