Halo: The Unchained

Going to summer camp was just about the worst decision Ryan Winters had ever made. Spending three months around a bunch of idiots who thought "tru dat" was correct grammar was certainly not his idea of a good time. But, according to his adoptive mother, he wasn't good enough at pretending to not be a mutant. So, there he was, trying to spend more time with the human persons so he could learn how to be a human person. There was only one problem:

Jared Hall.

*Read full summary inside*

**This story is currently undergoing some editing, all unedited chapters have been unpublished :)**

***This is a Seven Realms Novel. For More Seven Realms fun, please read The Forest of Eyes and Shadows and The Marked Series***

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7. A Couple of Idiots Half-Naked in the Woods

A Couple of Idiots Half-Naked in The Woods

Now, I may not know a lot of things about this world. But one thing I know for certain is that dead people can’t break branches with their invisible ghost feet. I leapt into the air, soaring for a brief moment before I landed lightly on the ground.  Someone was obviously watching me and trying— but failing— to be stealthy about it. “Who’s there?!”  I demanded again, turning quickly in a circle in an attempt to find the source of the noise.  “I know you’re out there!  Show yourself!”  I raised my wings in a threatening manner— or, as threatening as a couple of white, feathery, fluffy looking wings could be.  This was it.  This was the end.  They were going to send me back… Back to that place… Back to that nightmare…

There was nothing I could do.

My heart beat like a jackhammer in my chest as adrenaline filled my veins. I almost self-destructed right then and there.  A figure emerged from my right, and I slid back quickly, trying to keep my distance between me and whoever it was that had the nerve to follow me out here in the middle of the night.  What a jerk.

As the figure walked into the moonlight, his face became clear, and my heart dropped to my feet.  “Josh…?”  I almost felt like laughing at my own rotten luck.  Of course, the guy who had a literal death wish taken out against me was the one to find out my biggest secret of all time.  That was just how my life worked. What was I supposed to say?  ‘Sorry I know you hate me because of that thing that happened but please don’t expose me to everyone and give me back to my abusive mother, ‘kay thanks?’  Like he was going to buy that load of bull shit.

Josh’s mouth was wide open, and he was looking pretty pale— pale for him, at least.  Thinking about it, I had never seen Josh surprised about anything before. His eyes traced my wings in awe— but that was pretty much to be expected.  Walking in on your ex-best-friend stretching out his 13-foot wings was not exactly an everyday experience.  

He stepped forward, and I stepped back.  “Don’t come any closer, I swear…”  I didn’t exactly have a treat to give him, so I left it there, to let his imagination take over.  My heart pounded relentlessly in my chest.  It was all over…  Please, dear whoever-you-are up there, smite me down now.  I’m good.  I’ve had my fill of life. I changed my mind. I’m ready.

“Ryan…  What the hell…?”  That was sort of the reaction I was expecting to get.  Well, that, but with more… drama. I watched him rub his eyes and look again as if somehow that would alter what he was seeing right in front of him.

“Okay…  Look…  Before you say anything…  I can explain…”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”  Josh interrupted.

I was a little surprised by that.  No yelling?  No talk of betrayal and lies?  No drama?  So, my life wasn’t some soap opera after all?  “What…?”  I said dumbly.  It was all I could manage to get out of my mouth.  I probably sounded like an idiot— probably looked like one too.  Not that he looked any better. With his eyes all bugged out and his body all tense and— oh, right, this is a serious situation. Life at stake here, Ryan. Focus.

“We were best friends for nine years!  You could have told me!”  Josh’s brown eyes clouded with confusion as he tried to figure out why I never told him the truth about who I was.  But it wasn’t like I had a choice, and he wasn’t entitled to every secret anyone has ever had.  He would get over it.  

Eventually.

I scrunched my face in annoyance.  I couldn’t believe he thought that it was that simple.  “Uh—huh?  Told you what, exactly?  ‘Hey bro, I’m actually a mutant freak with giant wings who can see dead people’?  ‘Don’t tell my mom’?  I don’t exactly see a scenario where that would have gone well, Josh!”

“Oh yeah? How about this, for starters…”  His voice trailed off as he removed his shirt, and I stepped back in shock, putting my hands up.  I was not expecting to come face to face with my ex-best friend's abs.

“Woah, dude, you know I’m attracted to people regardless of gender, but I am so not into you!”  Never in my wildest dreams had I thought I would be sitting half naked in the middle of the woods at night with my ex-best-friend, who also happened to be half naked.

Josh made a face.  “Ew, no, I’m not talking about that!  I’m talking about this!”  As he finished his sentence, large light-brown wings began to show themselves from behind him, contrasting the dark color of his skin. My jaw dropped so low I could feel the grass start to tickle my chin.

Josh smirked. “And that’s not all.” With that, he suddenly disappeared, a gust of what felt like wind zipping around me. I could hear the leaves rustle before they were listed off the ground and sent tumbling around in the air behind Josh as he ran faster than the speed of light. He slowed down, stopping in front of me with that same grin on his face. “Pretty cool, huh?”

I was honestly speechless.

I thought I was the only one.

Yeah, sure, I wasn’t the only mutant. I was the first, but not the only one. I knew that. But out of the hundreds— maybe even thousands— of known mutants in existence, I had always been the only one with multiple abilities. At least, I was the only documented mutant with multiple abilities. Technically, it’s not illegal for parents to keep the birth or their mutant children secret by leaving them undocumented. But, documented mutants were much easier to find, so if a parent’s main goal was to keep tabs on their mutant child… Documenting was the way to go. That was why I always had to work so hard to hide them. They were a dead giveaway that I was Jared. Well, I guess that wasn’t completely true anymore. Still, I couldn’t help but be skeptical. How could I not know that there was another person out there who was just like me? It had to be a trick. A prank. Josh had always been very good at pranking people.

I shook my head in disbelief.  “No way.  Those are fake.  The speed is an illusion. I’m the only one.  I’ve always been the only one!”  I couldn’t believe it.  I circled around him, so that I could see if there were any strings or straps or traces of glue.  Sure enough, those wings were seriously growing out of his back.  To be honest, I was probably more shocked to see him than he had been when he saw me.

Officially the weirdest night of my entire life.

And I talk to dead people.

“Well, we can’t be the only ones.  Jared Hall’s supposed to have wings too, remember? Plus, there was whatever the hell else he could do... And it’s not like we are the only mutants on the planet. There are thousands of us— documented and undocumented alike. It’s not like it’s rocket science, dude.”  Josh raised an eyebrow.

Oh…  He hadn’t made that connection yet.  I honestly forgot how dumb he was.  Ok, that was rude, but I couldn’t have been the only one thinking that. And, I couldn’t decide if that was good, or if I should tell him.  Then again, at least I would have something to blackmail him with if telling him my secret ended up being the dumbest idea in the world.  “Okay, yeah, great for you.  So happy I could be the poster child of mutant freakiness.  Can we move on?”

It took a few moments to sink in.  He turned around so he could face me.  Damn. And I was so enjoying having a conversation with his back muscles. “Woah, what?!”  He exclaimed, eyes bugging out of his head.  It was kind of funny, actually.  He looked like a frog.  I was almost tempted to try and stick a fly in his mouth.

I clapped slowly and rolled my eyes.  Should have known it wouldn’t be as simple as I wanted it to be.  “Yeah, good job putting that one together.  You would think the pure white wings and ‘I can see dead people’ thing would really be a strong giveaway.”

Josh huffed a little, obviously offended.  “Hey, Jared Hall was kidnapped!  And you have a family!  And siblings!  And you go to school!  How can you do all that when the entire country is on a manhunt to look for you?!”  He shook his head.  “It doesn’t make sense.”

“A couple fake documents and an adoptive mother in the police force can go a really long way, my friend.  And correction: I was not kidnapped.  I ran away.  The family you know happened to find me a few days later, practically dead.  They brought me home and fed me, got me healthy again.”  I shrugged like it was no big deal.

“And they didn’t call the police?  That doesn’t seem right.”  Josh said, shaking his head a little in disbelief.  I scrunched my face in disgust.  Thank God they didn’t do that.  I would have had to run a second time if they had. I was just lucky Mom happened to work in a task force dedicated to helping mutant children go under the radar to get away from unsavory homes.

“Can we talk about what you were doing following me instead?  I think that’s much more interesting.”  I would prefer it if the conversation topic moved back over to Josh, and seeing as though he was a self-obsessed ass most of the time, that didn’t seem like it would be hard to do.

“More interesting than the famous Jared Hall hiding in plain sight all of these years?  Fat chance, dude!”  Okay, I was wrong.  Again.  I was not having much luck in that department lately.  What happened to the Ryan that knew everything? I liked that guy bring him back.

“Well, what makes you think I’m going to answer any of your questions?  The less you know, the easier it will be for me to keep hiding.  So, what’s up with you and those wings?”  I tried once again to move the conversation back to him.

Josh rolled his shoulders a little, ruffling his feathers as he extended his wings out further. Damn, those things were even bigger than mine! How the hell did he hide them? I could barely hide my own, and his wing span was at least 2 feet bigger.  “I was born with them. Like you, right?  ‘Cept, I never got documented ‘cuz of… things. So, what’s up with your family insisting that it was a kidnapping if you ran away?  Wouldn’t they know that you ran?  Did you leave a note?”  Damn. He must have figured out my tactic.

“Would you let it go, please?  I’m not going to tell you.  I’m Jared, I ran, I’m alive, I don’t want to go back.  That’s all you have to know.” I ran my fingers through my hair, starting to feel a little bit like a caged animal. I wanted to run away, but my body wouldn’t move.

“But why did you run away?”  Josh shook his head a little, his face twisting up again in confusion as he tried to figure it out. I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. And they were even smoking with effort. Attractive.

“What did I just say?  Do you ever listen?  How about I shower you with questions now.  With everything you’ve made me sit through, I’d say you owe me a couple invasive questions.” I stepped forward a little, letting my wings relax. Maybe I could distract him…

“Come on, man, you can’t blame me for being curious.  It’s not every day you find out your best friend is Jared Hall.”  Josh noticed the slip up almost as fast as I did. He snapped his mouth shut, his eyes growing wide like a deer in headlights as the color faded from his cheeks. A suffocating silence fell between us.  It had been almost a year since Josh had referred to me as his ‘best friend.’  I met him shortly after starting my new life with my adoptive family.  We were almost inseparable for years.  But once high school rolled around, he slowly stopped speaking to me.

It turned out football was more important to him than his “best friend.”

Hearing those words again was certainly a very strange and uncomfortable experience.  “Ex-best friend, Josh,” I corrected, my voice cold.  “Don’t think this means that I magically forgive you for what you did.  You have wings.  I have wings.  That’s great.  We can be freaks together.  But that doesn’t make us friends, and that doesn’t mean I want to hang out with you again.  Besides, you’re all… popular now.  Popularity isn’t exactly something I want to get myself involved in, you know?” I shrugged.

Josh rubbed his palms together, a nervous habit of his, and looked off into the woods awkwardly as he cleared his throat. He couldn’t even look me in the eyes. “Yeah.  Sorry.  Slip of the tongue.”  Well, that killed the conversation really fast.  I wasn’t sure if I should be happy about that.  On the one hand, no more infuriating questions.

On the other, awkward silence.

“Well, I was going to go for a little flight, so… Guess I’ll… catch you later…”  I spread my wings to take off when Josh interrupted me yet again.

“Woah, you fly?”  He seemed so surprised.

“Well, yeah.  Wings…  Don’t you fly?”  I asked, also confused.  Flying seemed like a normal thing to do if you had wings.

“Nah.  You know how my parents suffocate me, bro. It took a solid year of begging to convince them to let me stay in sports, do you really think they’d let me attempt something as dangerous as flying? If someone caught me, I’d have to get documented, and if I’m documented… You know what happens.”  Josh raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. Right. I should have thought about that. “And we live in the city. There isn’t anywhere for me to practice. I mean, it’s not like I’ve never tried before. I’ve gotten off the ground a couple of inches a few times, but I’ve never been able to actually fly. Besides, a flying teenager in the middle of the city is a little suspicious, don’t you think?”

Ok, call me crazy, but I actually felt a little bit sorry for the guy. I mean, we have wings! You couldn’t have wings and just not fly. And, if Josh was ever going to have the chance, it was when he was miles away from his parents in a deep, dark, secluded part of the forest. I grinned a little. “Aw, man, you have to try this!”  Ex-best friends or not, as a fellow winged genetic mistake, a flight lesson or two wasn’t going to completely kill me.  Even I was big enough to look past a year-long grudge to help a fellow freak.

Besides, if I taught him how to fly, he would totally owe me one.

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