The bell rings, announcing lunchtime.
“So. Who’s hungry?” Louis claps, standing up. “I’m starving.”
“I lost my appetite,” I reply, glaring at Zayn. He responds with a smirk.
“Liar,” Harry mumbles, moving another chess piece before standing up. “But you should come to the cafeteria anyways. Derek is waiting for you by your room door. I caught a glimpse at his intentions earlier.”
“Why can’t you get him to leave me alone?” I ask Zayn, keeping a reasonable distance between us as he all head to the cafeteria at the other end of the room.
“I’m not messing with Samson’s son: it’ll earn me a free trip to Discipline,” he retorts. “And anyways, the three boys who surround him are there for a reason: they protect him.”
I mull the thought as we grab a trays and head to the table where we sat yesterday. I turn to look at the trio Derek had introduced me to.
“What are their abilities?” I enquire.
“The twins, Thomas and Marcos,” Louis begins, “are shields. Thomas can shield the mind of psychological assaults whereas Marcos shields from physical assaults. But their gifts are limited to shielding one person other than themselves, and only from supernatural abilities. You could kick Derek in the nuts and trust me, he’d feel it.”
“Yesterday,” I realise. “He wasn’t harmed by Liam’s fireball.”
I peek at the blonde twins. “What about the other boy? Ryan, I think?” I probe, my gaze shifting to the dark-haired boy right beside them.
“He’s a shifter. Can turn into anything that’s alive. He’s Derek’s and Strife’s eyes and ears. Especially when he shifts into a fly.”
“I keep him away from you. His lust for you is strong,” Zayn states, taking a piece of salad between his fingers before bringing it to his mouth.
To my surprise, my skin starts humming.
I jump in shock as Liam takes a seat right beside me. Our bodies seem to have a sort of magnetic pull.
“There’s a new boy,” he declares excitedly, “from Ireland. He’s moving in the room in front of yours,” he continues, motioning Harry.
“What’s his gift?” Louis frowns.
“I have no idea. I barely saw him and he wasn’t as intense about it as Meridelle. Psyche wouldn’t tell me what his room was meant for either.”
“I had every reason to be intense,” I defend myself. “I’d just learned I’d killed my grand-parents.” I easily push away the wave of sadness that threatened to drown me at the simple thought. The four boys stare at me expectantly.
“You can cry,” Harry says. “You don’t have to keep your grief buried inside you.”
“I’m perfectly fine,” I reply. “It’s not because I’m a girl that I’ll simply breakdown and cry.”
“Suit yourself. But know that we won’t judge. Our abilities have resulted into some terrible things and that’s mainly how Strife managed to get his hands on us,” the green-eyed boy shrugs.
“Anyways, from what I’ve gathered, his name is Niall Horan and Samson is already keeping him locked up in Discipline. Which either means he’s a troublemaker of Samson is afraid of him.”
“He could be useful.”
“Are you suggesting we tell him about our ‘plan’, without even knowing him?” Zayn scoffs.
“No. We simply observe him for a while and then we consider it.”
“Let me make everything clear then: we don’t have a plan whatsoever,” I point out. “We don’t know the extents of my gift, nor do we know anything about what could happen if Liam and I ouch for too long,” I continue, taking a single bite out of the apple I’d placed on my tray. “Not only that, but we don’t have any privacy. How do you expect to do everything unseen?” I end curiously, munching on the fruit.
There’s a long pause as they all ponder my remarks.
“What if Louis creates a room?” Liam proposes, lowering his voice considerably. “A cartoon room.”
“You say that as if I can create rooms on demand,” Louis shakes his head. “This isn’t Harry Potter mate.”
“I’m sure we could find a way to make the situation ironic and therefore force your powers to manifest,” he counters.
“Even if Louis does manage to make a room, our absence won’t be hard to miss. Or have you forgotten? Strife is watching your every move,” Zayn reminds.
“What if there was a way to put a representation of us in everyone’s minds?” I say.
“Harry can do that.”
“Do you even know how much power that would require?” Zayn exclaims. “And the cameras hmm? They won’t be affected by Harry’s mind trick.”
“Unless I associate our clone images with a specific location like the common room for example. That way, anyone who’ll look in the common room will assume we are there also,” the curly-haired boy reasons, voice slow and calculative.
“You’re not really considering this are you?” Zayn states in disbelief. “You’ll tire yourself out.”
“I don’t see any other way to proceed,” Harry nods. “Derek’s coming to our table,” he adds.
“What does that bastard want again?” Louis mutters.
“If he touches her without her consent, I don’t think I’ll be able to resist punching him,” Liam declares.
“I can take care of myself,” I reply, slightly offended.
“If you do punch him, I’m not helping you Liam. I’ve had enough pain for the week,” Louis declares lowly.
“Nobody will be punching anybody for me,” I declare firmly.
“Meridelle! What a pleasure to finally have you among us!” Derek butts in, his voice sickly-sweet. “Though I believe you’re sitting at the wrong table,” he continues.
“I doubt that,” I retort dryly.
“Are you sure?” he enquires. I feel his words breaking into my head, destroying my will.
Hesitation seeps into my pores. Wouldn’t I be better at Derek’s table? Liam’s leg brushes mine under the table.
“I’m positive,” I state determinedly, my mind free of his control once more.
“You heard the lady,” Liam nods. “Now if you could kindly get the fuck away from our table; there’s nothing for you here.”
“Wrong. I think there’s plenty for me,” he denies, taking a seat beside me.
“You are not welcome Derek,” Zayn warns. “Leave.”
“Or else what? What can you do to me Zayn? I’m untouchable,” Derek taunts, his arm wrapping around my shoulder.
Liam stands up swiftly and sends his fist in Derek’s face before I can do anything. I hear his nose crack, blood rapidly pouring out of it like a geyser. The boy cups his nose almost immediately, red filling his mouth.
“How dare you?” he splutters, standing up.
“We told you to leave us alone,” Liam snarls, his hands now flaming by his side at his irritation.
Ed and Tristan, who were once again supervising the cafeteria, are already heading towards Liam.
Scolding myself for my next move, I hold my hands out towards them and push an image of an ice rink with my mind. Next thing I know, the whole floor is covered in a sheet of ice and the supervisors are slipping off their feet and onto their asses.
“What did you do that for?!” Liam exclaims, his shocked face identical as the numerous other ones in the cafeteria. “Now they’ll bring you in too!”
“You stood up for me! Again!” I snap. “The least I can do is take part of the consequence!”
“You’ll face Discipline! God dammit Meri! The first time is the worst!” Liam’s distress makes the ice melt in a matter of seconds.
“Now look what you’ve done!” I accuse as the supervisors jump on us. I can’t help the tears as the red-head wraps his arms around me, immobilizing me. A feeling of hopelessness and sorrow fills me with such intensity I begin sobbing.
Liam curls into a ball beside me, face twisted in pain as Tristan holds him down.
“Meri you really shouldn’t have gotten involved!” he says through clenched teeth.
The both of us are dragged out of the cafeteria and to Samson’s office. Tristan knocks twice on Strife’s door. The devil himself answers. Tristan doesn’t even need to tell him what happened: he can read it for himself through the very vivid images going through our minds. His eyes fall on a whimpering Liam and a crying me.
“I can’t say I’m glad to see you here Meridelle but I’m not totally displeased either,” he begins. “I’ve been meaning to make a couple of tests on you and this is the perfect occasion. Set them up boys,” he sighs, letting them tow us across his office and through the door that lead to Discipline.
I’m still blinded by tears as Ed hauls me into a bed, strapping me in a sitting position. Something prods the inside of my elbow.
“What the fuck did you inject me with?” I ask Ed, pulling on my restraints. The red-haired supervisor keeps quiet, staring at me intently, as if waiting for something. I find out exactly what he’s waiting for when seconds later, my vision becomes hazy and unfocused. He leaves without saying anything else.
I struggle to get a proper glimpse at my surroundings.
What looks like a smaller version of a general hospital ward stares back at me. Beds with machines tethered to them are sprawled here and there. Except that oppositely to a normal ward, each bed is in a small isolated glass room, meaning everyone can see everyone.
I blink several times, succeeding to make out Liam’s shape in a room at ten o’clock of mine. From what I can gather by the bursts of orange and yellow, Tristan is struggling to get him strapped to the bed. And judging by the blackened bed at the very far end of the ward, this is a recurring situation.
I frown when I notice there’s someone else in Discipline, peacefully strapped to the bed in the glass room in front of mine. Could this be Niall?
I squint at the figure, trying to get a proper look at the boy but failing miserably due to whatever’s coursing through my veins.
“So Meridelle, are you ready for your first Discipline?”
Strife walks in, forcing me to look away from the guy in front of me.
“What the hell did Ed inject me with?” I grumble, watching as an unknown woman in a white jacket follows behind Strife with a bunch of vials in her hands. She places them on a small table nearby, before rolling it beside the bed.
“It slows down your vitals to facilitate the removal of your essence,” Samson replies. “But before we actually begin that process, I need to run some tests on you.”
“What kind of tests?” I grit as two more men in lab coats enter the small glass room.
“Your resistance to pain. The quantity of essence there is in a single millilitre of your blood. The amount of power it takes to drain you out completely. That kind of stuff,” he shrugs, crossing his arms over his chest as the lady with the lab coat starts playing with her vials. “I just need a complete overview of your ability for your folder. Every single subject here has one.”
I flinch as yet another needle pierces my veins. I glare at the lady, but not once does she look up at me, too focused on drawing my blood out.
“Why did you insist on taking part in the feud Liam created?” Strife asks, diverting my attention back to him.
“Your son touched me,” I answer, still unable to focus properly on anything. “I wanted to stand up for myself,” I continue, seeing absolutely no point in lying.
“From what I’ve gathered, he simply grazed your shoulder in what was meant to be a friendly action.”
“I do not like being touched and/or prodded by anyone,” I snap, feeling the tips of my fingers tingle with irritation. “Derek had no right to touch me.”
“But you reacted after Liam punched him. You tried to stall my supervisors with ice, not get back at Derek for touching you,” he counters.
I wince as the unnamed lady starts filling a second vial with my blood. Samson’s fingers latch on my chin, turning my face so I’m looking at him. His face is blurry.
“You’re hanging with the wrong crowd Meridelle,” he continues, shaking his head. “Payne and Tomlinson are trying to convince you I’m the bad guy.”
“So strapping me to a bed to draw some of my blood and make some tests on me is not being a bad guy?” I scoff, rolling my eyes. I’m getting slightly dizzy. “And Discipline seems to be such a heart-warming experience,” I add scornfully.
“We’ve been over this before Meridelle: Discipline is necessary. I put rules in place and urge you to respect them because it allows me to keep control over everyone and prevent chaos,” he sighs. “And as for these tests: even though they’re painful, they’re ultimately at your advantage.”
“Oh yeah?” I scoff. “And why is that?”
“Because we’re working on a cure. The things that are noted down are used for research in order to find a way to remove our supernatural essence permanently. I wouldn’t be able to run this institute without the United Nations support and funds, and what they want is for me to find a way to rid us of these abnormal gifts. I’m just doing my job.”
I blink, not understanding.
“A cure?” I ask softly.
“Yes. Our research team has been working day and night to find a way for us to return to our normal human conditions.”
I shut my eyes, skeptical.
“And you’d want that?” I draw out slowly, unconvinced. He doesn’t seem to hate being able to read thoughts…
“I’m stuck in the R.I.S.G just as much as you are Meridelle. My son and I aren’t allowed to join my wife and daughter as long as we still represent possible threats to society,” he replies seriously.
The lady finally pulls the needle out of my skin. I feel woozy.
“So I apologize in advance because these next tests are going to be painful, but they are necessary,” Strife ends, nodding once in the direction of the two silent men. Samson takes a step back as both of them approach me. The unnamed lady rapidly rolls her chariot with my blood out of the room, locking the glass door behind her before I lose sight of her blurry figure.
“Where do I―”
“Her heart Bradley. The heart is always the main source,” Strife huffs.
“But she’s a girl―”
“I know that! Just get as close as the heart as you can.”
“This is going to sting,” the first man, Bradley warns me, before placing his hands right below my left breast.
I scream as a nerve-wracking surge of electricity does a rapid lap around every single one of my cells, passing through my bloodstream like nails raking on a chalkboard. My back arches without my consent.
“I said a small shock Bradley!” Samson scowls as Bradley moves his hands away from my body, leaving me trembling and shuddering on the bed. My breathing is ragged, my vision nearly gone. “We’re supposed to go gradually!”
“It was a small shock!” he defends. “Somehow she accentuated it!”
“Carl soothe her.”
“No don’t touch me!” I demand, recoiling as the other approaches me.
He doesn’t listen to me, carefully placing the tips of his fingers where Bradley’s hands had just been. A soothing sensation follows, as if water was cooling down my electricity-scorched veins. My pulse slows down as Carl steps back.
Bradley moves forwards again.
“I swear to God if you touch me again, I’m fucking freezing this whole building!” I threaten, an involuntary shiver racking my body once more.
“We need fire,” Strife realizes. “Ice can conduct electricity but fire can’t.”
I shake my head rapidly.
“Not fire. Anything but fire!”
“Meridelle these tests are necessary if we want to find a way to make us normal―”
“No fire!” I repeat, fists clenching.
“Maybe this is a great time to face your fear―”
My body reacts reflexively, shivering as cold jolts out of every single one of my pores. All I see before losing consciousness is white.