~~Cold air swirls around me, my eyes are burning and my hair is being whipped into my face causing me to pull it behind my ear every few seconds. One of the girls, Harper, has had way too much to drink; the bottle in my hand is almost full. Our large group have wondered over to the cliffs and every time Harper stumbles near the edge I wince. “Lighten up” Rina says slapping me on the back and taking a swig of her own drink, the first sip I’d taken of the beer in my hand had been bitter and I’d had to stop myself from spitting it out. “I think I should take Harper home” I say quietly and Tia laughs.
“Don’t worry ‘bout her, she’s not as drunk as she’s acting” Tia says she’s the only one apart from me who hasn’t gone crazy with the alcohol. I’d come here hoping to make a friend, Mirax is in the boys side of the school so I’m on my own amongst the girls. The first week of upper school has been torture so when Tia asked me out here tonight after having a laugh with me in detention I jumped at the chance. I watch Harper as she struggles to put one foot in front of the other and shuffle uncomfortably a little further away from the edge. I keep listening out for the sound of the patrol, if they discover us with alcohol we’ll be sent away and our parents punished for our actions. “Guys, do you think if we try really hard we could fly?” Harper asks clumsily spinning in a sort of circle. “Sure, if you can jump high enough” I say sarcastically, trying to ‘lighten up’. I watch as Harpers eyes twinkle with hope and she walks over to the edge “Are you crazy?” Tia shouts and I run towards her suddenly terrified. “Why’d you say that?” Rina hisses at me. She can’t have taken me seriously. Could she? I run over to her and reach out to my hand but she shakes her head, her eyes glazed over with wonder.
“Stop new girl, let me fly”
I scream as I sit up panting, Harpers last words ringing in my head. I remember how I scrambled to the edge and watched her body hit the river, the nauseous feeling that I’d felt then overwhelms me now. I jump out of bed and look at the clock, its 6:30.There’s no way that I can go back to sleep now, all I’d see when I close my eyes is Harper stepping to her death. I slowly stand up and realise that I’m trembling, it seems that the abseiling yesterday has not helped at all to get rid of the sick feeling I get every time I think about being so high up. I change into my training clothes and trainers then head over to the running track remembering how it had helped last time. Nobody is here to watch as I sprint round the track trying to force the images of Harper out of my head but after 10 minutes I collapse on the floor and rock backwards and forwards trying to push back the tears that are threatening to fall. They come anyway, fat droplets of water running down my face that won’t stop and cause me to let out a small whimper. I bury my head into my knees and take deep breaths trying to calm down. They finally stop and I dry my face with the sleeve of my hoodie then I shakily get up and slowly walk off the track. It was my fault that Harper jumped off, I should have got there faster, I shouldn’t have told her she could fly. I go back to my apartment and look in the mirror. I don’t recognise the girl with red eyes and wild blonde hair that’s slipping out of its pony tail. Mascara has run down my cheeks and my eyes look haunted, I’m glad no one saw me when I had that melt down, I don’t need any one’s sympathy or pity. I splash cold water on my face and clean the mascara away. I quickly check that there’s no evidence that I’ve been crying and take a few deep breaths. With my head held high I march out of the door trying as hard as I can to forget about the dream.
I’m late for breakfast and everyone’s already there “Ashlyn! When did you get back?” Sina says getting up and hugging me quickly, I pat her on the back but remain stiff. “Ethan brought me back yesterday” I explain then sit down.
“Did you run into any trouble? You do remember Julies warning don’t you?” Jaylyn warns.
I shrug “Ethan made sure that we didn’t lead any one back here, he did this cool thing with a car and unlocked it so we steal it quickly” I say trying to distract them.
“I heard about them, there these machines that Marlec made they’re really clever my brother showed me his. They don’t just open car doors they can open anything, even safes” Jaylyn says excitedly. I smile as Tamara and Sina start firing questions at him about them, glad that the attention isn’t on me anymore, I don’t want to lie to them about the trouble I ran into yesterday.
“What do you suppose our challenges will be in combat today?” Tamara says when we start to walk to the training hall. I look down at my cast arm “I don’t think I’ll have any” I say feeling a little annoyed that I’ll be missing out. “Teel said you’ll have to join in today” Sina tells me and I turn my head to look at her “What about my arm?” I ask shaking it at her.
She smiles “Whatever we’re doing you’ll be able to do with a broken arm” I sigh, it will only stay on for a few more days anyway, the doctor has been using an amazing medicine that means it will only take a week to fix itself. We walk into the training hall and see that both the grade 1 and grade 2 classes are here; which is odd because we never train with the grade 1 class. I notice Ethan standing in the corner staring at the floor, deep in thought. Teel clears his throat and his deep voice makes the room go silent. “Today we’re going to assess you on your ability to conker fear. You’ll each in turn face a fear that we’ve set up for you and we’ll record how you react to it. After we’ve finished this module you’ll be assed again and we’ll see how much you’ve improved.” I frown and lean over to Jaylyn “I thought we were learning how to fight” I whisper.
“We aren’t assessed on that till the second year” He hisses back at me.
“Jaylyn, Ashlyn I’m not interrupting you am I?” Teel snaps at us. “Haven’t you been in enough trouble already Ashlyn”
“Sorry” We mumble together and I put out the flame of anger that starts to burn inside me.
“Wait out here and we’ll call you in one at a time” Brent barks at us then the two instructors walk inside followed by Ethan. I notice that no one starts to talk properly when they leave with the first pupil we all wait in a nervous silence. The sick feeling I felt this morning has come back again as I start to think about what’s to come, they’ll almost defiantly make me face my fear of heights. None of the pupils who go in come back out, they must leave out a back door. The grade ones get called in first so everyone in grade 2 start to get fidgety and anxious as we wait. Sina is called in first and I smile at her and whish her good luck, then one by one the rest of my class mates go into the room until me and Clora are the only ones left.
She stares at me from across the room “What’s so special about you?” She sneers at me glaring at me with her cold blue eyes. I ignore her and stare at the door. “We’re onto you, whatever it is your hiding we’ll find it” she threatens and I look at her noticing her lips drawing up into a crafty smile. “Good luck wasting your time” I say flatly to her and try to look as if that comment didn’t cause my heart to speed up. She laughs without humour “You think you’re so clever, well I know you’re not little miss perfect, someone told me that the death of Liam Adams is on your hands” She knows she’s hit a nerve when I scowl.
“I didn’t kill him” I whisper.
“He was killed trying to save you though” Clora says digging the invisible knife that’s been stuck in me since his death deeper. I march over to her so there’s only a few cm’s of space between us “Liam died protecting FREAM not me” I growl at her.
“Keep telling yourself that it makes you happy but I know the truth. For some reason everyone thinks your amazing and are obviously willing to die for you. That means you’re a danger to everyone because everyone is too busy trying to keep you safe instead of themselves” Each word hits me like a slap in the face but I don’t let her know this. “You’re wrong, just because nobody cares enough about you that they want to keep you safe doesn’t mean that you aren’t a danger too” I spit at her and I can feel the tension and hatred in the air as we glare at each other.
A door opens and we step away from each other, my fists clenched and anger pulsing through me. Ethan stands there “Ashlyn it’s your turn” He says looking at both of us and raising his eyebrows. I walk towards him without looking back at Clora “Don’t get too scared” She hisses at me but I act like I didn’t hear her and walk through the door. Ethan closes it and I see that I’ve walked into a small room with wires hanging all over the walls and another door in front of me. “I’m attaching some equipment to you that will monitor your heart rare and what your brain is doing. It will be recorded and put towards your score” Ethan explains as he pins some wires to me and straps something round my head. I nod and the anger I was feeling melts way to be filled with nerves and butterflies. When he’s finished I start to walk to the door “Ashlyn” Ethan says I turn to look at him, his blonde hair in a shaggy mess on his head and his brown eyes full of worry “Don’t be afraid, you can’t fall” He tells me and I turn and walk through the door, his words ringing in my ears. The room I walk into is much bigger and it’s cold. I look up at the two huge wooden towers in front of me “You know what you have to do” Teel says from somewhere in the dark room. I walk over to the closest one breathing hard; don’t be afraid Ethan had told me, easy for him to say he doesn’t have to do this. I reach the bottom and see that there are steps that spiral around it to the top. I start to walk up them, its useless advice, why would he say that? The stairs seem to go for ages and as I get closer to the top I feel my heart rate speed up. I reach the last step and stop. I wait there not wanting to move. “Keep going” Shouts Brent from the bottom, he sounds impatient and I want to hit him. I use my anger to make myself take another step forward. Wind hits me from some machine behind me but it feels real and the feeling is too familiar and I start trembling as I look around, I don’t want to look down so I turn around and try to walk down the stairs but horror floods through me as I see they’ve been blocked by a gate. The only way is to go forward. My broken arm starts aching when I clench my fists and take another step forward. I reach the edge and my heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest. How can Ethan say I can’t fall, bellow me there must be a 100 foot drop and all I have to do is take another step and I’m dead. I look forward not wanting to look at the drop, the other tower is about a meter away and easy jump onto, if it wasn’t so high up in the air. “Let me fly” I hear echoing in the fake wind and cover my ears with my hands trying to get rid of Harpers voice. Ethan’s voice creeps back into my head “You can’t fall” I look down and shake my head, how can he say that, then I realise some thing and poke my foot out to the air in front of me expecting it to just feel the air but instead it hits something solid. I put pressure on it and slowly take another step forward until I realise I’m standing on glass. Looking behind me I see I’ve stepped off the tower and I’m in the gap between the two towers. I feel like laughing, it’s obvious now, they aren’t going to risk us falling but they don’t want us to know. I step forward again and I’m safely on the other tower and I quickly run down the steps back to the stable ground.
I walk through the door and breathe a sigh of relief as a natural breeze hits me, it’s over. I notice that I’ve stepped out into the green house. I’m about to walk towards the canteen to find the others when the door behind me swings open and Ethan walks out. “What the hell was that” He shouts at me as the door slams shut behind him. I blink at him, puzzled “What the hell was what?” I ask him raising my eyebrows. Ethan stares at me with disbelief “You cheated, why did you cheat? All you had to do was jump the friggin gap” He practically spits the words at me and I take a step back, surprised at his sudden outburst. “I didn’t cheat, any way you told me to do that” I say to him crossing my arms.
“No I didn’t, I told you that you couldn’t fall, I was simply trying to comfort you. You weren’t supposed to try and find some hidden message behind it” Ethan sounds tiered which for some reason makes me angry. “Why do you care so much, you hate me I’m always causing you trouble. Can’t you go on at some girl who wants to hear your voice, for some reason you have a lot of choice.” I want to take my words back as soon as I’ve said them because I notice a flicker of hurt flash in his eyes. “Is that really what you think?” He whispers and doesn’t give me time to answer because he pulls the door open and steps back inside the hall. I take a confused moment to wonder what just happen, I never know what’s going on between me and him. Why does he always choose me to criticise, he only ever says nice things to my class mates. Last week when we did combat he’d constantly walk over and say “Ashlyn that’s not right” and “You call that trying” Well whatever his problem is I don’t care.
Back in the canteen every ones back to being chatty again, they’re all relived to have gotten the challenge over with. Nobody wants to talk about what they had to do so we avoid that topic. I can see that Brent and Teel are deep in convocation at their table, Teel looks irritated and Brent has his normal expressionless face on. I sit quietly picking at my food wanting to finish the day and wipe away all the thoughts about Harper and falling. Ethan doesn’t come into the canteen and I curse myself every time I look up to check if he’s walked in. I need to stop thinking about him and he needs to leave me alone. I leave the others quietly and go back to my apartment shattered from the early morning and events of the day.
I’m about to get ready for bed when there’s a knocking at the door, I sigh and walk over and open it. “Marcus! What are you doing here?” I ask surprised to see his face. He looks tiered and I can see that behind his smile he’s hiding a lot of pain. “Julie has called a meeting” He says quietly “She asked me to fetch you” I nod and step out of my apartment then lock it behind us. We silently walk down the corridors and he leads me to a room I’ve never been to before and knocks on the door. I hear someone from the other side say “Enter” so we walk inside.
Julie sits at the head of a long oak table and all the soldiers from the mission I went on are there, including Ethan. I sit down next to Marcus at the end of the table and Julie nods at me. “Now everyone is here I can start” She says her stern voice filling the room and cutting off any quiet convocations that were happening. “As you know the previous mission had some problems” She pauses at this and I can feel everyone’s eyes fall on me for a moment then back to her. “It was successful though because we managed to do a full scout and discover the traitor. Liam will be remembered for his bravery and loyalty; tonight there will be a toast for him in the canteen.” Her words are sharp and flat, she doesn’t even pause when talking about Liam but I feel the sting inside of me that I always get when I think about him. “That is not the reason I have asked you to join us today though Ashlyn. Your here because you’ve made it onto the elite squad, one that will lead us to victory” Her voice is full of pride and hope. I look around the table to see every ones faces are a mixture of surprise and confusion. I must be the youngest one here by at least 2 years. I look at Ethan and I notice that he’s quickly looking away from me, I’m still angry from our last encounter so my eyes don’t hover on him. “You will be taken from your regular classes” Julie continues and her eyes pause for a second on me then continue to survey the room “And train together with your allocated team” The news sinks in, no more training with Sina, Tamara and Jaylyn instead I’ll be embarrassing myself in front if all these highly trained experts. “Your training will start tomorrow at 8; someone will find you in your rooms to show you to the new training hall.” Julies next instructions seem to fly past me, she’s chosen me to be in an elite squad, why? I’m not a very good fighter and my brains won’t be very useful in a battle field, something isn’t right with any of this. The meeting lasts about an hour and my eyes are struggling to stay open when we’re finally dismissed. I start to walk out of the room Marcus appears next to me “Check you out, you’re in the elite squad”
“Yeah, I must have done something right the other day” I say and he winks at me “Nah she probably just chose you to clean the dishes” He says smiling and I give him a small shove but Ethan’s behind him and he ends up bashing into him. “Watch it” Ethan hisses at him and shoves him out the way then storms down the corridor. Marcus raises his eyebrows “Somebody needs an early night” He says under his breath shaking his head, I watch Ethan’s blonde head disappear round the corner and frown; I’ll never understand that boy. “I’ll see you tomorrow in training” Marcus says when we reach my room. I say goodnight then walk into my room. I breathe a sigh of relief as I hit the pillow, I can save the worrying for tomorrow, now I’ll just close my eyes and fall into the land of slumber.