I can't believe I am saying this, but I wish I was Human. The Core's ground is hard and rocky, and far too easy to trip on, littered with many hard, painful objects: Stones, boulders, wood, steel.
All of which are on fire.
"Newbie!" a core with hair to match the backdrop yells, startling me with her grinding voice. "Get over here!"
Seeing in her eyes a glare which I know may determine my fate, I gulp, crossing the path to her, each movement a drop of poison, each breath a black hole of pain. "Yes, Deima," I stutter, making my way to her side, trembling slightly, and immediately reprimanding myself for it. I can't show weakness, not here.
I need to be strong, and they need to know it.
"Follow me." Despite my considerable lack of respect for the Cores, I follow her, biting my lip as I do so, knowing exactly what is in store for me.
Daesia and Pora sit side by side on their thrones of eternal flames, and I can barely keep my jaw from dropping wide open. No matter my reasons for coming here, I am, in a way, grateful that I get to see such a spectacle, the inferno licking my eyes, as I steer them away from Daesia and Pora's matching silky black hair, and gleaming, ruby red eyes. Soon, I will be one of them, the same but for a swap in features that not even Deima can avoid.
Instantly, my mind switches back to the freedom I had in the Mantle, and I know that even if I didn't enjoy the chains I was bound in there, there are far more here. "Hello," Daesia begins in an all- too- pleasant voice, and I wince slightly. "Kear, is it?" I nod. "Laorei told me a lot about you, you know."
"Did she?" I ask in a squeaky voice. "What - what did she say?"
"Oh, you know, very kind things. Underhanded, sly, disobedient, you like to play mind games, very quick to react and rather enjoys inflicting pain." Biting my lip, I stare down at the floor, lips sealed by the zipper of guilt. "You're exactly the kind of person we want in the Core."
I know that her words should, somehow, cheer me up a bit, but they have very little effect in that field. Not knowing whether to thank her or not, I give a non-committal grunt, and continue my study of the ashen stones. "Therefore, I shall not do as you requested."
I drown in shame, the tears streaming down my face. "No," I say, pleading. "Please, no. I - I don't want to be here, I want to be up there. I'm sorry, but -"
I am cut off by the biting sensation of a fist colliding with my cheek, and I spiral to the floor.
My mind spins in a thousand different directions as the ground crumbles to dust beneath my bare feet, My high scream penetrates only the damp soil which makes up the walls of my bottomless prison. The ground, I think, is like a lump of sugar: easy to break, without even the minimum of effort required to destroy, for the thing breaks at even the lightest touch. It is an object with defences so weak they are almost non-existent. It is truly pathetic.
I try to close my mouth, but to no avail, as my scream of despair does not like to be contained, and so rips out through my lips and deafens the world around me. A pit of darkness surrounds me, consuming me in its sphere of imminent danger and possible death. There is nothing here for me to hold onto but the faint glimmer of hopeful light above me. But for now, that seemingly rare, yet welcome light is not such a source of relief. Quite the contrary, it seems to be the worst thing possibly able to creep in this strange sub-world.
Lines are drawn above me, beginning to reduce the little light that is already here to nothing. I scream and reach desperately upwards, my forehead beaded with the sweat and hopelessness of my peril. My efforts are in vain as the darkness finally consumes me completely in its cold shroud, and there is nothing I can do but simply let myself fall.
I close my eyes, the darkness of my own mind being the only thing possibly rivalling the cruel being that suffocates me. I wonder if even the familiarly perilous location can defeat the darkness which threatens my existence.
My feet finally find solid ground as shock ripples through me. Grateful for the result of gravity this offers, I use my relief to drive me to stand up. I crumple to the floor almost immediately, with a short gasp at the sensation which threatens to join the darkness in the suffocation of me. A sharp, cold pain pierces my back and the walls change colour suddenly to red. Blood red.
I wake to a high scream, and it takes a worryingly long time to realise that the sound is coming from me. I clamp my hand over my mouth, but it does little to stifle the sound of hopeless despair. "Kear!" somebody shouts from afar.
The sun is shining down on the city, browning the skin, a medicinal prospect which brightens our day and erases all of our sins. "Kear, are you alright?" Carlotta's voice is like a waterfall of urgency, worry etched in her forehead as I look up.
"Oh, yeah, I'm fine," I reply hastily, breath catching on a raggedly cut stone in my throat. "Juist - stuff with Laorei." Carlotta raises an eyebrow sceptically.
"I'm not that anti-social, Kear." Her face is one of the utmost disgust and displeasure. "I know you're in the Core. Sorry. I want to help, but ... None of them listen to me. They all think I'm just a stupid little Gabriella Hughmar, the pious little brat. Cor might take you in, if you're lucky, but I can't ... I don't think I can help."
After a few moments of silence beween us, I say, "How about we get that essay thing done? The one about the story of Christian creation?"
"Can you really do that transport thing?" Carlotta asks, eyes lighting up like the sun over the horizon at dawn. I nod, smile creeping over my face. "Wicked.
We hold hands and I close my eyes, whispering, "Library."
"Do we have to do this?" Carlotta groans for the millionth time. "Can't you just use your mind stuff to get us out of it?"
"No," I mutter bitterly, voice full of anger and hatred. "Laorei banned me, because I was using it 'to hurt innocent Humans who are defenceless and weak and it's not fair on them.'"
"She's an idiot," Carlotta agrees. "But I thought you were in the Core?"
"Yeah, but Daesia says, 'Only use the mind control when it can hurt somebody, or it is of no use to you.' I hate her."
"Don't we both?" Slumping down into a leathery blue chair, Carlotta taps keys at a speed quicker than that of light, her perfect nails - purple today - a blur over the black and white squares. "Okay, so, how about we write 'story of creation'? That work?"
"Probably," I say, distracted by the two spotty girls who are seated next to Carlotta, trying to force them to move, though it has little effect. Perhaps I should mentally torture them; that might work.
Following my glare, Carlotta looks at them, winks, and hisses, "Move." Eyes wide, frozen in terror, they log off the computers quickly and scuttle away like spiders as I stifle my laughter.
"Right, here it is." Carlotta grins, incredibly proud of herself. "The opening chapter-"
"I'm bored already," I announce, yawning. "How come you don't remember: I thought you created these ludicrous religions?"
"Yeah, but do you honestly think I could remember all of them?" Good point- after all, humans are far too futile to know anything more than basic facts. "Anyway, the opening chapter of the Bible begins with these words, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'.This summarizes the drama that was about to unfold. We learn from the text that the earth was formless, empty, and dark, and God's Spirit moved over the waters preparing to perform God's creative Word. And then God began to speak into existence his creation. The day by day account follows."
In all honesty, I am shocked I have not already fled.
"Day One," Carlotta begins in an overly dramatic voice. "God created light and separated the light from the darkness, calling light 'day' and darkness 'night'.
"Day Two - God created an expanse to separate the waters and called it 'sky'."
Big mistake. I'm pretty certain the Heaveners live in what these idiotic Humans call 'sky'.
"Day Three - God created the dry ground and gathered the waters, calling the dry ground 'land' and the gathered waters "seas'.On day three, God also created vegetation (plants and trees).
"Day Four - God created the sun, moon, and the stars to give light to the earth and to govern and separate the day and the night. These would also serve as signs to mark seasons, days, and years."
Who even cares? I'd much rather be thinking of ways to torture Kasey and her entourage of bitches.
"Day Five - God created every living creature of the seas and every winged bird, blessing them to multiply and fill the waters and the sky with life.
"Day Six - God created the animals to fill the earth. On day six, God also created man and woman (Adam and Eve), in his own image to commune with him. He blessed them and gave them every creature and the whole earth to rule over, care for, and cultivate.
"Day Seven - God had finished his work of creation and so he rested on the seventh day, blessing it and making it holy."
Holy? Blessed? One day, one day can be blessed and holy, given everything the Heaveners have? A day, a day which has done nothing for anyone. This 'God' person - or whoever believes in Him - is clearly incredibly foolish, in my opinion, The day should be damned, like me, or at least shunned, like Humans and Earthens. No, it should not be blessed. Not if I cannot be.
"Earth to Kear!" Carlotta waves a hand in front of my face. "Hello! Am I getting a response?"
I grab at her weak wrist, nearly crushing it as she whimpers slightly. "Yes, you are, Carlotta. What do you want me to do, though? Write it down?" She nods. "I don't have pen and paper."
"You can control minds, Kear," she huffs. "I'm pretty sure you have one of your own." When I frown, she adds, "Just remember."
Remember. Remember, remember, the fifth of November. The phrase puts a smile on my face, a nd I chuckle lightly. The reason for my behaviour doesn't come to mind easily, but I think it has something to do with violence.
"Okay, I've got it." I'll come back soon enough, anyway; there's no need to actually remember anything.
"Good. Because we need to get going." Carlotta points to the door Carlos has just entered, and I shiver slightly, goose flesh smothering my arms. "And he is an asshole."
Rolling my eyes at her choice of words, I stand up, immediately collapsing, eyes wide as I begin to consider the prospect of humiliation. Behind me, Carlotta sniggers, and I turn to her with a manic gleam in my eyes, snarling. "Let's go." I have to practically drag her out of the yellow-walled library as she slowly descends into hysteric, smirking as she passes Carlos.
"Hey, babe," he says to a passing girl, who blushes and squeals, scurrying away. "Looking hot." He is such an arrogant little ... I don't even know how to say it without needing all the soap in the world in my mouth.
"You are such a player, Carlos," Carlotta says in a voice full of contempt, as she turns around. "I thought you loved me, but really you only loved yourself. It was like a fairy tale; you were the prince, I was the princess." Is she always so utterly pathetic.
"Let's go," I growl. "He's just like you said - don't lower yourself to his level."
Carlotta glares back over her shoulder as she stalks away, and I can almost hear the words she mouths. "You know how I love revenge."