I hate humans. Hate them so much, I would even kill one - quite ruthlessly, too - should the opportunity ever arise. There are so many of them, all so undeniably boring, never caring to ‘stand out from the crowd’ - as one might put it. I, like others of my kind, have never paid much attention to them, the nameless, useless humans who pollute the planet we once roamed freely, before we were forced underground to the fiery depths of the Mantle.
Despite our intertwined histories, none of them can ever seem to realise we’re here, beside them, with our flaring eyes of burning flames and our glistening, gleaming, blood red lips, which curve ever so often into malicious grins. We just can’t help ourselves sometimes; we reach out with our talons of despair, and we grab them, pulling them into our never faltering grasp, and they all scream in the exact same, whining tone. The human race are all the same to us - though it is no wonder going by the legends of the Leveller Ashley - and I, personally, see no reason why we must bear their company for any more than a mere second.
I stand with two of them now - the Humans - both staring longingly at the other; the girl gnaws nervously at her lip; the boy twiddles his thumbs, and occasionally flips his floppy hair. “Why don’t you just tell her?” I mutter to the boy, but of course he can’t hear me, or see me.
I’ve always thought it strange that we can see them, but they can’t see us unless we want them to, and I suppose it’s for the better. After all, we are supposed to be a secret when not under the pretence of Humanity, even if we do not like it.
The Humans are nothing compared to us. Nothing but little pests, flies circling our heads and annoyingly hard to kill, always escaping unfairly.
The girl loops a curl of sleek hair around her finger, blinking rapidly to get the boy’s attention, for reasons I cannot even begin to imagine. She parts her pink lips slightly – I want to pull them apart right now, she’s being so idiotically human in her trance of 'love at first sight, oh he's so amazing, he is everything to me' which is so incredibly irritating - and whispers to the boy in her seductive voice, “Hey.”
The boy startles as they stand in the party's blinking disco lights, and grins sheepishly, as she continues blinking. “Um, why are you blinking?” he blurts out, and I put a hand over my face in an odd combination of embarrassment and mirth. "I mean, do you have something in your eye, or have you got some kind of rare twitch thing or..."
“You idiot,” I mutter. “Stop being so stupid, you're probably offending her!” My voice has turned to an ethereal roar. It's a good thing it's silent.
The boy glances to the left, as though he can see me - I haven't practised my invisibility for a while until now - and then shakes his head, thinking better of it. “I'm Toby,” he says awkwardly, sticking his hands in his pockets, then taking them out again, and fiddling with his baseball cap, before sticking his hands back in his pockets. This goes on for quite some time, until I mentally kick him and he asks the girl, “What’s your name?”
She responds with a scrutinising gaze; the kind a police officer might give to a shoplifter pleading innocent. “Carlotta,” she replies with a smile I am sure is as fake as the rest of her, right down to the hair dye and contact lenses. “Carlotta Smith.” There's something about her that is strange, something I can't quite put a name to. My mind control power - it doesn't seem to work on her. It's... Wrong.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Smith,” Toby says jokingly, as Carlotta raises her eyebrows.
“Just Carlotta.” Her eyebrows fall back down, as though condemning Toby to live below her, a measly nothing boy whom she can play around with in order to ruin yet another heart. “Do you want to see a movie next Saturday?” Carlotta asks, sounding fakely hopeful, as though she is aiming for the highest of Human prizes - not that it is very high, being that it is in the mind of such a disgusting and despicable creature as a Human - and gives him a wickedly seductive grin.
“Oh, sorry, Carly, I’ve got footie,” Toby says tactlessly, grinning as though he doesn’t realise what he has done; turned her down. “Come on, Man U!”
He notices Carlotta’s look of utmost horror and fury, her look of rage and delirium, and shrinks back, holding his arms out protectively – of what? I think. The air? – and begins breathing labouredly, beads of sweat forming on his pale forehead. His eyes are wary, as though she is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off, and he’s in charge of evacuating everyone.
“City,” she whispers menacingly, “are the only team worth supporting.”
“Oh, wasn’t that what I said?” Toby stammers. “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure it was. Manchester City, yeah, of course.”
“Shut it, you,” Carlotta snarls. “You’re officially an idiot. You don't even call me by my real name, you complete and utter asshole.” Turning on her heel, Carlotta snaps her fingers, calling her friends who stand nearby, her entourage of wannabes and weirdos.
Once again, a failed experiment.
Out the corner of my eye, I see a figure, standing on the outskirts of this party, her back to me, holding a drink. She appears to be conversing with someone, but I can’t tell who, and so I inch closer, though I am careful not to touch any Humans, for fear I shall be revealed, a creature with skin paler than snow, eyes hotter than the sun, a burning gaze that will destroy them all. Despite how much I hate Humans, I doubt Laorei would forgive me for killing so many.
Is this girl a Human though? I can't be sure, and she seems familiar, unlike most Humans. And I think I know where I know her from.
I remember once, a couple of decades ago, when I came up, I was striding along a dark alley, the streetlamps casting an orange glow around the moss-covered walls, and the smell of grease lingering in the air, when I heard a scream.
It was an ear-splitting scream, a wicked, heart-wrenching, shocking, mad scream, ripping through the air like a knife through butter, and it was in such a high-pitch only I could hear it without placing great strain upon my ears. I’d taken a few steps towards the source of the sound, when all of a sudden a girl ran around the corner, and collided with me. A great bang echoed in my ears, and light erupted from every point on us, until finally, I found my way back down.
When I came back up, all I could see was a dead body.
The image of that day still haunts me, plaguing my nightmares relentlessly, as though I can never forget, or else something terrible will happen.
Back in the equally confusing present, a drunken boy and his girlfriend stumble over to me, and I quickly sidestep them, seeing a look of disgust reflected in a nearby mirror, though I have to look away quickly. What I can see, they can see too. “Humans,” I mutter, my mouth forming an almost triangular shape, as I continue my journey over to the figure.
It looks female, with streaming blonde hair reaching out for the ground, and long, spindly legs climbing to the clouds like a tree. She isn’t talking to anyone, much to my surprise, and I see a boy eyeing her up, lips crafting a mischievous grin. A spark goes off in my mind, and I copy his grin, peering into his mind and soul.
I love her, a sickly sweet voice rings in my head. She’s so, so beautiful. I want her to be mine, I want her-
Okay, that’s enough. The seed is definitely there.
“Talk to her,” I hiss at the boy across the room, who glances up, taking fright, and follows my finger, straight to her.
His jaw drops in awe, his hands shaking like there’s an earthquake in his body as he makes his way through the crowd of people, trying to act cool and nonchalant as he struts over to her.
“Hey,” he says. “I’m Jacob, but you can call me Jake. But what I’m really interested in is your name, and whether or not it hurt when you fell from Heaven.” This guy's even stupider than Toby! And I am questioned on why I come up here for entertainment? Idiots.
I snicker at the look of disgust on the girl’s face, trying to ignore the ringing noise in my ears. It’s like a bell, tolling merrily, singing its songs of joy. “Excuse me?” the girl says, revolving her wrists. “Were you just trying to …” she gulps, trying to force the words out through her hysterical laughter “… flirt with me?”
The girl’s bubble of laughter ripples around the room, until everybody is in stitches, doubled over at the boy’s failed attempts at flirting.
“Sorry, but I – I just want … To do this!” Jacob flings his arms around the mortified girl’s neck, planting his lips on hers.
Her eyes flick in my direction, and a smile licks her face, as she presses her lips back to his in a combination of fear and wonder which eats me up from the inside, as I realise that they may never be.
Shock registers in Jacob’s mind, giving way to an entrancing combination of adrenaline and exhilaration as they pull closer, closer, closer …
“What are you doing?” the girl standing next to me hollers, flying at the girl in a craze of betrayal. “Jacob, I thought you loved me!” Guilt flashes across his slackening face as he turns around, visibly shaking, his bottom lip quivering as though he is many years younger, five instead of fifteen.
The girl sneers at her, once again wrapping her arms around the boy, crushing against him. “He loves me, now, Rachel,” she snarls, eyes narrowing to slits as she prepares to pounce
“I hate you!” Rachel shrieks, forcing the couple apart and attacking the other girl, whose eyes widen in paralysed shock. Somehow, I think I may have gotten Jacob’s thoughts wrong. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”
Rachel’s fist pulls back, ready to pummel the girl, but she leaps out the way as the fist crashes into the wooden floor. “Catch me if you can!” she cackled with glee, leaping on to tables, and finally sailing down right on top of Rachel.
“My name,” she snarls, “is Aisla Lear, and you do not want to mess with me, because I am ten times stronger than you.” I knew she was familiar.
Motioning to a scarily threatening Aisla, who has only just ended the pain she has put Rachel through. I exit the room with her in tow, mulling over what I’m going to say. “I’m so glad you’re here, Aisla!” No, that’s not right. “I thought you were dead!” Maybe not. “Where did you go?” I don’t think she’d really appreciate that, to be honest.
"I hate you,” I finally decide upon as she approaches me, stepping into the cool night air with her fiery touch.
“Nice to see you, too, Kear,” Aisla says sarcastically as she rolls her milky blue eyes, “but I’m afraid I can’t stay for long today; duty calls.”
“Duty calls?” I scoff. “Duty calls? Duty has been calling for the last five centuries, Aisla? What happened to you?"
“My duty is elsewhere now, Kear. You just have to accept that, I'm afraid, even though you're wanted nowhere," Aisla shoots back, like the poisonous little snake she is.
“Then why are you here? To gloat, to boast, to see how we’re all coping without you?” I snarl at her, enraged, balling my hands into fists, staring her right in the eye like a lion about to kill a gazelle. She’s fast, but if I trap her against the wall as I have, she can’t escape.
“No, Kear,” she says softly, sounding scarily calm in the face of threat. Before she left, Aisla was always the kind of girl to fly up in a rage, just like me. It scares me to see how she has changed. “Rather, I have come to deliver a message.”
Aisla glances around fretfully, eyes dancing around the garden area, as though she expects to find a monster or eavesdropper in the lush green bushes. “Well?” I demand, growing impatient. “Are you going to tell me or what?”
Aisla inhales deeply – so deeply I can hear it – and whispers, “You’re in danger. People want to send you deeper down, all the way to the Core. Kear, you have to be careful.”
“What?” I laugh, voice like a fresh puff of wind in the stagnant, silent air. “Who wants to send me to the Core?” I bit my lip, eyes imploring.
“Look over there.” Aisla points at a nearby lamppost, which is just as still and immobile as I expected.
“Why?” I ask, but when I turn back, Aisla is gone.
“Seriously?” I mutter, debating whether or not to return to the party. “Aisla is so annoying.”
When I re-enter the room, the number of people inside has decreased, leaving only a few hangers-on who’ll probably be here until dawn, staggering around. Sighing, I close my eyes, and let myself drift into the fiery clarity of home.
“Where have you been?” my mother asks, wagging a skeletal finger at me, face creased into a frown. “I’ve been worried sick, Kear. Laorei will be fuming; she’s asked to speak to you, and you weren’t here! Can you imagine how ashamed I am, to have a daughter as inconsiderate and disrespectful as you?”
“Sorry, Mother,” I mutter. “Now, am I to go in, or do I have to listen to your whining for another hour?”
“Go in.” A guard to the gate holds the iron bars open for me, and I enter, barely casting them a second glance. What does Laorei want me for?
“Kear,” Laorei sneers, looking down on me with a sense of superiority. “How pleasant of you to join me.”
“Sorry,” I murmur. “I was … Busy.”
“Busy?” Laorei gives a sardonic laugh, chilling me to the bone. “Surely you cannot be too busy for me? After all, I am your ruler.”
“Sorry,” I repeat. “It won’t happen again.”
“It had better not. Now, back to business.” My breath shakes – I can feel it inside – as I lift my eyes to meet hers, dark and stormier than the inside of a tornado. “You have an assignment.” I perk up at this, eyes brightening like a solar flare.
An assignment? But – how? Why? I never get assignments. I was expelled from my Crust School; I was expelled from my Mantle School; I dropped out of Waver School. My mouth parts, but I snap it closed, lowering my eyes again. “I want you to study this girl.” Laorei waves a hand across the empty space, and an image appears. The girl inside it has sapphire blue eyes which twinkle at me like stars, and jet black hair which cuts off at the shoulder, with an almost sharp edge.
I carefully undo my high ponytail, as it is giving me a headache, and shake my head, swishing it about me. “Well?” Laorei says, pouting. “Will you do it?”
It isn’t a question. “Of course," I say, dragging a strand of hair across my eyes. “What is the name?”
“Carlotta Smith. So-called ‘queen bee’ of Aaron Aar Secondary School. Stop her from achieving her goal; it could be her downfall. Go.”
I nod, heart pounding, and race out of the room, bounding with glee, walking on air. “Oh, and Kear?”
My heart plummets. Surely there can’t be a catch, when at last I have finally gotten an assignment. “Yes?”
“Please, no mind games with the mortals. It’s not fair on them.”
I shouldn’t say this, for it would place rather a large dent in her repuation, but I swear Laorei is laughing behind me.
It's rather disconcerting to know, that even our proud leader, the great Leveller Laorei herself, finds so many sources of hilarity in even the most trivial of matters, when she should be showing us the way to a brighter future for all of the Firepits. A Leveller should be strong for us, the Level she founded, and help us the way to worm our way up and annihilate the Vapours with our wicked wrath. There is no other way to be strong.
"Well, what was that about, Kear?" my mother asks fretfully, sounding far too human. "Come on, tell me, darling. I am your mother."
I flare up instantly at the words I so casually let slip out. "You're not my mother," I sulk, stalking away, doing my best to assume an air of sophistication. "She's my mother." I jerk my thumb over my shoulder, back inside.
"She is all our mothers, Kear, dear. But I have cared for you all these centuries, even when you first descended from Crust. You should be grateful."
Disgusted, I turn away. I am nobody's dear, nobody's darling, nobody's daughter. I am Kear Mantle, and not one person may control me.