I can feel it on my face.
I know what it is without seeing it.
Nothing feels like wet blood on your skin.
It’s warm at first, and then it turns cold as the life drains away.
My arm hurts.
So does my head.
Smells like smoke…
“Can you tell me again, why we’re doing this?” Kateri asks.
“Because it’s important,” I reply as I finish lacing up my boots.
“I never thought it was that important,” she mumbles.
I sigh and shake my head, looking across the bed at her.
“That because you never had a chance to experience it.”
“I know everything I need to know,” she says, reluctantly pulling on her jacket.
“There are things beyond killing demons.”
I pick up my backpack, slinging it over my shoulder. I stand for a few moments, just looking at her as she stares back at me.
“Get your bag,” I finally say.
Kateri grumbles before eventually picking up the pack at her feet.
“It won’t be that bad,” I say, smiling gently at her.
“It’s going to be terrible,” she frowns back at me.
I shake my head before reaching out and taking her hand.
“I promise you, it’s not going to be terrible.”
“Well, if it’s not going to be terrible, it’s going to be boring.”
The door slides open and we step out into the corridor, turning left and heading to the waiting elevator. I can hear Kateri dragging her feet as we climb aboard.
“Will you stop that?” I ask, half frowning and half smiling.
“What if it’s boring?” she asks as I lean past her and press the button for the main floor.
The car starts moving and I turn and look into her eyes.
“Listen. I promise if it’s boring, you can leave.”
“Okay,” she replies, looking more nervous that I’ve ever seen her.
“You have to give it a chance though. Promise me. You can’t just walk in and say, ‘I’m bored’.”
She looks at me and manages a small, but honest smile.
The ride to the main floor only lasts a few seconds, but the entire time, Kateri shifts around nervously. The moment the doors slide open, we easily slip into a small group of about ten or twelve other Shayds heading outside. I can feel Kateri’s thoughts and they are neither positive or even remotely hopeful. Most of the rest of the group is younger than us, some as little as eight or nine, and they’re all talking and laughing amongst themselves as we exit the building.
“See you there,” one of the girls says to another and one by one they fade and are gone, until only Kateri and I remain.
“Come on,” I say, reaching over and taking her hand.
I squeeze her fingers gently, trying to reassure her that everything will be okay. I pull her into the huge shadow cast by the Factory and we’re off. I take the lead, linking from rooftop to rooftop and fire escape to parking lot until we’re almost at our destination. We stop a few yards from the entrance, at the end of a narrow alley, and Kateri looks at me.
“You think it’s safe to come back here?” she asks.
“I’ll be careful,” I reply. “Now come on.”
I stop and look over at her. I’ve never seen her like this; not even when we were preparing to go to the Abyss for the first time, or when we invaded a demon fortress. She looks terrified.
“What’s the matter?”
For a second, I don’t think she’s going to answer.
“What if I’m not smart enough?”
I frown at her, tilting my head to the side.
She frowns back at me and I shake my head.
“You have nothing to worry about, trust me.”
“I’m sure. Now come on, or we’re going to be late.”
She squeezes my fingers and we dart out of the alley, across the street and up the stairs into the school, the words Collinsburg Senior High emblazoned across the header above the doors.
* * * *
As we’re walking down the hall, being careful to dodge out of the way of the throngs of passing students, I wish I had thought about doing this earlier. It would have been nice to be in the same class with Amanda again, even if she wouldn’t have known, at least I would have been able to see her. Coming back here hadn’t even occurred to me until I recalled seeing those Shayds in the back of the class room just before my mother’s plane crashed and I vanished; becoming a Shayd myself.
I watch as the other, younger and slightly more agile kids from the Factory flit and zip around the other students, slipping into their classrooms before the doors close. Unfortunately, I have to be extra careful to avoid stepping outside the shadows that crisscross here and there throughout the halls.
“Come on,” I say to Kateri. “We’ve got history class.”
We stream down the hall, slipping inside the room just before Ms. Phillips closes the door. I lead Kateri to the back of the class. Unfortunately, there aren’t any empty desks, so we stand against the bookshelves in a bit of shadow coming through the adjacent windows. I open my pack and hand Kateri one of the books; a thick, hardcover history tome, along with a composition notebook.
“Where did you get these?” she asks.
“I picked them up last week when I came snooping,” I reply with a grin.
“You snuck in here by yourself?”
“Shh,” I reprimand her, ignoring her question.
“So, yesterday we were talking about World War II and the role that bigotry and intense nationalism had on the conflict,” Ms. Phillips says as she writes on the dry-erase board.
I open my notebook and scribble down a few things, trying to follow along with the teacher. Kateri is just staring at me.
“Why are you taking notes?”
“In case I need them,” I reply, trying to hear Ms. Phillips.
“For what? It’s not like you can take the test. I think this is -”
I turn and stare directly at her, my annoyance written all over my face.
“I know…okay…I know. This is all stupid. I can’t take the test, I can’t ask any questions. I know this is all a big waste of time, but it’s the last ‘normal’ piece of my life. The last thing that reminds me who I was,” I blurt out while trying not to burst into tears.
I look up toward the front of the classroom, unable to make eye contact with her. A moment later, I hear her open her notebook and the sound of pen on paper follows. A few seconds after, I feel her touch my leg, a tentative contact at best. I slide my hand down and touch her fingers and she intertwines her digits with mine.
Over the course of the rest of the day, we attend six more classes; from Algebra (which I love), to Art (which she loves) to Gym (which we both love). It takes some work and a bit of concentration to make sure that I stay within the sometimes-scarce shadows as we move from room to room or even within the classes themselves. While we’re weaving through the halls, there are a few times when I think I slip out of fade, but it was momentary, and no one seemed to notice.
It’s been a while since I spent the day in school, and by the end of it, I’m exhausted.
“Thank you for this,” I say, taking Kateri’s hand and squeezing her fingers as we’re walking down the crowded hallway.
“I’m sorry I acted like a baby earlier,” she replies, looking down at the floor.
“It’s okay. I know you’re not used to this. You’re not being a baby now, and you stuck it out, that’s what matters.”
I pull her to a stop and reach up, gently cupping her chin in my hand. Leaning forward, I press my lips to hers, and the rest of the world seems to fade into the background. I have always loved the thrill that kissing her gives me, but as we’re standing in the hall of my old school with hundreds of teenagers passing us by, the excitement is notched up ten times.
Suddenly, Kateri starts giggling into my mouth and I lean back slightly.
“Not the reaction I was hoping for,” I say.
“Sorry,” she says, grinning at me, “but this is weird, right?”
She looks over my shoulder at the throngs of kids and I start giggling along with her.
“Yeah. This is weird, and a little creepy,” I reply.
“Let’s get out of here. Now it’s my turn to take you to school,” she says, grabbing my hand.
* * * *
“That’s good,” Kateri says as she counters the swing of my sword, a wicked little smile on her face.
She pushes me back using her blade and free hand. Sweat is pouring down my neck and soaking into my shirt. We’re both wearing work out shorts and tank tops, and honestly, I think her outfit is distracting me.
“How’s this?” I ask, swinging my weapon to the right, then swiftly changing directions. My blade clashes loudly against hers.
“Could be better,” she replies with a wink, the dazzling calliope of colors dancing in her eyes.
I shake my head and take a step back before wiping a few loose strands of hair out of my face.
“It’s not quite fair. You can read my mind. You know what I’m going to do,” I say, breathing hard.
“And you can read mine. All’s fair in love and war,” she shoots back.
E ~ I prefer love.
She doesn’t respond to my thought, but instead, she sheathes her sword and takes a step toward me. We both lean in at the same time, pressing our lips together and sighing at the wonderful sensation.
“See? Now you did it,” she says.
“You knew what I wanted,” she says, giggling sweetly.
I shake my head and laugh.
“It doesn’t take a mind reader to figure that out,” I reply, grinning wickedly at her. “Come on, we’re supposed to meet mom for lunch.”
She laughs, her eyes sparkling, and my heart skips a beat…or two. She takes my hand and we head for the elevator to the dorms. As we’re walking, we wave to a few of the other students in response to their greetings. Kateri looks at me and smiles warmly.
“What?” I ask, smiling back at her.
“Nothing. It’s just funny how easily you melded into us,” she says. “Like you should have always been here.”
I gaze at her for a few moments, drinking in her beauty, her strength, and relishing the way she makes me feel.
“Maybe I was. I never really felt like I fit anywhere till I got here…and found you.”
She blushes, the colors in her eyes flaring in a dazzling storm.
“Well, I’m glad you-”
Suddenly, someone barrels into me, wrapping their arms around me and hugging me with an intense ferocity. I look behind me start laughing.
“Hi Gabby,” I say.
She steps back and grins broadly at me. She’s dressed in workout pants and a t-shirt and sweat marks testify to her boundless energy. She looks happier than I’ve ever seen her.
“What are you up to?” I ask.
“Just practicing with Clay,” she says, lifting her padded, wooden sword and looking back over her shoulder at him as he walks in our direction.
“Are you taking it easy on him?” Kateri asks, winking at him.
“Oh yeah. He’s wearing me out,” she replies.
“Don’t you believe her,” Clay says as he stops in front of us. “She’s killing me.”
“Shut-up,” Gabby says, giggling and blushing.
“I’ve never seen anyone who’s as good as she is in such a short amount of time,” Clay says.
Gabriella just lowers her head and shakes it slowly.
“Give me a break,” she says, looking down at the floor, shuffling back and forth.
I cup her chin in my hand and lift her head so I can see her face. The first thing that I notice is the bright white ring forming around her pupil and the tiny pops of color, mostly purples, in her dark blue eyes.
“Clay knows what he’s talking about,” I say.
“Trust me, he does.”
She smiles at me and then looks over at Clay and I swear she blushes even more. I give Kateri a little wink and she nods in return.
“Oh! Are you guys coming to the ceremony?” Gabby asks.
“We wouldn’t miss it, hun.”
The Renewal is what she’s talking about. When those who come to us decide to remain and become Shayds, there’s a ceremony called the Renewal where they can choose to pick a new name for themselves. Some do it, other don’t. Those that do, often make the choice to sever the last tie with their old lives, with the human world. With everything that has happened, I haven’t even had mine, or had time to think about it.
“Did you come up with a name?” Kateri asks.
We all stand there, waiting for her to continue, but when she doesn’t, I shake my head.
“You’re not telling us, are you?” I ask.
“I want it to be a surprise. Is that okay?”
I chuckle quietly.
“It’s more than okay.”
She hugs me again, and then does the same to Kateri before stepping back and looking at Clay.
“Can we practice more?” she asks him.
“Sure. Just take it a little easier on me,” he replies, smiling broadly at her.
“I’ll see you guys later,” she says, surprising all of us when she suddenly takes Clay’s hand and heads back to their arena square.
I stand for a moment watching her walk away and then I look at Kateri.
“She’s going to be formidable,” I say.
“She’s going to be more than that.”
“Come on, let’s get cleaned up.”
The walk to and the ride on the elevator is quiet as we both seem lost in our own thoughts, although we are hand-in-hand the entire time.
“Are you picking a new name?” Kateri asks, as the door to our apartment slides open.
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” I reply, stepping inside and setting my sword on the little table just to the right.
Kateri follows suit and then flops down on the bed, her left arm draped over her eyes.
“Did I what, change my name?” she asks.
I kick off my boots and look over at her.
“I did,” she says, but adds nothing else.
I walk over and sit down on the edge of the bed, placing my hand on her leg.
“What was it before?”
She sits up, staring into my eyes, hers are a mesmerizing cyclone of colors.
“I like that. Why did you change it?”
“I didn’t want anything that they had given me. I wanted to be someone new.”
I nod slowly, and I suddenly feel bad that I asked.
K ~ Don’t feel bad. It’s in the past. You are my future.
I smile at her, raising my hand and gently cupping her cheek in my palm.
“And you are mine,” I reply before leaning in and kissing her.
She returns the gesture with equal conviction and then I sigh quietly.
“What?” she asks, looking concerned.
“Lunch. We’re going to be late.”
It’s her turn to sigh this time and she flops back onto the bed. I look down at her and smile.
“I’m going to get a shower,” I say, standing as I slowly run my hand along her arm.
“Okay,” she replies. “I’ll be here.”
* * * *
“Have you had a chance to talk to your mom?” Kateri asks as the elevator doors close.
“About your dad. What the hell else do you think I’m talking about?”
“Well…not really…I’ve been-”
“You’ve been what?” she asks, interrupting me, clearly annoyed.
Now I start to get annoyed in response.
“Why are you on me about this? We’re in the middle of something here.”
“Mainly because it’s important, secondly because you were supposed to do it weeks ago, and don’t use this as an excuse to avoid it again,” she replies, a hand on her hip as she glares at me.
“Why is it so important? He’s dead, what does it matter?”
She just watches me for a moment, before reaching back and slapping the emergency stop button. The lift lurches for a second before halting. A bell starts ringing immediately and Evan’s voice comes over the speaker.
“Are you okay? Do you need help?”
“We’re fine, Evan. Just give us a minute,” Kateri replies, “and can you shut that bell off?”
The clanging ceases and Kateri looks at me again.
“It’s important because he helped make you who you are. He’s your dad.”
“But I didn’t even know him.”
“Yeah, no kidding. That’s all the more reason to find out everything you can about him. You have an opportunity to find out where you came from.”
“But I don’t-,” I start to say before trailing off.
Kateri stares at me for a few second, before she tilts her head to the side and her expression softens.
“You don’t know how to ask your mom, do you?”
I let out a deep sigh.
“I don’t want to make her remember something so painful.”
Kateri looks at me, taking my hand and squeezing gently.
“Let me ask you something. If I died, would you never talk about me?”
“Don’t even say that!”
“It’s just a question. Would you talk about me?”
“Even though it would be painful?”
“Why?” she asks quietly.
“So I could remember you…,” I say before lifting her hand and kissing the back of her fingers. She smiles at me and I shake my head. “Okay, I got it now. I promise I’ll talk to her when this is all settled.”
“Good,” she replies before hitting the emergency button again, restarting the elevator.
“How did I get so lucky?” I ask.
“I’m the lucky one,” she replies as she leans over and kisses me.
The doors slip open and we step into the foyer. Dozens of people are busy with their daily tasks; heading this way or that concentrating on the jobs at hand, each of them with a thousand things on their minds. I can hear most of them, and for a second, it’s nearly overwhelming. I flinch and utter a quiet groan.
“You okay?” Kateri asks, taking my hand.
I nod slowly as I wade through the miasma of thoughts, concerns, and worries.
“I’m good,” I reply, taking a deep breath and looking at her. “Just a lot all at once.”
“You’re still new at this. It’ll get better,” she says.
It has gotten better, already. I haven’t had a panic attack since we returned from the Abyss and Father’s ‘creek’ technique is helping me with wading through all the thoughts I’m constantly picking up on, but if I’m not concentrating when they crash into me, it sorta gives me an ‘ice cream headache’ for a few seconds.
Also, after our visit to the Abyss, attitudes toward us have shifted dramatically. There are no more, or rather, there are far less whispers and dirty thoughts about us in the halls, or maybe, as Kateri says, they are just getting better at hiding it. I hope it’s the former, but I know it’s probably the latter. That’s not to say that everything is peaches and cream. There are still some people who don’t approve of us, and aren’t afraid to voice it, but we deal. There’ll always be haters in the world.
We wave a few friendly greetings as we move through the library on our way to the cafeteria. I spot my mother standing just outside the entrance to the mess hall. She waves and we both respond, but the closer we get, the more I begin to sense that something’s going on. She smiles as we walk up and extends her arms.
“Hi baby,” she says, pulling me into a hug, rubbing her hands up and down my back.
A moment later she releases me and immediately looks at Kateri.
“Well? Do I have to ask?”
Kateri smiles back and takes a timid step forward, but my mother pulls her into a powerful embrace. They hold it for much longer than she did with me, but I don’t care. Kateri needs it more than I do. After a few seconds, she lays her head on my mother’s shoulder and she responds by gently stroking her hair. When she finally does release her, Kateri takes a step back and slips her hand into mine, squeezing my fingers.
I still have a feeling that something’s up. I try and listen for my mother’s thoughts, but she’s either remarkably good at hiding them, or I simply can’t hear hers.
“So…um…we’re having lunch, right?” I ask.
“Yes,” she answers without elaboration.
“But we’re not all here yet,” she says.
“Oh? Who else is coming?”
“Reeva and Jax.”
“Don’t give me trouble about this. She’s your friend, and they’ve been holed up in their room since we got back.”
“But nothing. You know how they’ve been treated by everyone. You two, of all people, should know better,” she says, and I realize that she’s right, and she’s not going to back down anyway.
I sigh quietly.
“Okay. I’ll go get them,” I say.
“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I want you to do it.”
She looks straight at Kateri.
“Why me?” she asks, sounding more childlike than I’ve ever heard her.
“Because I’m asking you.”
She looks at me and I just shake my head.
K ~ What am I supposed to do here?
E ~ You better do what she says.
“Fine,” she replies, her tone none too happy. “Can she at least come with me?”
“Sure, but you do the asking.”
Kateri rolls her eyes and whines before we turn and head back to the elevator.