changed Eric's room and chap 5 a bit. Same things as before. Please rate and review.
Smoke. That's the first thing I notice when I walk through the door. It hangs so thickly in the air that it creates a second ceiling and as soon as I take a breath in, I nearly cough my lungs out and Mum very nearly backed out, not wanting Lewis to breathe any in.
The second thing I noticed was the massive mahogany desk, stretching across nearly the entire room. Behind the desk was a high-backed, black swivel chair facing away from us. Sitting on the desk, next to the chair, is an overflowing ashtray, a month's worth of ash and cigarette butts in and around it.
The last thing I notice is a small, old television on a high stand at the back of the room. It was playing the video game store recording from earlier, before whoever is in the chair switched it off.
"Hello, Eric, Gareth, Lewis and Mary," a gruff, raspy voice greets us before its owner turns around and we get our first look at him. He was an old man wearing a ratty old dust jacket with a loose checked red and green shirt underneath and dirty jeans which may have once been blue with holes in them at the knees. He had sunken cheeks with deep shadows around his eyes and he had a cigarette that was all the way down to the butt in his mouth, sucking on it for all it was worth, like a drowning man gasping for air. He has white, matted hair half obscuring his eyes. He feels so familiar, like I've seen him somewhere before, but I just cannot place him, no matter how hard I try.
"Welcome to the Evolutionists," he continues before I can say anything. "My name is Leon and I'm the leader of the Evolutionists. I don't know how much you know about current affairs and how everything stands at this point in time, so I'm going to assume that you nothing at all about any of it.
"Liberty City is spread across four islands that are in a square shape. Each island houses a different district.
In the Northwest is the Industrial District. This is where all of the factories are located. The air is heavily chocked with smog from the factories. The only direct bridge to the mainland is also located here.
To the Northeast is the Recreational District, which is where we are now, and is populated by mostly parklands and one of the city's few hospitals, as well as a few malls and shopping centres.
In the Southwest is the Residential District, which is home to, well, the majority of the city's homes and apartments for the rich and the middle classes of the city. The city's schools and education centres are located here, catering for a range of academic and sporting levels, from the lowest to the highest. Dotted throughout the district are extra shopping centres, as well as several fast-food businesses and restaurants.
In the Southeast are the Slums, where all of the city's poorest citizens are forced to live. It is the most populated district, with most people being born into the Slums. Their houses are simple lean-to's made out of single sheets of rusted, corrugated iron. It would be a struggle to fit more than three people in each lean-to, and most people living there have large families. Most of the teenagers and young adults are drug addicts, spending all of their money for their next fix.
The islands are connected by draw bridges; one going from the Slums to the Recreational District to the Industrial District and so on. There are also longer bridges connecting the Residential District straight to the Recreational District and the Industrial District to the Slums.
"The Event was caused by a device called the Accelerated Evolution Device, or A.E.D for short that was developed by the Illuminati and was essentially a weapon of mass destruction on steroids. It went off in the Slums, killing thousands and causing havoc throughout the rest of the city while people tried to figure out who was alive and who was just missing, as the device turned most people in its path to dust. After a few weeks, everything calmed down a little and everyone went back to a semi-normal life, until the Plague hit a few months later, that is.
"The Plague is by far the worst in recorded history, like the Black Death, Smallpox and Ebola all rolled into one and given multiple shots of adrenaline for good measure. The moment you showed the smallest symptoms of it, you're dead not even five days later. As soon as the outside world learned of the Plague, they put us in quarantine straight away, sealing us off. We haven't heard anything from the outside world since then.
"During this period, the city fell into anarchy and everyone, being trapped in the District that they were in at that time, formed gangs, fighting each other for the limited resources left until people with... certain abilities emerged--abilities that only ever existed in the fictional world; abilities like telekinesis, pyro-kinesis, invisibility and whatever else you care to imagine; all abilities activated by the A.E.D. We, the Evolutionists, call these people Evos, the next stage in human evolution.
"The Evos are immune to the Plague and--among their own individual powers--each Evo has a series of traits that apply to all; increased stamina, speed, strength, durability, healing and heightened senses. There is no way to know whether someone is an Evo or not until they use their powers. When they do, I have some of my agents bring them in before they either hurt themselves, hurt others, get taken advantage of or have others hurt them. We then train them how to use their powers and put them in the best possible position to use their skills.
"There are a few Evos that take advantage of their powers and use them to take control of people, whether it's through fear, intimidation, mind control or some other means. There are currently three that we know of, two of whom we know the names of; the other one is unknown but we know where he is; he is the leader of the Reapers, the faction that took control of the Recreational District after the quarantine. He is the origin of that black sludge you saw--it latches onto people and takes over them, forcing them to do whatever he wants. We do not know what his goals are.
"The other two Evos are William Borg and Cain Allen, both former members of the Illuminati and key players in the development of the A.E.D.
"William Borg was in the Industrial District at the time of the quarantine and since then, he has taken complete control of the District using his techno-path powers, the ability to talk to and control any machinery he wishes, to raise his own personal army. He snatches people off the street and... changes them. He implants them with mechanical parts, replacing flesh and blood with cold, hard steel, turning the people into cyborgs with no free will. Using his army, he constructed the tallest tower in the district, from modified car and machine parts. This tower is his base, with high-tech security systems making it nearly impossible to infiltrate. He controls his army and the city's electrical supply from here. Once he grows his army enough, he will take over the rest of the city, and then everything else, until he rules all. He calls his faction the Machinists.
"Cain Allen was in the Slums when the quarantine was put in place and he, like William, took control of the Slums, but through a different method. His power lets him turn regular people into hideous, grotesque monsters that he takes full control of, always in their minds, telling them exactly what to do. His end goals are also the same as William's, world domination. Last I heard, he was clashing with the Residential faction, the Disciples. His faction is called the Sons of Cain.
"The Disciples are made up of regular people. They are deeply religious and believe that all Evos are servants of the Devil. They have driven everyone that they believe to be Evos. We don't know who leads them either, but we suspect that he was a Priest before the Event.
"And lastly there are us, the Evolutionists. We have are a small presence on each of the islands and we help where we can, taking in those who are in danger and cannot protect themselves. We are made up of both Evos and non-Evos.
"And that's everything as it stands at this point in time. So, any questions?"
For a few moments, I stand there, still absorbing the huge information load he just dumped on me; if I was a computer, I would have just crashed.
I knew some of what he said before, like how the city was structured, where the Event happened, the quarantine, most of the things about the Reapers and bits and pieces about what was happening in the other Districts, but most of it was new information for me. Among the thousands of questions I had though, one was pushing its way to the front of my mind.
"How in hell do you know all of that?" I blurt. "How do you know about Borg and William and the A.E.D? How do you know any of it?"
"Because," Leon says, looking me right in the eyes, regret filling his, "this is all my fault."
A red haze fills my vision as Leon says those words. Before I realise what's happening, I have my hands wrapped around Leon's neck, fully intent on choking every last drop of life out of him. I am dimly aware of multiple hands grasping the back of my shirt and trying to pry my hands away, far too many for the amount of people in the room. I could feel something quickly filling me up inside until I felt like I would explode if I didn't release.
I turn around and release the energy through my hands onto anyone behind me, not caring who they are. They all go flying backwards and I can dimly hear the sounds of shattering stone and glass, moans of pains and groans like they were from an extremely long way away; all except for one unmistakeable cry.
As soon as I hear him, the red haze disappears and I suddenly see everything in crystal clear focus. I see Mum, Gareth, Illusion Girl and Mini Hulk's friend lying in the rubble of the ruined wall--all still conscious, but barely. Through the wall, I can see Mini Hulk lying out cold in the middle of the hallway, about halfway up it, with a jagged, bleeding gash across his stomach, the piece of glass that caused still stuck in him and another gash in the middle of his forehead, probably from the piece of stone lying next to him. From this distance and through the smoke, I couldn't tell if he was breathing or not, but at the moment I didn't care, because there was one important person missing. I was starting to get frantic when I heard him cry out again. It was coming from underneath a large pile of rubble.
I rushed over and started chucking the large pieces of broken stone behind me without any trouble, desperate to reach the source of the crying. I'm dimly aware that I don't hear them landing but I'm beyond caring.
I finally reach Lewis and I gasp at the sight of him. He's covered in dust and blood, with at least a dozen new cuts on him. He stares up at me with his wide blue eyes, wet from the crying, and weakly tried to grab my hand in his much smaller one. I gently pick him up and stroke his hair while whispering that it'll be okay. It is only then that I turn around and look at Leon.
He's still calmly sitting behind his desk, with the little snub of a cigarette still in his mouth, his neck not even a tiny bit red from when I was choking him with all of my strength. He has his hand raised and floating in the air in front of him are all of the stone pieces that I chucked. With a flick of his wrist, he sends them and all of the other pieces of stone flying back into the wall, like it was breaking in reverse.
By this time, the others were nearly fully recovered and it looked like nothing has happened in the room, apart from the fact that it was not as smoky.
Illusion Girl took one glance at Lewis and another out the door at her brother, still lying on the floor, but with the glass somehow missing, before saying, "I'm getting Lorea," and limping off as fast as she can.
"No need," Leon says, using his powers to lift her up and gently place her back in the room. "She's going to be here in"--he puts his hand up with three fingers raised--"three, two, one." As he lowered the last finger, a girl appeared around the corner, running so fast she nearly tripped over Mini Hulk.
She is so skinny, a gentle breeze could have blown her away. She has hair dyed blue that's nearly as short as Mini Hulk's.
When she recovered her balance, she put her hand on the gash in Mini Hulk's stomach and I watch in amazement as the skin healed itself before she moves onto the one on his head. A moment later, he wakes up and asks the girl, "What happened?"
She shrugs. "Don't ask me," she says. "I just got here. Ask them." She points at us and moves on towards us.
When she crosses the doorway, she heads straight for Lewis. She reaches out a hand to touch him and I pull him back, shielding him from this girl I don't know with my body.
"Trust me," she says, looking me right in the eyes as she says it. "I'm not going to hurt him."
There was something about her that I trusted. "Okay," I whisper holding him out.
Wherever she puts her hand, Lewis's cuts miraculously heal. Once she's done, she tends to the others. She then turns her attention to Leon.
"Next time you have an interview, let me know," she says. "I could hear the commotion from the other side of the compound. Same with the last twenty interviews that you've had. Got it?"
"Yeah, yeah," Leon says, dismissing what she said with a wave of his hand. "I've got ya. Now get out of here, girly; you must have better things to do than hang with me."
She huffs and walks out of the room. "You know where to find me," she says over her shoulder.
"Who was that?" I ask Leon after she left.
"That was Lorea," he tells me. "She's our only healer and the second most respected person here, the first being yours truly." He shifted his attention to the others behind me. "And what the hell are you two still doing in here?" he asks Mini Hulk and his buddy. "Albert, Jason, get back to your posts."
"What happened?" Mini Hulk--Albert--asks Illusion Girl as they leave, Jason throwing me a nasty look as he went.
"I'll tell you later," she tells him just before Leon shuts the door.
"Now where were?" Leon asks me, coolly.
"You just told me how everything--the Event, the Plague, the A.E.D, everything--was your fault, you dick," I spit at him, still extremely peeved.
"Ah, yes, that was it. I guess I should have been more specific with it. It is all my fault, but indirectly."
"Explain," I demand.
"Well, have you heard of the Roswell incident?"
How couldn't I have? I think. To him I say, "Yeah. It was a weather balloon that crashed in 1947 which was mistaken for an UFO. What does this have to do with anything?"
"Well, in 1974, a similar incident happened in North Wales called the 'Welsh Roswell' incident. The people there reported hearing a huge bang, felt earth tremors and saw a brilliant light in the sky above the mountains. The people were running from their homes, scared of another tremor occurring, when they saw a blaze of light on the hillside. Later, they say that they saw a spaceship crash happen. The official story is that it was an earthquake combined with a meteor shower. What actually happened is stranger than both of them.
"As soon as the Illuminati heard the rumours', they were there faster than it takes an ice cube to melt in hell, hoping to finally find proof that religion is fake. What they found instead was a huge cluster of meteorites that crashed. There were hundreds of fragments spread around the area, all of them glowing a faint blue.
"My division was sent to check it out. We were told to collect everything that could be of importance, so that was what we did; we started collecting all the meteorite fragments that we could get our hands on. I was going to collect the ones over on the fringes, away from everyone else, but the first one I picked up started glowing a brighter blue than the others. I tried to let it go but it was stuck to my skin, like someone super-glued it on. I let out a yell just before it exploded in a flash of blinding blue light and everything gave way to soothing blackness; later, someone told me that all of the grass around me withered and died.
"When I woke up, I was strapped to a table, topless and only wearing shorts. I was facing a viewing screen with a bunch of labcoats on the other side. They told me that they took a sample of my blood and were going to run a few tests on me, to see what made me different. One of them came in with a knife and made a shallow cut on my arm before making a similar one on his own; my cut took only a few minutes to heal while the labcoat's, a man much younger than me, took days. Next, they broke my arm and that took a few days to mend itself; the labcoat was too scared to break his own.
"After that, they brought in one of the meteorite fragments and made me touch it. It started glowing a brighter blue again before exploding; the labcoat disappeared. They repeated this test, but they wheeled in a variety of animals--dogs, birds, cats and many others--this time and put the fragment on a tray next to me and told me to pick it up. It exploded again and all the animals died. They broke my arm again after that and it took only a few hours to heal; whatever happened to me is directly related to the amount of living things around when the fragment explodes.
"They put me through more tests after that, testing my stamina, speed, strength, senses--everything; they were all better than any other human. After that, they put me through constant tests, one after another, never giving me a break; doing everything they could do to see what made me different and how they could replicate it. I was in constant pain, 24/7, until one day I just snapped. There was this energy that was welling up inside of me until it just burst, like a dam wall breaking, and I just let everything out in one, spectacular moment. All of the labcoats went flying and several hit the walls head on, their skulls crumpling like tin cans, splattering their companions with their brain matter. After that, they didn't run any more tests on me.
"While the labcoats were running the tests on me, they put someone, Cain Allen, in charge of finding others like me; others that were more advanced than the rest of humanity, people that were more... evolved. These people were dubbed Evos.
"While he was doing that, they got one of the techies, William Borg, to make a device that amplified the power of the meteorite fragments and make them last for more than one use. While working on it, there was an accident. Borg was an Evo and while he was handling one of the modified fragments, it exploded, severing his arm, destroying one of his eyes and causing severe damage to several of his vital organs and, during his panic, used his power to save himself. He used the tech around him and moulded it into a new eye and arm for himself, as well as replacement organs. After that, he finally lived up to his name and became the head of his department, being able to use the technology there better than anyone else.
"I was busy training myself to use my power during this time. Originally, I had to get myself extremely angry to use it but, over time, I had to get less and less angry to do it, until I could use it at will. To get myself started I set up glass bottles that stretched 20 across and 10 deep. I focused on getting those knocked over and I managed to do that, knocking over half of the rows in the process. My power hit the bottles like a shockwave from a bomb, or a Hulk clap, so that's what I called it, the shockwave power. I reset the bottles and focused on making the shockwave more concentrated, only aiming for the middle 10 this time, knocking down all of the bottles behind them as well. I kept on making the shockwave more focused until I could make a hole right in the middle of the bottles, all the way down one column. By the time I was done, I could change the gender of a fly from a football field away.
"I also unlocked another power, telekinesis. As far as I knew, I was the only Evo to have a second power. I practiced it until I could juggle a dozen heavy objects simultaneously and use my shockwave ability at the same time.
"Then, one day, 16 years after that fatal day, I got a vision. It was of the then nearly completed A.E.D going off in a crowded city, in a boy's hands and this massive, pulsing, blue, humanoid, energy thing that was absorbing everything in its way, with a young boy fighting it with everything he had and losing. The monster crushed the boy, their best hope, in his fist like an insect and dropped him in the river. The monster than destroyed everything and everyone in the city, except for the Evos, and then the world. That boy was you.
"As soon as I had the vision, I went straight to Borg and explained it to him, asking, no--demanding--him to terminate the protect. He was sympathetic and said that he would stop if he could, but the main body of the Illuminati had taken it over and moved the whole protect to their main base. I convinced him, Allen and a dozen other sympathises to disband from the Illuminati and help me attack the main base. During the assault, we failed in our mission and half of us died. Since then, over the next twenty years, they hunted us down until there was only the three of us left; me, Allen and Borg. Since we failed, we settled for next best thing; find the boy and train him as best as we can. That boy is you."
I just stand there, my mouth open so wide that I could swallow a whale whole.
"Now do you see boyo?" Leon asks me, tears filling his eyes. "Now do you see how this is all my fault? If I wasn't there when the meteor shower happened, then none of this would have happened."
I finally managed to close my mouth. "So what happens now?" I ask him.
He smiled at me. "Have a shower, get some food in your stomach and get some rest. In that order. Tomorrow, we're training."
As soon as I set foot outside of the door, I get hit in the face by what feels like an angry giant swinging a sledgehammer. My head snaps backwards and Gareth catches me, preventing me from lying spread-eagled on the floor. I feel hot, sticky blood running out of my broken nose and down the front of my already filthy shirt; my eyes were already swelling shut.
"That's for knocking me out!" I hear Albert rumble from a long way away.
"Sorry," Illusion Girl gushes over me. "I tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn't listen. At least he punched you softly."
That was soft! I think, being only just lucid enough to do so.
"Come on, let's get you fixed up," she continues, taking me from Gareth and, before leading me down several different corridors, she says, "Albert can you please show the others to their rooms?" over her shoulder.
"Where are we going?" I manage to mumble out after a while, leaning heavily on Illusion Girl.
"Won't my nose heal on its own?" I ask, remembering what Leon said earlier.
"It would, but it won't be as pretty as before."
That shut me up.
After I don't know how long, we enter what seems to be one of the courtyards and I hear Lorea say, "Did you try to make a pass at the lovely lady here?" as she comes towards me.
"It wasn't me this time," Illusion Girl denies. "This is all Albert's handiwork."
"That's a first," Lorea snorts. "You wouldn't believe how many people she sends my way," she says to me. "Broken legs, arms, noses, ribs, as well as a few low blows, she's sent a lot of people my way. Mostly boys, but a few girls as well. Well, let's have a look at you then." I feel her grab my head in her hands and she started turning it this way and that. She then pulls one my swollen eye lids back and shines a light into it. I quickly jerk my head back. "Good," she says. "You don't have a concussion. You're lucky. Most people who get hit by Albert don't get up again." She puts her hand on my face and I can feel the bones in my nose knit back together and slide back to their rightful place while my eyes return to normal. "There, done," she says when she pulls away.
"Thanks, Doc," I say. "Any recommendations to stop it from happening again?"
"Yeah; don't piss Albert off."
"Doctor's orders," she smiles. As I turn to leave, she stops me.
"What?" I ask.
"Your clothes," she says. "They're filthy."
I look down at the clothes that I've been wearing since the Event. "Oh. Sorry; I haven't had many wardrobe options lately." Not that I had many before, either.
"Hold on," she says. She walks behind the tree in the middle of the courtyard and, after a minute, comes back around with some clothes piled in her arms. "Here you go," she says as she dumps them in my arms. "These look around your size."
The clothes that she grabbed are a plain green shirt and a pair of blue jeans. "Thanks," I say. "I'll put them on later."
"You better," she says. "Make sure he does," she says to Illusion Girl. "And, when he does, take his old clothes to Pyre."
"Yes ma'am," she says. "Come on Eric, let's go."
Just before we leave, I turn and look back to see Lorea sitting under the tree and reading a book in the light of the setting sun.
"So, who's Pyre?" I ask Illusion Girl as she leads to me to my room.
"He's our resident hothead," she tells me. "He has a short fuse, so if you see anyone with red hair, walk the other way.
"Does he have a power?"
"Yeah, his power is being able to control fire, or pyro-kinesis if you want the proper term."
Eventually, we reach the door to what I'm told is my room. When Illusion Girl opens the door, I gasp when I see the size of the bedroom; my home in the slums could have fit in the space twice over. Against the back wall of the room is a massive king-sized bed. To the left of the bed is a bed stand and to the right is another door. To the right of the bed, set into the wall is a huge walk-in wardrobe running the remaining length of the wall. The walls of the room are painted eggshell white, while the floor is covered in a soft, cream coloured carpet and a single bulb hanging from the ceiling, bathing the room in a soft, yellow glow.
I open the sliding doors of the wardrobe to see it completely stuffed with clothes hanging on clothes hangers and the floor lined with several different pairs of shoes. The clothes are mostly black sweat pants and hooded sweatshirts, with a little variation including short sleeved, brighter coloured t-shirts and shorts.
"Leon knew you'll be coming," Illusion Girl explained, "and he knows you do a lot of parkour stuff."
"Wait," I say, confused. "How did Leon know I was going to come here today, on this particular day?"
"I'm... not... sure," Illusion Girl says slowly, than shakes her head. "I guess he had another vision or something, I don't know. All I know is that what Leon says is usually right. He came to some of us this morning and told us to get this room ready, and we didn't argue. Anyway," she continues, bending over to pick up a pair of shoes. They are black and have toe shaped tips, not the usual round front most shoes have, with Vibram written on the top of the tongue. "These," Illusion Girl says, "have a thin but durable rubber form. The toe-shaped tips allow you to have a bit of extra grip when clinging to rails or climbing ninety-degree walls."
"Cool," I say while she puts them back. "How much do they cost?"
"Only about sixty dollars," she responds, shutting the door. "Bathroom's through there," she says indicating the other door. "Just put your old clothes out here and I'll take them to Pyre. Take as much time as you need in there. I'll be waiting just out here for you when you're done."
I have one foot through the door before I stop and turn around. "Thanks," I tell her.
"For what?" she asks, confused.
"Everything." And then I'm through.
After an hour of vigorous scrubbing and the water turning black again and again, I'm finally as clean as I'm going to get. I turn the boiling hot water off and start drying. I wipe the steam from the mirror and study myself. This is the first time that I've been able to look at myself in forever and the person looking back at me is not the same person from six months ago.
My face is still the same shape, albeit a bit red from how hard I was scrubbing, but that only made my ice blue eyes stand out even more. My hair is still the same colour, dirty blonde, although it is jagged from me blindly using a knife to cut it and longer than before, stopping just short of my eyes. Even my nose, which my English teacher once described as aquiline, is still the same, despite Albert's 'soft' punch.
I'm still the same height as before, maybe a tiny bit taller, but that's to be expected. My chest is still the same except for it being more toned. All in all, I look the same as I did before the Event, but there's just something that's different about me, something that I just can't place.
I look over myself again, trying to find that something that's different, when I settle on my eyes. They may still be the same colour, but there's a certain quality about them that's just different from before. They look older, like they've aged a lifetime while the rest of me stayed the same. They've gain a hardness--a coldness--that the old me never had, like I've lost my innocence. For a flash, I see Leon's face in place of my own.
I quickly finish getting dried and dressed before meeting Illusion Girl outside my room.
"Finally," she sighs when she sees me. "It feels like I've been waiting out here forever. What did you do, fall asleep or something?"
"Or something," I say. She raises an eyebrow and I feel heat go to my cheeks, instantly realising what she's probably thinking; maybe I still have some innocence after all.
"Not that," I sputter. "It's just been so long since the last time that I've washed myself."
"I know," she says. "Your hair was so dirty before that I thought it was black. I never would have guessed that you were actually a blonde."
"Yeah, I know. I feel so much cleaner now."
"Come on, clean freak, let's go," she chuckles as she pulls my arm. "If we wait any longer, Albert will eat all the food before we get there."
"Are the others there already?" I ask as I follow her.
"Yeah. We've all been waiting for you."
"Oh. I didn't know. If I did, I would've been quicker."
"Nah, it's okay. Gareth took nearly as long as you did."
After a while of walking through the dim corridors in silence I say, "Illusion Girl, can I ask you something?"
She rolls her eyes at my nickname for her. "Sure, what?"
"Do you think I look a bit like Leon?"
She stops and studies my face for a moment. Eventually she says, "Hmm, a little bit. Hold on, let me check." A moment later, my head and Leon's appear floating in the air in-between us.
"Jesus Christ!" I cry, surprised at her using her powers. "Give a guy some warning next time, would ya."
"Sorry," she says distractedly, focused on the heads.
I come over to her side to look at the heads face to face. They look so life-like that I'm half expecting them to start talking. As I watch, she changes Leon's hair colour to mine and then the hair style as well. Straight away, he looks so much like me now, it's like looking into a funhouse mirror; where the image is you, but a bit distorted. I look at his eyes and they are exactly the same colour and shade as mine; they even have the same qualities. "Are the eyes right?" I ask Illusion Girl.
"I'm pretty sure they are. Why?"
"Because no two people have the exact same eyes."
"So what does this mean?"
"It means that Leon is not who he says he is."
"What are we going to do about it?"
"Nothing yet. We just wait and watch, see if he does anything that's suspicious."
"Okay. Now, let's hurry before Albert eats everything on us."
Illusion Girl leads me into a courtyard cluttered with tables and bright spotlights mounted on the walls, illuminating everything, chasing away the shadows. Most of the tables have food piled on top of them and people sitting around them, either talking, laughing or eating; the whole place has an air of festivity to it.
Illusion Girl expertly weaves through the cluttered spaces between the tables, easily avoiding all of the children running around, leaving me to follow.
"How do you guys have still have so much food?" I ask, staring in amazement at the wide assortment of food everywhere, all of their delicious aromas mingling and mixing, making my stomach growl so loud that the ground rumbles.
"Just before Leon split from the Illuminati in 1990, he... reimbursed himself for his services to them, taking enough money to live comfortably and prepare for the disaster he knew was coming. He has spent the last five years stockpiling supplies here," Illusion Girl explains. "He brought thousands of canned foods and bottles of water, stuff that would last for a while, because he didn't know how bad it'll be or how long he'll be holed up in here. He also grew his own garden for some extra flavour.
"How did he know that the A.E.D wouldn't go off here?"
"He didn't. That's why he did the same thing across all four of the islands. This just happened to be the one he was stuck on when the drawbridges went up and the islands cut off from each other."
Suddenly, I hear a loud piercing shriek followed by a flap of wings and I look to see a bird landing in one of the few open spaces in the courtyard and all of the children run over to it. I watch in amazement as the bird gracefully changes into a human boy with rust coloured hair and a face full of freckles framing yellow eyes.
"Who's that?" I ask Illusion Girl, not taking my eyes of him as bends down and ruffles one of the kid's hair, much to his delight.
"That's Arnold," she says. "All of the kids just love him."
As I watch, Arnold singles out two of the children, a boy and a girl, and the rest form a circle at the edge of the space, leaving them by themselves; by this time, several others are happily watching as well. Arnold turns himself into a chestnut coloured horse and he lies down, allowing the kids to climb onto his back. He then gets up and gallops around the circle a dozen times, the boy and girl loving every moment of it. He stops to their disappointment, lets them off and gets another two on his back to do the same thing again.
"Come on," Illusion Girl says with a smile on her face, pulling on my arm. "They're going to be at it for a while."
She leads me to a table near the centre of the courtyard that has Mum, Gareth, Lewis and Albert sitting around it and a mountain of food on top. Albert takes up a whole bench with his bulk and most of the food on the table is in front of him, but it's disappearing quickly; Mum is siting opposite to him, feeding Lewis and Gareth's stuffing his face next to her, the reminder of the food in front of him.
"Hey guys," I say, sliding in next to Gareth while Illusion Girl talks to Albert. "How's it going?"
"Awesome!" Gareth exclaims around his mouthful of food before swallowing. "This place is amazing," he continues. "They have a fully outfitted games room, tricked out bedrooms and an awesome armoury, not to mention all of this food!"
"It's the food that's got you hooked, isn't it?" I ask him.
"Hell yeah," he says with a wide smile plastered on his face. "This is some of the best grub that I've ever had."
"Knew it, you big glutton," I chuckle, punching him in the arm. "You'll do anything for food."
"Me?" Gareth says in mock shock. "What about him?" He points at Albert. "Greedy guts here is eating enough for three people."
"That's because he is the size of three people, ya idiot," I say slapping Gareth on the back of the head. "You, however, don't have that excuse and you're eating enough for two people.
"Hey, what can I say? I'm a growing boy."
"You're nineteen," I remind him. "I think you're done growing."
"Only physically, younger brother; mentally, I'll never stop growing."
I laugh at that. "I don't think you ever started growing mentally," I say, knocking on top of his head. "Sometimes I wonder if there's anyone home in there."
I feel someone tap me on the shoulder and I turn to see Illusion Girl. "Sorry to break up this lovely brotherly chat," she says while pulling me up and over to her side of the table, "but Albert has something that he'd like to say to you." She turns to him. "Albert," she prompts.
"Sorry," he mumbles quietly.
"What?" Illusion Girl says.
"Sorry," he reluctantly says again, clearly.
"For?" she prompts him again.
"For punching you. It was"--he sighs loudly, slouching his shoulders--"immature of me. I shouldn't have done it and I'm sorry."
"It's okay," I tell Albert. "If I was in your position, I would have done the exact same thing. And, besides, at least you pulled your punch. A lot, I might add."
"Yeah, well, I didn't want to kill you."
"Friends?" I ask him, holding my hand out.
"Friends," he agrees, engulfing my hand in his gorilla sized one.
"Awesome," I say, slapping him on his back.
He was about to start stuffing his face again but he pauses just before the first bite reaches his mouth. "Oh. I nearly forgot," he says. "Leon was looking for you." He points over to where two of the walls met. "He's over there somewhere."
"Thanks," I say. "I'll see you guys later," I say to everyone before heading over to the corner of the courtyard, where Leon is.
I find him in big clearing all alone, at a round table, which is set for two and right up against the stone walls, with his back to the corner so he can see anyone coming. On the table are two plates of mashed potato and chicken schnitzel,--one of my favourite foods--napkins, two empty wine glasses and a bottle of booze.
"Ah, there you are Eric," he says when he sees me. "I was wondering when you would arrive. I assume Albert told you that I was looking for you."
"He did, Sir," I say, taking my place across from him, "but he nearly forgot to."
"No matter," he says. "You're here now and that's all that matters. Come, have something to eat," he continues, indicating the plate in front of me. "Do you drink?" he asks.
I shake my head and cut off a piece of the schnitzel, pop it in my mouth and just moan when I taste it; it was some of the best schnitzel that I've ever had. Leon sees this and asks, "It's good, isn't it?"
I nod my head enthusiastically. "Dude, this is freaking amazing," I say when I've finished my mouthful. "But where did you get it from? I mean, I was under the impression that you didn't have any meat here."
"No, we do," he says. "Just back there"-- he throws his thumb behind him, pointing to the next courtyard--"is a bit of a farm. Hmm, let's see, currently we have ten cows; twenty chickens--no, wait, make that nineteen chickens!"--here he guffaws--"and a few dozen rabbits. We just try to make our use of them sustainable." He shakes his head. "But that's not important right now. Tell me Eric; are you ready to start training tomorrow?"
"Not really, Sir," I start but he cuts me off.
"Quit it with all of that Sir crap, boy," he tells me. "We're not in school and I'm certainly no gentleman. Just call me Leon, or boss or old man or--something else--would ya? Everyone else does."
I nod. "As I was saying, I'm not really ready for training tomorrow."
"Why not?" he asks.
"I just don't want to use my powers; I never asked for them and I don't want them. All I wanted was to have a normal life and help my family, you know? I never asked for any of this."
"Look around, boy," Leon says, sweeping his hand to encompass the courtyard. "Do you think anyone here asked for this to happen? Do you think anyone here thought 'I hear a bomb's going off today that might give me powers but will most likely kill me; I think I might risk it'? Do you think anyone here thought that?"
"No," I say. "But why can't someone else fight this monster thing or whatever it is, this thing that I'm 'destined' to fight? There's a lot of people here who are stronger than me. Why can't someone else fight it?"
"Because you are the strongest one here; stronger than me in fact."
"How? Everyone that I've seen here is stronger than me; Lorea, Illusion Girl, even Arnold. Everyone is stronger than me."
"That's only because they've had a lot of practice," he explains. "When they first used their powers, they were all weaker then you are currently."
"But why am I stronger than them? That is the part that I don't understand."
"Okay look," Leon says. He picks up his fork, scoops some of the potato up and plops it on his napkin. He then gets my glass and puts it on top of the potato, creating a circle. "Let's say that this is the blast radius of the A.E.D and you are in the center here with it." He pokes his finger into the middle of the circle. "Are you with me so far?"
"Good. So, when it explodes, it kills every non-Evo within the blast radius and takes their... life-force let's call it--that thing that activates the powers. Still with me?"
I nod again.
"Okay. When this life-force reaches the end of the blast radius, it reverses direction and heads back towards the centre; the closer to the centre it gets, the more concentrated it gets. When it hits an Evo on the way in"-- he pokes a few more holes in the potato and drags his finger towards the centre--"they absorb some of the life force. But the person in the centre of the blast radius gets all of the remainder of the life-force. Do get all of that?"
"Mostly," I say, nodding. "But won't you be stronger than I am? You have been exposed to more of this meteorite thing than I have."
"Yes," he agrees," but you have absorbed more life-force than I have, and that's the main point. Besides, when you used your shockwave power in my office today, you destroyed a stonewall. When I first used mine, I only managed to crack a few skulls."
"What if I don't fight this thing then? What if I just leave it alone?"
"I've had visions where you don't fight it and the results are still the same; every non-Evo dies."
"Well then maybe this is supposed to happen," I say throwing my arms up in frustration. "You said that Evos are the next stage in human evolution. Maybe this is humanity's way of evolving. Have you ever thought of that?"
"I have. And I've also had visions where all of the Evos die as well from this monster, this World-destroyer. That is why you have to train and get stronger, to defeat it. Do you understand that?"
"I do, but I still don't want to fight or use my powers."
"Okay, look at it this way then. If you don't fight, everyone here will die. Do you want that?"
I turn around and take a moment to look at everyone in the courtyard. I look at them talking and laughing; I look at Arnold playing with the kids and making them happy; I look at my friends and family laughing with each other and enjoying themselves. I think about how no one here deserves to die, how none of them should even be here. I turn back to Leon. "No, I don't," I say.
"Good man," Leon chuckles. "Tomorrow, when we train, I want you to have something to channel your power through, something to focus on; like earlier today in my office, when you used it because you were so furious. Do you have something like that?"
"I think I do," I replay.
"Make sure you do," he says. "Well, get some rest. We have a big day tomorrow." He's focus shifts to something behind me. "Ah, here comes your guide now."
I turn and see Illusion Girl walking towards us. "Hey, Illusion Girl," I call out to her.
"Illusion Girl?" Leon asks, confused. "Is that what you've been calling her?"
"Yeah. That's my name for her, since she's refused to tell me what it actually is."
"Don't feel bad, boyo," Leon chuckles. "It was a month before she told me what it was. She'll tell you in her own time."
"I'm right behind you, you know," Illusion Girl says.
"I know," I say as I get up, finished with my dinner. "Thanks for dinner, Leon," I say as I go to leave. "You know, chicken schnitzel is my favourite dish."
"No kiddin'?" he says. "It's mine too." As he says this I catch a glimpse of his eyes, but that's all I need; Illusion Girl got them spot on--they are an ice blue colour like mine.
"Okay see you, ya old bag," I say as I leave.
"So, what did you two talk about?" Illusion Girl asks me as she leads me through the tables again.
"Nothing much," I shrug. "He just asked me if I was ready for training tomorrow and explained a bit more how the A.E.D works. That's all. The food was great though; my compliments go to the chief."
"I'll tell her that you liked it," she says.
As we're walking along, I look up and see huge, dark clouds in the sky. "Looks like rain," I say.
Illusion Girl looks and sees them too. "I hope it holds out until tomorrow," she says. We walk the rest of the way back to my room in silence.
"Night, Illusion Girl," I say when we reach my door.
"Night, Eric," she says. Just before she walks off, she stops and turns. "Shadow," she says.
"What?" I ask, confused.
"Earlier today, you asked me what my name is. It's Shadow."
"Nice name; it suites you. Night, Shadow."
I see her cheeks flush red before she hurries away. I enter my room and flop down hard on my bed--still fully clothed--and, feeling better than I've felt in ages, I fall asleep almost instantly.