Emma's highschool life had been enveloped in controversy from the moment she'd set foot in her new school in year 10. Those already at the school viewed her as something of an oddity, a stranger now after three years of the same people every day. The girls viewed her with a mix of fascination and mistrust, wondering what kind of person she was. The boys for the most part stole glances when they thought she was looking, she found this a little flattering and just a little off-putting. She would never have called herself pretty, she carried a little extra weight on her five foot seven frame and her natural red hair stuck out in a crowd. She figured the furtive glances were just because she was a new face, and this new face happened to have a sizeable chest. Her first day was spent searching for a place to sit for lunch and people she could talk to; luckily she found just the thing at recess and settled in for the next three years of schooling.

Thinking back on her time in highschool, meeting her boyfriend Jason there, and the controversy over her other "boyfriend" who she had never really broken up with despite the fact he had left for another country after six months. She'd had plenty of admirers, and she knew she had developed a big head about it. Boys like Damien Grey, overweight bordering on obese, socially awkward and completely tactless when it came to diplomacy, she had brushed off without a second thought, Jason kept her in gifts and affection when she asked for it. Looking back she knew she had strung those admirers along, setting up a line of suitors just because she could, never before had she felt as powerful as she had at Mesa Highschool.

Before Jason she'd even entertained several boys' fantasies, letting them hold her, smiling at them coyly and hitting them with the come-hither wink before sending them once again packing for the hills, their hopes dashed time and again. Jason had laughed, knowing he was the only one to get close enough to this enigmatic girl. He wasn't the nicest person, she knew, in her company he was always the gentleman however and as far as she could see at the time that was all that mattered, who cared if he hurt some other boy's feelings? Boys were tough; they would learn to deal with it. It helped that Jason was rather wealthy and treated her to all the things she desired.

But then some of them had turned their backs to her, and that angered her more than if they'd tried to get in her pants. Damien had been chief among these, their once one-sided friendship quickly dissolved into bitter enmity when she started going out publicly with Jason. She loathed him with a passion, even as the years passed, every time she saw him she felt disgusted and angry and went out of her way to avoid him. She knew it was petty but he turned her gut. Not because he was rude or bitter but because he completely ignored her, acted as if she had just vanished.

...

Five years after they had left highschool and she pondered the past as she got ready to go out with Jason to the local nightclub strip. The intervening years had given her objectivity and she grimaced as she thought over some of her crueller exploits. Her father had warned her that the power she could wield with the opposite sex was a gift and a curse.

'You make sure you do what's right, not what's easy. Boys aren't indestructible and a woman can do terrible things to them without lifting a finger.' She remembered the slightly husky tone her father

had used, no doubt thinking about the recent divorce he and her mother had gone through. She'd shrugged off the advice at the time, but now she knew that he had tried to warn her, tried to save not only the hearts of those she toyed with but her own as well.

As she felt the regret swelling up in her she crushed it down and compartmentalised it. She quickly threw another glance at the mirror and made her way to the door. She could hear Jason's car idling outside and as if on cue as she reached for the front door handle he honked the horn impatiently. She sighed, perhaps, she thought idly, this is my own penance. She smiled humourlessly at that thought and pushed her way out of the door, locking it behind her.

...

The night progressed as expected, Jason drank a little too much and hit on every girl in sight, even as Emma clung to his arm, avoiding the wandering hands of some of the male patrons. At one point Jason left her at the bar in order to say hello to a couple of friends he had seen across the way and before she could argue she had found herself alone. She wasn't that way for long as a man stepped out of the throng of dancers and sidled up to her, his alcohol-sodden gaze focused a foot below her face. She put up with his drunken admiration but beat a hasty retreat when he tried to grope her. She forged her way through the crowd and found Jason sitting at the bar on the opposite side of the room, chatting with two guys she had never seen before.

'Come on Jason, we're leaving.' She said, the night had been a bust and she just wanted to go home. She tugged his arm and Jason rolled his eyes.

'No arguing with her lads, see you later.' The two men at the bar saluted with their drinks as Emma dragged Jason out the door.

'Where did we park again?' Emma asked, a knot forming in her stomach, Jason chuckled and pinched her cheek, like she was a toddler.

'Don't you worry Em, I'll lead us right.' Then he took off down the road, swaying drunkenly, Emma sighed and made after him.

Jason led her down a road that was completely unfamiliar, the street lights had thinned to one every few poles and the night's darkness was creeping in. The crowds and the noises they brought that had surrounded the nightclubs were gone; she knew they weren't headed the right way.

'Jason, I think we took a wrong turn.' Jason stopped suddenly and looked up, seemingly surprised to be out on the street.

'What was that honey?' he slurred, fear gripped her tightly.

'I said I think we should go back the other way, I don't think this is where we left the car.' Jason stared at her for a moment, his mouth partially open, before he shook his head and smiled.

'Trust me babe, I know where I'm going.' He turned down an alley and kept walking; she stood there, unsure of what to do. Then she heard approaching footsteps from the darkness of the street and decided following Jason was better than taking off alone, besides she thought with a grimace he has the car keys. She ran to catch up with her boyfriend, the alley was dark as pitch and she could barely see hour outstretched hand, which was why she was caught by surprise when she ran headlong into her boyfriend's back. He whirled around stupidly.

'Looks like we took a wrong turn, this is a dead end.' Is wards sent a chill down her spine as the footsteps she had heard grew louder. The moon, formerly hidden by the sparse clouds that dotted the night sky, peeked out and Emma saw the silhouettes of three men at the end of the alley. They moved forward together, not fast, not slow, they just strode down the alley like they owned it.

'Look what we have here, fellas, a pair of teenies!' the man in the centre said, his voice harsh, cutting through the air like a whip, the other two snickered quietly, the sound all the more menacing for its softness. Jason's whiskey-sodden ego flared and he pulled himself up.

'Hey, I'm twenty-two.' There was a brief moment of silence and Emma stared at Jason in disbelief. The men all laughed loudly, the sound reverberating through the small alley, jarring on Emma's ears. She wanted to scream, these men were obviously up to no good, but Jason obviously couldn't see it.

'Well well, the guy's got balls, gotta give him that.' Said the man on the left, the man on the right barked a laugh.

'He won't for long.' This statement was enforced by a click of steel on steel and the dull glimmer of moonlight on polished metal. Emma tasted the sour adrenaline that burst through her system and her heart almost came to a halt. I am going to die she thought hopelessly. Jason, picking up on the knife, had the sense to go pale. He thought quickly and pulled out his wallet and snatched Emma's purse, she didn't even think to argue.

'Here!' Jason shrieked, his fear all too evident, 'take them, just don't hurt us!' Emma was shocked at the change in her boyfriend; she could see his knees shaking in the dim light. So much for my heroic protector she thought acidly. The three men laughed as the wallet and purse sailed to the floor out of Jason's shaking grasp.

'I think you've got more than that, mate.' Said the man in the centre, Jason shook his head vehemently, the movement made uncoordinated by a slight stumble.

'That's all we have, please!' Jason begged and to everyone's surprise he fell to his knees. The man in the centre stepped up to him and sneered, the expression only just recognizable in the darkness. Suddenly his boot lashed out and Jason crumpled to the floor, out cold.

'No!' Emma shouted, surprising herself with the volume of her negation. The three men looked over at her and, like a pack of hyena scenting an easy meal, they moved in.

'Come on sweetheart, we'll show you a good time like that sack of shit boyfriend never could.' The harsh tone of the man's voice matched the evil of his words. The other two men just chuckled cruelly, is this karma? Punishment for some past wrong? Why won't anyone help me? Thoughts crashed through her mind as she backed away from the men. Her mid was wiped blank with terror

for a moment as her foot caught on something and she went sprawling to the bitumen. The three men obviously saw an opportunity and moved in for the kill when a voice came from the darkness, at the entrance of the alley.

'Hey.' With that one word relief flooded through Emma, the voice was deep, smooth and soft. Despite the fact it sounded like a whisper it carried easily to the three men and as one they whirled and the alley became still.

'What the fuck do you want mate?' asked the larger of the three; the stranger approached, nothing more than a shadow, Emma couldn't see his face, he seemed to fade in and out of sight, like a phantom.

'He asked you a question dumb shit.' Said the shortest, the man that had been on the left. The stranger didn't respond, he just kept coming, his movements somehow graceful. She could see a dim outline of him and noticed he was tall, taller than the largest of her attackers. The three men stepped forward to meet the intruder as one, the larger man drawing out his own knife. If the stranger noticed the weapon, he made no move to show it.

The stranger stopped just out of arm's reach of the three attackers, his posture giving away nothing, his face deep in shadow so Emma couldn't see his expression, or get an idea of his age. The three attackers faced off with him, their posture overtly threatening, but their arms were at their sides, the knives partially concealed behind their backs.

'You deaf or something?' Asked the bigger one with a sneer in his voice, Emma could see the knife glinting in his meaty palm and felt like screaming at the stranger to run, despite his presence being the only thing keeping her from god-knows-what the three had planned for her.

The stranger just stood there, unmoving, his eyes fixed at the floor somewhere to the rear of the alley, he seemed to be staring off into space, not entirely there. Emma wondered for a moment if her rescuer wasn't just an autistic man who had wandered in by accident. She couldn't see his face, shadowed as it was, so she couldn't tell. The big man took a step forward, trying to be imposing to the larger man.

'I'm talking to you asshole!' he spat; Emma saw the stranger look at the man for the first time.

'I...' the stranger started to speak softly; the bigger man leaned in on instinct to make out the words.

That's when everything started moving.