She stands before me, the picture of beauty itself, eyes gleaming a brilliant green, black hair streaming down her back like death’s own waterfall. No words leave her scarlet mouth, but immediately I can see everything: who she was, who she is. Who she wishes she could be.
She is a murderer, a wrecking ball that races through innocent lives, destroying everything but the tiniest pieces of debris that her victims must then pick up and bleed upon. A small gasp escapes me, and she narrows her eyes in definite suspicion, as though she, too, can read minds.
“Who are you?” A million answers are forming my head, but I know that none of them are correct.
“Um... I'm Leah - Layla, sorry, my sister always confuses me, calls my Leah since I was born, practically." I giggle stupidly.
Her lips curl into a superior smirk, and I mentally scold myself for being so stupendously stupid. “That’s a very long name. You sure you haven’t gotten anything wrong, Kear?”
Oh, well that’s just perfect. I made a fool of myself trying to remember my fake name, when she already knows of my true identity. How wonderful.
“Excuse me?" I ask, hoping I sound like a human. Dawn streaks over the horizon, and a glimmer of light shines in my deadened eyes. "Did you just call me Kear? Did you not hear me?"
"Of course I did, child."
"Child? Who are you?"
“Me?” She laughs a mirthless, cold hearted laugh, and for once I do not dare to attempt to mimic it. “Oh, I’m no one special. Just, you know, just me, Gabriella. Gabriella Heaven.”
A scream. A laugh. A symphony of pain. “Come on then,” I say, shaking. “Prove to me that you’re really Gabriella Heaven.”
“Oh, Kear, darling,” she simpers. “Why in my own little name, would I do that?”
“Because-” I peer around me, studying my surroundings. “Because – because I’ll fight you!” I hold my fists up against my face, hopping about like a rabbit on my two feet. “One on one, just you and me! Then we’ll see who’s really the strongest.”
She laughs her laugh again, freezing me over, turning me into a rather glorious ice sculpture. “There shall be no need for that, I can assure you.”
“Oh, that’s fine then,” I lie, jagged stones pressing into me as I lean against a wall. “It’s not that I really care or anything.” I slowly begin to pick off a couple of stones, then another trio of them, before two dozen are lying in the palm of my hand. “Just, you know, if you really are Gabriella Heaven, this wouldn’t hurt you.”
And I launch my miniature stone missiles at my so-called ‘big boss’. Except she isn’t really my ‘big boss’, because I don’t actually have a Level anymore – Daesia banished me after the whole running away incident – and Gabriella Heaven should not be blinded by a handful of stones from a supermarket wall.
“Aha!” I shout triumphantly, kicking her in the shins as I dance around with glory. “I knew you weren’t really Gabriella! Now, tell me who you are.”
“Me?” The girl laughs again, this time even more frighteningly callous, and I know instantly that if she is not Gabriella, or a Leveller, she is most likely the next best thing. Either that, or... No, it does not bear thinking about. The only other reasonable explanation is a Shell.
It would fit the title; a Human who has needlessly murdered; a Heavener who has abandoned their Subject; an Earthen who has their habitat destroyed; a Mantle with a Human deficiency; a Crust who helped a being of another Level; or a Core who was kind to anyone.
Somehow, I believe she is almost definitely a Shell, apart from the fact that, well, she can speak. “My name’s Natasha Hayren. But if you really want to, you can call me Nat. I’m sixteen, originally from London but moved here just a few weeks ago, can’t stand the colour pink, and my favourite thing in the world is my pet Rottweiler Percy.”
Despite my intense study of human stupidity, I am almost certain Natasha is lying about this. For oen thing, she doesn’t have the accent, she is wearing a pink bracelet, and I have never seen a Rottweiler in this town before. "So, um, care to tell me how exactly you came about the information referring to my identity?"
"Not really, no." Natasha smirks, and I begin to pick at the wall again, taking off each stone one by one, until I have a small collection of them in the palm of my hand, and Natasha stares at me like I am critically insane, holding her hands out in front of her as a despicably weak defensive shield..
"Would this change your mind?" Launching my small stones through the air, I laugh for the second time at Natasha's bloodcurdling scream, and my eyes narrow gleefully as she stumbles, seeming partially blinded.
"You absolute -" She flies at me in a tremendous rage, eyes rabid with fire, her hands curling into claws as she pins me against a wall.
“Oh, honey, you’re not going to try that, are you?” I push her back towards the road, twisting as she tries to get me in a headlock. “Really, it is... Just... Terribly... Immature... And ... Stupid... Of you... To even... Attempt to... Hurt... Me.”
Jumping in the air, i flip he rover landing just beside her as Natasha lies on the ground, a crowd of people gathered around us. “Is she okay?” a small girl with pink ponytails asks, and her mother shushes her, apparently eager to watch the fight.
“Yes, she’s fine,” the mother assures her quietly, never taking her eyes off of me and Natasha.
“Now will you tell me?” I ask, mouth already twisting into a deformed state of visible lunacy.
“No.” And suddenly she is back on her feet, stronger than ever before, screaming, and kicking, and punching until I feel numb and she does too.
"She-devil!" she shrieks. "And we both know that's completely true!" Glad that's been clarified.
"I don't care, bitch!" I scream back at her, running and jumping onto her shoulders, knocking her over and quite forgetting my resolution not to act like a Core anymore.
"Well, guess, what, I'm still not going to tell you anything! So cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it!" This girl is so cliché. Quite honestly, it makes me ill.
"Let me guess, you'll be the troll guarding it?" Eliza steps out from the crowd, face cooler than the milk I 'accidentally' put in her freezer when we were giving her a makeover. Her mother was not pleased, to say the least.
"And who are you?" Natasha asks, quite forgetting that my hands are slowly closing in around her neck. "Both the troll's ugly parents? You certainly don't have any fashion sense."
"There is no exquisite beauty without strangeness in the proportions. - Edgar Allan Poe," Eliza recites quickly, as I roll my eyes in the same way that I twist my wrists and drive them into Natasha's neck. Has she not taken note of anything I have ever said?
I knew Humans were too imbecilic to be taken notice of.
"You're crazy," Natasha sneers, turning away in disgust. "Absolutely. Off. Your. Head."
"I know," Eliza agrees. "I became insane, with long periods of horrible sanity-"
"Let me guess, Edgar Allan Poe?" I sigh, rolling my eyes, though I can still feel a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth.
"Yep." Then Eliza turns around with her brand new, bleach-blonde hair that Jade dyed, smothered in the paint she also sprayed her in earlier today, a sunset landscape on her body.
It is odd to think of how much she has changed, even just since this morning at the hair salon Jade has an internship at. We had to practically drag her there, like she was a Human toddler who didn't want to go buying vegetables with her mother.
Eliza panicked the second she entered, especially at the sight of all the 'beautiful' Humans - personally, I felt they were rather unattractive, though that is, of course, the natural expectation of a Human - and it took Jade casually reminding her that she asked for this and that we'd make her life a misery if she didn't go through with it to make Eliza sit down in the leathery black chair, and leave me to look at pictures in magazines of Human girls with barely anything other than bones, which all in all wasn’t a very pleasant experience.
After her hair was curled by Jade’s ‘specialised’ hands – meaning she had to call over another hairdressers to do the job – streaks of blonde were painted down her otherwise boring, pale brown hair, and I wandered out of the salon to get their lunch from the café across the road.
It was a very bright café, that is for certain. The walls were painted a brain- shattering, luminous yellow, the marble floor a black and white that made me want to scream in irritation. Come to think of it, I’m not really sure what the café was called – ‘Retro Palace’ or something along those lines – but the information is of no use to me anyway, so it does not really matter.
Walking up to the counter in the ridiculously high heels Jade forced – sorry, gently persuaded – me to wear, I was fully aware of the entire café’s eyes on me, and every heartbeat in the room resonated in my mind. I don’t know why. It scared me a little, but I would never admit it.
“Two veggie burgers, brown bread, with a salad on the side. Oh, and two glasses of orange juice – fresh.” The shrivelled up prune of a woman behind the counter glared at me, with the same ignorant demeanour as the three other customers in front of me. “What?” I snapped, flipping my hair. “Are you going to serve me or not?”
“Yes,” the woman said tightly, “after I serve these three.”
Disgusted, I rolled my eyes, frustrated by her refusal to obey me. I felt I should be remembering something Aareia told me about ‘Human manners’, but quite honestly could not be bothered to try and think of what it was then, for I knew all too well how impatient Jade and Eliza would be getting.
“Well, be quick,” I ordered, pursing my lips. “If you hadn’t noticed, I am in a bit of a rush.”
“See here, lass,” a man said, shaking his fist. “Ye dinnae just barge in ‘ere and expect tae be served just like that, aye?”
“Learn some manners,” another woman put in, speaking with an incredibly high - pitched accent which made it nearly impossible for me to even hear. I recognised her face, and her child, but I was not sure where from.
“Woah, calm down,” said a boy with ashen hair and a mischievous grin. “She’s just hungry, for God’s sake. Mum, get her something to eat.”
I assumed the boy is the woman behind the counter’s son, though they looked nothing alike, for she nods and let him stand behind the counter, making up my order. “Here you go,” he said, handing the food to me. Before I could thank him – not something I would normally do – he shouted, “Next!” and I was forced to leave.
Crossing the road, I narrowly missed a car whose rude driver screamed profanities at me, and I yelled them straight back at him, though in a considerably less vulgar way. I flopped down on the leathery bench next to Jade, and handed her both the rolls, one for her, and one for Eliza, as well as their juice. As for me, I have found that Human food does not care for my stomach, and so had told the pair of them that I am ‘watching my weight’. It was rather frightening how readily they accept this. In a way, it is the way of Human life – especially for females – the way that they starve themselves to look ‘beautiful’, when really, it warps their mind, and they are, if anything, uglier than before.
“You can definitely see the difference,” Jade declared, picking any signs of fat off of her burger. “I mean, just look at that thigh gap!”
“Thanks,” I replied, though I wouldn’t care for her clearly fake opinion if I was really trying to lose weight anyway. “You know, dieting isn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.”
“How come?” She really was being rather inquisitive today. It was slightly unnerving, in an exciting kind of way.
“Dunno. It just kind of … Is. I mean, I don’t really want to eat anything more than what I am, now, even though it was kind of hard at the beginning.” That was a complete and utter lie – though I do believe it was told very well. I just picked it up from a quick skim read of a few magazines, and put together a fairly comprehensible sentence.
“Cool. I might try it.” By this point, Eliza was finished with her tedious practice of getting highlights in her hair, and the three of us left the salon after paying, Eliza and Jade ready to go shopping, me ready to meet up with Aareia.
She’s supposed to be here now, in fact – I wonder where she has gotten to. Oh, wait, there she is, hitting Natalie and forcing her up against a wall. Only after Natalie’s nose is gushing with blood, and a bruise is forming around her eye, does Aareia pull me away from the supermarket, hand closed tightly around my wrist.
“Where are we going today?” I ask.
“You’ll see,” she replies tightly. “Now, shut up and get a move on. Believe me, you do not want to miss this.”