I turn into darkness, heart dead with the poison that is death's demented daydreams. Aareia and Aisla are both gone, leaving me alone in the silence, eyes beginning to water slightly with a kind of acidic pain. Everything is gone, moulded into invisible monsters that lurk in a black veil, ready to strike, kill me at the first opportunity. My hands shake as I put the book down, and it is not from the draught blowing in through the open mahogany door. "Aareia?" I call in a whisper. "Aisla? Where did you two go?"
Only silence meets my ears, and my head thumps with the pain of a ringing church bell. Fear races through me, and I reach for the book, thinking that maybe they are testing me to see if I will keep it safe. Yes, that will be what this is. There is just one slight problem; the book is gone.
"Well, this is just brilliant," I mutter, kicking stones as I trudge to the school, hands balled into fists. No doubt I will have to talk to Aareia today, and she will not be pleased with me if I do not have the book with me.
"Hey, poshie!" Natalie shouts, crossing the road, legs moving faster than her swaying hips. "How ya doing?"
"Alright, thanks. I'm probably gonna die later, though. I borrowed a book from someone and they'll kill me, 'cause I can't find it."
"You're in deep shit now, Kear," she tells me, sounding oddly reassuring. I suppose the fact that I can tell her what's really going is the reassurance. The fact that Aareia is going to hate me even more than usual, not so much.
"I know that. It's a Crust, too."
"Yep, like i said. Real deep shit." We walk in silence for a short minute, while Natalie skips beside me like a hyper-active four year old Human. "Can I sit with you lot at lunch today? The rest of my mates are having a skive - going up to Edinburgh, I think - but I don't have any money with me, so I can't go with them."
"Sure," I say, immediately regretting it. "Jade and Eliza will no doubt already be at each other's throats, so it will be incredibly entertaining for you, I'm sure."
"Great," Natalie chirps with an unnervingly happy grin. "I can't wait."
"I bet you can't."
With a laugh, Natalie runs in front of me, bag swinging around her as she spins to face me again. "Come on, slowcoach!" she shouts to me. "You'll be late again, and put in detention!"
Sometimes, it scares me how easily she can see through my disguise. "You're on," I crow, instantly racing past her like a lightning bolt Gabriella has thrown down from her Throne of Heaven.
Natalie shrieks, and tries to catch up to me, but she takes far too long, practically crawling along as she puffs out short and winded breaths. She clutches her side, pulling a face at me as I lean on a tree, waiting for her. "Time out," she croaks, raising a floppy hand.
"No way! It was your idea."
"Shut up!" She sticks up her middle finger, and I stick my tongue out, acting like a Human voluntarily. I hate to admit it, but it feels... It makes me feel... Happy. Good. I smile tentatively, heart of ice warming like a fireplace.
"Lay!" Jade calls from the doorway, running towards me. "OMG, you'll never guess what El did?"
"What?" We embrace as if nothing even happened yesterday, and I hear Natalie shuffling up to stand beside us.
"Okay, so, you know all what happened yesterday, right?" Oh. So she remembers after all.
"Well, she called me afterwards, right, and said, like really, like, happy, like, she's got a boyfriend, right, and guess who it is?"
"I have no idea who that is."
"Only, like, the second hottest guy in school. After Carlos, but he's a bastard."
Why do Humans describe each other as 'hot'? It's not like any of them have been plunged into the Core and nearly roasted alive, drowning in their own boiling blood. I wish they were, though, it'd be very interesting to witness.
"Oh. Right, cool. So... What's happening now?"
"She, like, totally doesn't deserve him, he's, like, him, and she's, like, her, and they're, like, so not good together. And they've got, like, a crap ship name, too: Breza. Like, how shit is that?"
"That is a bad ship name," I agree, making a mental note to find out what a ship name is.
"I know, right? Anyway, she, like, better not, like, bring him to sit with us, or, like, I will actual, like, kill them both. I mean, she's lucky we even let her be our friend, like, anyone else we would have, like, gotten, like, someone to, like, beat them up."
That was a lot of likes for someone talking about how much they are annoyed with someone else.
"I know, right?" I say. "I don't even know why we bother, she's so ungrateful."
We stroll into school together, laughing and giggling though it feels like a great betrayal, and I wrinkle my nose. I look behind me, remembering about Natalie, but she's gone.
"Hey, Eliza!" Jade squeals in a sickening voice, rushing over to greet her 'friend'. I almost laugh at the thought.
"Hi, Jade! How are you? Have you seen the trailer for that new movie, 'Surgical Stars'? It's amazing, we should all totally see it, because it looks totally awesome and it's got, like, a really hot male actor and he is, like, my soulmate, and then his friend is epic too, so, yeah, we should totally see it, the three of us, but don't tell Brandon, 'cause he'll go mad at me if I start, like, totally fangirling over another guy!"
Eliza begins to screech, descending slowly into hysterics. I really hope her laugh is fake, otherwise that girl has some serious issues.
"I totes agree, Eliza," I squeal in a voice like a mouse scurrying away from a hissing, spitting cat. "But, since you've already got a boyfriend, I call dibs on the hottest guy in the film. Don't even challenge it." Did I actually just say that? Did I honestly turn to such a disgusting, Human way of speaking? That. Is. Despicable.
"Fine, but you so owe us for letting you." Jade nods her head in agreement as we reach our usual table, scraping in our uncomfortable plastic chairs.
"So, it's my birthday next weekend, and I seriously need your help planning. My brother's friends are coming, and I'm sure a few of them are up for a bit of meet and greet with pretty girls. Plus, one of them is, like, a really good footballer. You could be a WAG!" Jade squeals, grinning at the heads turning out way.
"Stop shouting," I his as a small girl with black hair sits down at our table, followed by another girl who looks the exact same. The Baker twins, I think.
"Oh, they stare anyway, Kear." Jade waves a delicate hand at a passing boy, and he smiles, coming closer.
"Hey," he drawls as she laughs. "How are you?"
"How am I? How am I what? Beautiful?"
He nods, as though in a trance. "Yeah. Beautiful. Want to go out sometime?"
"Sure," Jade replies with a wicked grin. "But not with you." She flicks a hand, ordering him away like Daesia would sentence an intruding Heavener to torture.
"Oh, okay." The boy turns his gaze on one of the Baker girls. "I wasn't talking to you, really, anyway. I was talking to Lo-"
"Forget it, loser," the twins say in unison, eyes narrow, pressing the hatred out of them.
Dejected, he turns to me, his last hope as Eliza is kissed by Brandon, and I cringe inwardly. "Hi. So, um, I was, um, I was wondering if, um, you might like to, um, you know, um, go out, um, maybe?" I know I am far more intimidating than the others. The red eyes are hidden, but they are silver and steel, and I am more like a wicked machine than anything else. "I mean, only if you, um, if you want to, I mean."
"No. Leave us alone and go back to whatever little skunk hole you came from." He slumps, all hope gone, and turns away, hunched over like he only has half of his body left.
"That was a great insult, Layla," Jade says.
"Yeah. He totally deserved it too, the little piece of shit."
We turn around, eyes falling on Natalie, who smiles like we're all just 'best mates'. "Why are you here?" Jade sneers, flipping her hair back behind her, as if she is swatting a fly.
"Well, this is my school. Duh!" Natalie laughs, taking a seat like she is the epitome of sophisticated and graceful elegance.
No one laughs with her.
"What the hell? Why are you sitting there?" Jade looks simply furious, and I for one would most definitely not like to irritate her right now, even though I could kill her easily.
"Yeah, this is our table," one of the Balers chips in.
"I thought I was allowed to sit here?" It is phrased like a statement, but to my ears it is more like a question. More specifically, a question aimed at me.
"Um, no. This is the table for people that actually have, like, a social life. And friends."
"Fuck off," Natalie says.
Jade glares at her, hands curling ever so slowly into tight, tight fists. This will not end well, one predicts.
"You're a bitch," Jade hisses. A mentally retarded bitch, too. Your face isn't all that pretty either; you should really get plastic surgery." Jade looks at Natalie's frayed skirt and wrinkles her nose up. "Well, if you can afford it."
"Jade, leave it," I say softly, closing my eyes for a moment.
"What do you mean, 'leave it'?" Natalie laughs. "I'm perfectly capable of taking on this bitch, thank you very much!"
"Yeah. I'm not gonna walk away if she still thinks she's even half as good as me."
"Oh, I'm more than half as good as you."
"Yeah? Tell that to the people who care 'bout you. Oh, wait, there isn't any."
Natalie lunges for Jade across the table, her chair shooting backwards and slamming into the next table, where a few boys sit. "Shut up!" she roars, grabbing a fistful of a squealing Jade's hair.
"Oh, feisty!" Jade squeals instead of jeers as the Baker twins scarper and Natalir's fist is brought to her nose. "Looks like we've got a proper wee freak here."
Natalie lets go, shaking with anger, as Jade walks away slowly, like a Human might back away from a vicious, roaring, drooling dog. "Sorry," she mutters soothingly, though even I pick up on the lie in her voice.
Natalie runs for her again as she reaches the end of the table, arm across her neck. Were it not for the fact that they are currently screeching profanities at one another, it might appear as though they are friends, or more than friends. I don't know a lot about what Humans call 'love', but I do know that a lot of them think of it when an arm is draped around the neck. Unfortunately, this is across the neck, and I highly doubt the two of them will ever even be civil towards one another.
"Let me the fuck go, you lunatic!" Jade shouts, grabbing hold of Natalie's wrist and trying to push it away, unsuccessfully.
"Shut up and maybe I will!"
"So are you."
"At least I'm a little bit humane."
I don't think she quite understands what that means. To me, that means crazy. Weird. Horrible.
"Go, Eliza," I hiss. "Seriously. You'll get pulverised otherwise." Unsurprising, she obliges.
"You two, break it up!" I shout, racing towards them faster than anything I have ever witnessed. "Now!"
"Not until ... she... admits ... that nobody .... likes her ... and nobody ... wanted her ... to sit ... with them so ... she came to ... us because ... we were her ... last hope, and ... we hate her too ... because no one likes ... her and..."
I push Natalie away from Jade, as she stumbles into the staircase. My leg whips around me, slamming into Jade's ankle as she falls to the floor. Next, I turn to a rabid Natalie, who looks ready to kill me at the first chance. Amateur.
We move at exactly the same moment, slamming into each other like the school's great double doors, which the headmaster is walking through right this second. My powers had better work now.
Natalie grabs me, turning me around and pressing me against a wall.
"What on Earth do you two think you're doing?" Mr. Wilson shouts, acing his hands in the air. I don't care what he does right now, I just want to hit her. Hit Natalie.
"Fighting, pea-brain!" I call to him, putting in as much force as I can, and it seems to work.
He stops, as though in a trance, and turns around. "Okay. Is that allowed?"
"Yes," I lie. "Let everyone know."
Brilliant. "Oh, where was I? Oh, yeah, Natalie, you're going to die soon."
I push her over, and she lands on the floor with a crash, screaming and flailing her arms around. Jade tries to jump on me from behind, but I whip around and kick her, sending her sprawling across the atrium.
"Who the hell even are you, Layla? You're a - a maniac!" Jade stutters, crawling away backwards.
"I'm not Layla. I'm Kear, and if you've got s problem with that, then you can go away right now or I swear you're all dead."
"Freak!" Someone spits, as I laugh bitterly.
"Not as much as you are, don't worry."
As I walk away, pushing away everyone who gets in my way, I realise that, for the first time in aeons, a being has abandoned their duty. Me. That is what I have done, is it not? Left any Level, abandoned my mission and killed a Human for getting on my nerves. It was really rather fun.
Head ringing from the stunned silence behind me, I fling open the doors, letting the sunlight hit me like it is trying to thaw my frozen heart. "You're an idiot," Aareia's voice says, but I ignore her.
I really just don't care.