“Back to the tunnel!” I said to Lucio as we raced along the track, “Now that we have Siri there’s no reason to guard the exit. Let’s get my mother, then get out of here!”
We dashed into the tunnel and I turned left and right, looking for my mother. Trying to feel the presence of her power.
“SC!” She shouted, her voice distant from behind us at the entrance from where we had just ran, “Here! Where are you!”
“Deeper!” I shouted back, seeing her silhouetted against the edge, “Come on in! And you weren’t supposed to leave!”
“The last thing a mother would do after losing her child is let him run back to the wolves,” she lectured, coming towards us. “I searched for you outside and found nothing, but then saw you return. Of course, no one paid me any mind.”
She waved as she walked, and behind her I saw something glinting at the edge of the tunnel that caught my eye. A quick flash that made me squint, like a mirror catching sunlight, or a piece of glass splitting light. Or a diamond.
Blake stalked my mother from fifty feet behind, his entire power activated, practically glowing as he walked. He dragged a finger along the side of the tunnel, sparks flying off the wall as it dug in up to the knuckle. Rainbows danced around him as the light in the tunnel grew more dim, and he shouted, his voice carrying clear along the tube.
“I saw what you did, SC! I saw what you did to Siri, and I don’t know how, but I know you’re behind all this! You and your friend Slugger, and you’re both going to pay!”
He started walking faster, and I remembered how he had appeared the night he had searched for Darian, his clothes and shoes shredded by his power. There, between him and myself walked my mother. Even if he touched her by accident, his sharp edges would still cut through her skin with ease. And if he had seen her, it would be a far more dangerous position.
“Stop! Let’s have the arena match that was denied to me now!” I shouted back and started forward, “I challenge you to a fight in the station!”
“No chance. I’m not letting you try any tricks!” He said and increased his speed to a run. I cursed, trying to think of options. In ten seconds him and my mother would intersect - if I threw a dark sphere at him there was no guarantee it wouldn’t harm her in the narrow tunnel. He was too far for a force point to pull him backwards, and trying to collapse the tunnel between them could destroy enough of the structure to kill everyone inside.
To reduce the distance I rushed towards them, feeling out with my power for when I would be able to accurately and safely use it. But the farther I reached out, the more it became muddled- in the distance I could feel lines extending like a spiderweb from Peregrine’s machine, forming distracting warpages of space that ran around me like conduit.
Then Blake was ten feet away from my mother as she pressed herself against the wall, and I prepared to strike. I snapped my fingers in the motion to create a black orb, but as it sprang to life Peregrines lines around me shifted, dancing in alignment to the new factor. In some areas they stretched, the space itself almost seeming to elongate, and in other areas they compressed, giving my vision the illusion of a funhouse mirror.
I pushed my control over them- here, where the space itself was not ripped but merely tunneled, moving the lines came naturally. And instinctually I pinched them together, flipping them inside out just like the pocket in space above my wrist where I kept spare spheres. They obeyed, looping in a circle around the space between Blake and my mother, then rapidly constricting like the neck of a balloon.
For an instant the world turned upside down as if I were looking at my reflection in a spoon, and as the lines collapsed so too did the cross section of the tunnel. Brinks on the walls stretched inwards, elongating from several inches to several feet, reaching towards the center like dozens of fingers. Then they me just before Blake, leaving what felt like a knot in space itself, the walls tucking in upon themselves to form a wall that appeared impossible.
Sensing out with my power, I knew what I had created- a curling in of matter, a region impossible to cross because he very fabric of space itself was tied together. Even if Blake managed to cut through the bricks, he would only loop inwards on himself, finding himself turned around to face where he had already been.
It was a cork in a wine bottle, an impassible barrier for him. And judging by the curses that reverberated through the brick, his mind had also reached that conclusion.
We await the official police press conference, but our several witnesses have agreed to share their accounts of the events under Crescent Street. Continued on Page 4.
I flipped the newspaper to the center and continued reading the article, taking a moment to view the photograph of the subway entrance with a trail thick black smoke pouring from the door. As the police had dragged out Siri’s guards, one of the Flamethrowers had managed to lash out a last time with enough heat to catch a plastic trash bin on fire, providing the press with the perfect photo opportunity.
Select students were available for interview following the events on Crescent. With the closure of the rehabilitation facility until further notice, approximately half of the students were entered into the care of the local government and denied comment. Those with living guardians were returned to their families and provided breaking information, though still traumatized.
”It all happened so fast,” States Antony Weezer, age sixteen, who suffered minor injuries from the conflict. “One moment we were in class, the next we were in the station. I don’t really remember how we got there, just that we had to fight. That much was important, there’s nothing more I wanted more than fighting. But I’m not sure who, or why.”
Antony was unavailable for further questioning in his state, but student Josh Harper shed light upon inner workings of the rehabilitation facility.
”We fought because we were told, because that’s how we were supposed to be good students. If you didn’t fight you scrubbed toilets and ate less, since you were a burden.”
The facility is under additional scrutiny as approximately ten of its students have entered counseling due to an extreme allegiance or form of stockholm syndrome to the headmistress, Siri Serenade. Upon her arrest, several engaged the police in physical combat, demanding her release. None of these ten have regained independence since separation from the facility, and all have been deemed a danger to themselves without restraint. One such student, Blake Rockwell, suffered from hallucinations and visions of grandeur following the event, leading to the drug testing of all involved students.
Several students remain missing and are actively being sought by the police, though until an official statement is released many of the names have remained private. One student, Mason Florence, has been identified as missing from the facility for over a week from their internal paperwork and is considered a separate case.
Siri Cerena will be transferred to a high security prison without bail until her court date. From the public records, Siri is a Special possessing a low powered version of Teaching Aid, allowing her to ingraine lessons into the minds of her students. After her father’s death via automobile accident two decades prior, Siri herself was an orphan to the state, and is quoted to have joined the rehabilitation program to “improve the country through a strong citizen base”. Additional interviews with students are expected shed further light upon both her intentions and actions.
Several suspects have been taken into custody, though many instructors at the facility are currently at large. Additional details to emerge tonight upon their descriptions, and any leads upon their whereabouts should be immediately reported into the provided hotline below.
I finished reading and frowned as Lucio appeared with Slugger, each carrying two armfuls of groceries. We were underground, in the station with Peregrine’s teleportation machine, though in the past week the appearance had changed significantly. Each of us owned a tent spread out across the floor and a small kitchen was erected near the center, complete with a foldable pantry and a cupboard made from a repurposed filing cabinet.
“I’ll tell you, SC, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to walking through the entrances you created,” said Lucio, setting down the groceries, “Feels like my insides are being squeezed out every time! One of these days I might actually get stuck.”
“You’ll be getting stuck because ye ate all the granola bars,” Complained Slugger, dropping his groceries as well, “But I like the entrances. No one getting through those in a hurry, that’s for sure.”
“I didn’t eat the bars, I swear!” Countered Lucio, “I don’t even like granola! Besides, we have plenty of money now that we’re selling the construction materials down here. I should be able to eat all the ones I want!”
They continued to bicker and I cracked a smile, looking back towards the way they had came. The first day after we decided to return to the station I’d cut several holes in the cemented doors towards the surface, then had turned space inwards on itself in the same fashion that kept Blake out. After some trial and error, Lucio had discovered that the barriers were not entirely impermeable- at the corners, each had a small crease in space. And by walking into the corner just right, nose first and spinning twice, the traveler would pop out the other side unharmed.
“Well if you didn’t eat it, I suppose they’re just disappearing into thin air!” Retorted Slugger, “You could at least have given me a memory of eating them, then I’d at least have some enjoyment!”
“Enough,” Silenced my mother as she took the groceries. It had been her idea to return- with her power, she had already proven the area could be hidden. And for the next few weeks, or until Siri was sentenced, it would be too dangerous to live above ground. Even the trips to the grocery and salvage yard only occurred after dark, and my mother had insisted upon accompanying us with her powers. “Lucio, start cutting tomatoes. Slugger, you’re on salad dressing, it won’t make itself. And SC, start cleaning. This kitchen is certainly dirty enough to warrant it.”
I pulled my hood up around my ears as I walked, letting the shadow long shadow from the nearby street lamp obscure my features. I shivered, the cool breeze kicking up advertisement fliers that had been tucked into mailboxes and swirling them down he deserted street. Above, the moon offered little illumination. It was better that way.
Only a few weeks had passed since I had last walked down this street, measured in time. But measured in other ways it had been far long. Measured in experiences, in memories. In new friends and fiends. In learning that the world extended far beyond the four walls of my mother’s apartment and the occasional glimpse at an academy I had once considered magical. And realizing I could help direct hat world for better or for worse far more than I had ever imagined.
The ornate decorations that surrounded each of the houses seemed less impressive now, less flashy and rather just another part of the background. I counted addresses while I watched for others in the night- but at two in the morning, my only company was the occasional stray cat and hooting owl. And I stopped when I reached a house with a lavish fountain sporting a family crest, accompanied by a lawn so verdant it looked painted.
I stood on the curb, the tips of my shoes just touching the grass, and raised my right hand, shaking a dark sphere out from the pocket above my wrist. It glided forwards, coming to rest at the top of the fountain, drawing the water upwards but not pulling hard enough to absorb anything more than mist. And the crest almost looked better elongated- less confined, the water free from the grasp of gravity.
In less than a minute the door creaked open, and the man I was waiting for stepped out, peering at me across the fountain water from his porch. For a moment we were both silent, waiting, the tension palpable, the only sound the trickling of water between us, cascading on marble that had lost its luster over time, and appeared grey in the night.
“I assume you are not here for dinner,” said The Hunter, his voice different than how it had been just a few days before. Thinner, the words with a slightly more wheezy quality than his usual sharp and polished tone. As I squinted through the darkness, I saw other differences becoming apparent- silver streaks ran through his once black hair, and where it had once been uniform it now receded above his brow in thinned patches. Fresh creases cut into the skin on his forehead, and his eyes had turned dull, more sunken.
“Not this time,” I answered, unmoving.
“Then what is it you want? I could have the police here in minutes. Quite audacious for you to show your face.”
“And your family is in that house, which I could destroy in seconds.” I answered, letting the black orb on the fountain swell to punctuate my sentence, “No, I came here for something else. A truce.”
“A truce? A truce?!” He laughed, the sound eerie in the deserted neighborhood, “You cost me ten years, you threaten my household, and you come looking for a truce? To think this all could have been prevented if I had recognized you for what you were when you were at my very table.”
“And if it was prevented, the rehabilitation facility would still stand. Those students would be slaves.”
“Yes, those students. Those students who never had an impact on me and never will again.” He sneered, his lip curling, “You’ll learn there will always be an equivalency of them in your life, always people you can help, or you can ignore and never experience their existence again. Eventually, you’ll learn that they don’t matter. That no matter what you do, they will always be there. Always.”
I shivered at his words, staring down at the fountain. And I continued to speak, ignoring his statement. Wondering if Mikey the homeless man from the park would have shouted True afterwards.
“Regardless, it does neither of us good to continue this game. There’s more like Siri out there- we can’t waste time fighting each other when there is a larger enemy.”
“But I thought you were on her side?” He mocked, then held up a hand to silence me, “Rhetorical question, boy. I do admit it was clever of you, that trick in the station. And though you may have some of the officers fooled, in hindsight it is very apparent. There are those who would not have been deceived so easily. Perhaps I was never deceived at all.”
He paused, looking down at his hands, studying the fresh wrinkles that had claimed them, and continued to speak.
“Whatever it is you are, I agree to this truce so long as you do not give me reason to find you. That you swear you do not aid those behind Siri. Realize that she is only the surface- with each layer, it stagnates, it rots. I’ve seen it from experience. And know that should your motives ever change,” his voice dropped low, almost to a growl, “I can find you, and I will find you.”
“I swear,” I answered, holding a hand over my heart, and started to back away, “If anything, I plan on destroying them, not helping them.”
“I’ve heard that promise enough times to hold my doubts. Those two actions are more intertwined than you can imagine.” He paused, and cast his gaze back to the orb floating above the fountain. Suppressed curiosity flickered across his face, and for a second I saw the same Hunter that had sprinted from his house to discover an unknown power on the streets. A man driven with the obsession of a collector.
“This much you owe me,” he said, “What are you?”
“Something out of this world,” I answered, and returned back to the street. I nodded back, both to him and to the face of his wife that peered through the curtains, now ten years younger than I had last seen her.
And to the girl who floated just above his roof, hidden from his sight, who had convinced me to return. And who was the reason I would continue to return.
I sighed in the station, staring at the multiple facets from within Peregrine’s teleportation machine. I had hoped that, with his death, the power that held it together would fade. That like an abandoned car left to rust, it would crumble over time, removing my need to dismantle it. Reaching forwards with my power, I felt the seams of space ripped wide open by the portals, pulling the bucket at my side closer in case I would need to use it. Earlier that day, when I had initially probed the machine, it had come in useful twice.
“SC, do you have a moment?” Asked Lucio, jolting me out of my concentration as my eyelids shot upwards. In front of me the portal flickered, shooting through several landscapes before returning to static as I pulled away. In that second, I caught sight of snow, of a busy city street, and a wall of thick mist.
Don’t sneak up on me like that, Lucio,” I managed as my stomach clenched. “Next time, the results might be messier.”
“Sorry, SC,” he said, the usual play in his voice missing. Facing him, I saw he wore one of the backpacks that we had purchased for moving groceries. And that his tent was strapped to the outside, folded and held together with cord. “I figured I’d want to say goodbye, though.”
“Goodbye?! What do you mean by that?” I asked, as he shuffled a foot against the ground.
“Well, I just, I don’t want to be a burden SC. I’m no part of your family. I don’t want to be an outsider here.”
“Lucio, don’t be ridiculous. You are part of this family, and the last thing I would want is for you to leave.”
Tears well up in his eyes as he clutched the shoulder straps, and he bit his lip.
“You- you mean that?”
“I do, Lucio, and you aren’t going anywhere. We’re in this together now. No matter how deep it goes. Brothers.”
He leapt forward, throwing a hug around me, and wiping a tear away behind my back.
“I’ve never heard that before, SC, not from someone who meant it. I’ve never known how it would feel.”
“Now you do,” I said as he stepped away, “And don’t forget that. You belong here and nowhere else.”
He dropped the pack on the ground, removing the tent along with several other possessions he had packed. Then he squinted at Peregrine’s machine, his eyebrows scrunched together.
“In this together, you say?” he asked. “What exactly do you mean by that?”
“From what I can gather, there’s a whole group of people like Siri out there. Someone has to stop them, it seems like no one else is trying. I won’t force anyone to fight, but-”
“But you won’t have to.” Lucio completed for me, “I’m in. Heh, us versus the world. Plus Slugger. And maybe more. A whole alliance, a rebellion! I’d say it was grassroots, but I think we’re a little deeper than that.” He tapped the floor, and looked towards the station roof, which was still underground.
“We’ll need all the help we can get. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that this won’t be easy.” I said.
“And we’ll need all the tools we can get too!” Lucio exclaimed, his voice growing excited as he took my arm and pulled it away from the machine, “Whoever is behind Siri, what if they’re global? What if they aren’t just in this city?”
He looked over the machine, nodding, “The last thing we would want to do is dismantle our ability to appear in dozens of locations at a moment’s notice. SC, this might have been their greatest weapon. But now, for a completely different reason, it’s ours.”
I hesitated, then nodded, moving away from the machine. No matter its purpose when it had been created, Lucio was right- dismantling it would be destroying a valuable resource.
I looked over the station, with room for countless room more tents. Over Slugger and my mother playing cards at a small table, the beginnings of a team. A small team now, but one that could grow, that could have a tremendous impact. One that maybe Darian would join, wherever he was, when we established contact with him again.
And somewhere above us, there were dozens of students recenly released from the rehabilitation facility. Students whose minds Lucio could scrub of remainders of Siri’s influence from, who might be motivated to join us. To rebel.
To fight back.
END OF BOOK 1
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