Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Chapter 12

*Debbie Dong*
Cloak Girl leads me through the doorway and into a new, more modern-looking room. It is almost completely white, and I have to shield my eyes from the bright glow.
Once my eyes have sufficiently adjusted, I take in all the details. The floor is tiled in a neoteric hospital style; an operating table and several machines stand in the middle of the room, glaring at me with an ominous air. The entire place radiates rancor and malice. I shudder with foreboding as Cloak Girl propels me deeper into it.
I don’t know what to make of this whole thing -- Cloak Girl, Sara, Chris, the doorway... and Asian Girl. Her presence is like an malignant, pernicious influence, hovering over me for every moment I spend in this inimical place.
And what about Leo? If he’d managed to piss off Asian Girl somehow... Well, things might not go well for him. And seeing as it was way too easy for him to get on one’s nerves, I was definitely worried.
Cloak Girl snaps me out of my musings when she points at the operating table, beckoning me over to it. “Lie down here. We’re going to run some... ah... tests.” she says with a wicked grin.
I shake my head adamantly. “No. No way!”
She replies, “Yes, way,” and grabs my arm, intending to drag me over to it.
“You can’t make me!” I slap her hand, but her grip is too strong.
“Yeah, I can,” she says.
I cry out in pain, “Stop, I don’t want to!”
“You see this?” Cloak Girl holds up her fingers in the shape of an O. “This is the amount of craps I give.”
“Constipated, huh?” I mutter under my breath as she finally succeeds in strapping me down to the operating table, despite my struggling.
“What was that?” she snaps angrily.
I don’t respond. Getting on her nerves is entertaining.

*Ruiran Xun*
Suffice it to say that I have no idea what Leo sees in Debbie.
She’s so irritating that I almost forget the reason why I’m even still putting up with her. Leo’s request and my opportunity to change my ways are the only things keeping my hands away from her throat.
As I fight with Debbie to get her onto the operating table, I find myself thinking about Leo again. Part of me wants to leave her here and let her die slowly of starvation and dehydration. But I know that I can’t hurt her, because I can’t afford to ruin my chances with Leo -- no matter how minuscule -- any further.
With the pretense of preparing her for an MRI, I duck behind the monstrous machine and pull her, along with the table, with me. Just in case Christy is watching. Then, I lean over the table to whisper in her ear, as softly as my vocal cords allow.
“Listen, Debbie. I’m going to pretend the MRI is running and leave the lab. Within five minutes of my departure, Leo and four other kids are going to bust into here. When that happens, you have to be prepared. Get off the operating table and run through the doorway; I’ll make sure it doesn’t disappear. When you go through, picture the room where you met my mistress, Christy Qian.
“The doorway will open three meters to the left of her. When you come out, improvise a way to incapacitate her. Use the element of surprise. I’ll be there; I’ll help you after that. Got it?”
I watch Debbie carefully. I know that she’s quite intelligent, so she will probably be able to remember my instructions with ease, but does she have the skill to carry them out?
It’s too late for second thoughts, I chide myself.
Debbie nods. “Got it.”
I can’t bear the look of hope she gives me when I mention Leo’s name, so I get up and turn around to leave. But, just before I walk out of earshot, I hear a whisper behind me.
“Thank you.”

*Sara Fuller*
The Asian girl seriously needs to take psychosis medication.
After the cloaked person takes Debbie away, she faces me with a sneer curling her mouth. When we make eye contact, I get the feeling that something inside her is completely broken. Unhinged. Gone off the deep end.
My knees tremble, threatening to buckle from fear. I force my voice to work.
“Who the heck are you, where am I, and what do you want with me?”
“Let’s start with the first question, shall we?” the girl says with a smile. “Who am I?”
“Don’t ask me,” I say with a scowl.
“That was a rhetorical question!”
“Whatever.” I roll my eyes, trying to give the impression that I’m not intimidated in the least.
I can tell that it’s not working.
She spreads her hands. “I am the beginning and the end. I have saved you from a terrible fate, to deliver you to a fate even worse. You will know me as Christy Qian, but I cannot be contained by a simple name. I am everything and nothing.”
Her hands burst into dazzling light, like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. I gasp.
Smirking at my reaction, she continues, “And as for where you are...”
She points at a wall to her right, and it ripples into a clear pane of glass-like material, showing me the world outside.
There is nothing there, nothing other than a murky, aphotic sea and a starless sky. No moon, no clouds, no nothing.
I stare out at it, shocked, wondering if this is it, if this is what the world has become. If this is what Christy has created out of my home.
As I watch, she speaks again.

“You are at the edge of the earth.”


Chapter 11

*Jack Frost*
I stand over my challenger, the light of triumph shining in my eyes as she spits out dirt and glares at me.
“So, who’s the one on top now, Courtney?” I taunt down at her. “Should’ve thought twice before taking me on!”
Courtney scowls. “Only people like you would think about beating up girls half your size when there are clearly bigger problems at hand!”
“Hey,” I protest, “you were the one who attacked me. I didn’t pick on you!”
She just rolls her eyes in response. “The escapees from Cosmo Prison are building an army, and you’re going to play the blame game? Seriously?” She flashes me a smile as she imitates the catchphrase of parents everywhere. “I expected better from you, Jack.”
“You sound like my kindergarten teacher,” I say with a laugh as I extend my hand to help her up.
She accepts it, smirking. “Didn’t know you were such a gentleman.”
“Don’t get used to it,” I say in response.
Without warning, she grabs my hand with both of hers and shoves me violently over her head. I utter a soft exclamation as I land on the dusty ground with a thump. “Whoa, Courtney! When’d you get so strong?”
She mimics me, “Who’s the one on top now, Jack?”
“Technically, we’re both still on the same level,” I reply, “which is the ground.”
Courtney clambers to her feet. “Well, now I’m on top, so there!”
We’ve already finished gathering up supplies at Alex’s request, and have been horsing around like this for a while now, waiting for him to announce our next task. He’s been engaged in heated conversation with the new boy.
Now, I get off the ground and watch as two figures, Gene and Sophia, stride up to him. Sophia’s holding something in her hand. I creep closer, trying to eavesdrop, but only just catch the words, “...the key you were talking about earlier.”
I look back at Courtney. She’s heard them as well, and looks just as confused as I feel.
The new boy takes something from Sophia’s hands. He says something to her, smiles, and...
What? I rub my eyes and blink several times, but I’m not mistaken.
He’s disappeared. Poof. Vanished. Just like that.
All sneaky pretense forgotten, I rush up to Alex, Gene, and Sophia, with Courtney on my tail. The three of them seem to be having some kind of argument.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” Alex yells. “That was the key, and you just gave it away to some... some stranger!
“You’re the one who decided to trust him in the first place,” Sophia shoots right back, “and last time I checked, you two were chatting it up like best friends a moment ago!”
“I was making use of my resources, trying to get information!” he shouts. “There’s a difference, idiot!”
Gene steps in between them, getting up in Alex’s face. “Don’t talk to her like that,” he snarls. “Admit it. You made as much of a mistake as she did. You’re being a hypocrite!”
Alex turns red. “Shut up, Gene,” he spits.
Then he takes a step forward and punches Gene, square in the jaw.
I gasp and reel back, almost stepping on Courtney’s foot. I’ve never seen Alex lose his cool before; he’s always been that calm leader whom we could all rely on. This must be really serious.
Gene counterattacks like a rattlesnake, his fist slamming into Alex’s face, once, twice, three times. Alex staggers back, clutching at his nose as blood spouts from it.
“Guys, guys, stop!” Courtney runs past me, waving her arms wildly. “You can’t fight, not right now!”
Gene drops his fist, which he’d been drawing back in preparation for another punch. His jaw is still clenched, and I can hear him gritting his teeth when he speaks.
“Well, why don’t you tell that to Alex here?” he growls, then spins around and stalks away, Sophia trailing after him.
Courtney and I stare after them as Alex tries to staunch the flow of blood from his nose.
“What just happened?” I ask him.
“Those idiots,” Alex gestures at Gene and Sophia, “just gave the key to that kid who claimed to know everything. We don’t even know whose side he’s on!” He shakes his head. “Hopeless cases. Anyways, it looks like we all have things to discuss, efforts to organize. I’m calling a meeting at five.” He walks off as well, leaving me and Courtney to give each other puzzled frowns.
“What was that all about?” Courtney asks me once Alex is out of earshot.
I shrug, sparing no words.
“Well, we better get going,” she says, “if we want to get anything done before we have to come back here for Alex’s meeting.”
“What do we need to do, anyways?” I ask.
Courtney gives me an exasperated look. “How slow are you? We need to find the weird kid, make him tell us the answers, obviously.”
However, before she can elaborate on exactly how she planned to track him down, I hear a high-pitched scream. A girl’s scream.
Moments later, Alex comes tearing across the road, shouting, “Nidhi! Nidhi!”
Courtney and I just look at each other, coming to a silent agreement. Then we run after him, in the direction of the scream.
Finally, we find Nidhi standing in an alley, frozen in fear, staring at something a few meters away from her.
Alex reaches her first. “Thank God! Are you okay?”
Her head bobs up and down, her eyes bigger than the moon.
“Woah there, Nidhi, what happened?” I say, alarmed.
Nidhi just points, unable to formulate words. I don’t need any more details; I can see exactly what she’s talking about.
The shadows at the end of the alley have solidified.
In the shape of a girl.


Chapter 10

*Leo Qi*
After Christy’s melodramatic introduction, Ruiran leads me back through the door and into the room I’d woken up in.
She stands in front of me now, looking at me, but not quite meeting my eyes. Her arms are folded almost protectively across her chest, as if she’s hugging herself.
The door vanishes, leaving the two of us alone.
I’m the first to break the silence. “Where’s Debbie?”
At the mention of Debbie’s name, Ruiran’s lip curls. What’s up with her?
“I don’t know. Christy’s not happy with her.”
“Oh,” is all I can manage.
Ruiran notices the crestfallen look on my face. “Who is she to you? Your girlfriend?”
I stare. “No, she’s not my girlfriend. But I care about her.”
“I can tell how much you two like each other,” she says with a scowl, then turns away, signaling an end to our conversation.
I can sense a note of something other than annoyance in her tone. Sadness? Anger? Jealousy?
Maybe she had a boyfriend once. If she did, I wonder what happened to him. Must’ve been something horrible to make her so bitter at the simplest mention of love.
Thinking of Debbie leads my mind elsewhere, to thoughts of home, of family. Bringing me to yet another mystery. Are my parents and brother safe? I’ve had no way of knowing, being stuck here in my new prison.
Better to focus on the problems I can solve. Although I’m dying to find out how my family is doing, I have to ask Ruiran about Debbie.
She turns at the sound of my voice and looks me in the eye for the first time. A strange emotion flickers across her face, but disappears too quickly for me to make sense of it. “Yeah?”
“Can you help me find Debbie?” I ask.
Her eyes harden. “Now, Leo, why would I help you?”
I shrink away from her. “Uh, because...” I can’t find a good reason. My voice peters out.
Something changes in her eyes. With a sigh, she nods and says, “I can try my best.”

*Ruiran Xun*
I trace my finger down the cracks in the stone walls. Every one of those cracks is another break in my life, a gap that won’t ever be fulfilled. One of them is Leo.
So far, almost everything he’s said has had something to do with Debbie. Debbie this, Debbie that, Debbie everything.
If I had made better choices in this horrid life of mine, if I had allied myself with Leo instead of with Christy, if I had chosen human compassion over mutant greed, if I’d met him before Christy, would he be thinking about me instead of Debbie?
His voice jolts me out of my thoughts. “Ruiran?”
I struggle to maintain my mask of calm as I lift my gaze to his face, but I’m aware of letting a bit of my feelings escape. After finally regaining control, I say, “Yeah?”
Leo’s face is full of anxiety. “Can you help me find Debbie?”
How slow is he? Hasn’t he realized that mentioning Debbie just makes everything worse for both of us? “Now, Leo, why would I help you?” I snap.
Ooh. That was harsh. Leo flinches and stutters, “Uh, because...” His voice trails off and he shuts his mouth, looking dejected.
I take a deep breath. Maybe this can be my chance to mend things, start making the right choices.
“I’ll try my best.”
I summon the doorway and it appears again, hovering in midair between me and Leo. I step forward, about to go in, when Leo stops me.
“Wait, Ruiran,” he calls out.
“What is it now?” I say with a scowl.
“How about my family? Do you know where they are?” he asks me.
I try to stall for time. “Oh, so now you finally care about your family?”
His winces. “Of course I care about them. They’re my family.”

His family.
_Oh, no._ If his family was among the list Christy gave me...
With increasing apprehension, I say, “Can you describe them?” I can’t remember all the people I’ve killed, I add on silently.
He describes his mother, father, and brother.
Dread threatens to overcome me as I recall the three of them. The tall, slim woman with graying hair who first saw me through the window, the burly man with bags under his eyes who shouted at his wife to run, and the small boy with spiky hair and pink cheeks who cried out in horror when I kicked down their door. His family.
“No, I’ve never seen them,” I lie without much conviction.
Leo senses my hesitation and narrows his eyes. “You’re lying. What happened to them?”
“Leo, I had to, I’m sorry. I didn’t know who they were. Christy ordered me to,” I beg him to understand.
“To do what?” he demands, the change in his eyes giving away the fact that he already knew what I’d done to them.
Guilt engulfs me.
“To kill them, Leo. I’m sorry.”

*Leo Qi*
Dead silence ensues.
She killed my family?
My mother, who sang Chinese lullabies when I was little, and cared for me for as long as I can remember?
My father, who let me sit on his shoulders when I was small enough, and worked night and day to bring food to the table?
My brother, who danced around the house, his laughter filling the empty halls when nobody else was there?
And none of them are left in this world, because of her?
She killed my family, and she’s telling me that she’s sorry.

“Is that why you’re helping me?” I snap after a long silence.
Ruiran trembles like a deer caught in headlights, my gaze burning into hers.
“No,” she whispers, “I just... I just wanted to fix things. I made bad choices. I didn’t know.”
I can’t even look at her anymore.
“Please, Leo, give me this chance,” she pleads.
“You killed my family. Do you have any idea what that means?”
“I know,” she says quietly, “and I’m sorry. I can’t fix this mistake, but I can help you with Debbie before something happens to her, too.”
I just stay silent. Can I accept help from the murderer of my family?
“I’m sorry,” she repeats.
Despite everything, a part of me feels sorry for her. I don’t know anything about her past; she might not even know what a family is. And she’s trying to make things better, trying to fix her mistakes. She just wants to help. Some criminals can repent; I’ve heard the stories.
Even then, I can’t forgive her, not ever. She killed my family.
But if I let her help me, I can save Debbie’s life.
Conflicted, I settle for something in between. “I accept your apology,” I say flatly.
Her face floods with relief. I turn my back on her, disgusted.
I accept your apology, but that doesn’t mean I forgive you.


Chapter 09

*Sophia Song*
If you ask me my honest opinions on Alex, I’d assert without any doubt or hesitation that he is an idiot. There’s no sugarcoating it. Sure, he’s a good leader, and sure, he can talk to a crowd, but when it comes to making the plans, he has no idea what he’s doing. Gene would be so much better of a leader than that buffoon, I’m sure of it. If Alex would give him the chance. But no, Alex just can’t choke down his pride. Is it because his mouth isn’t big enough? No. Trust me, his mouth is plenty big.
The way he smirked at Gene made me want to take his ego and shove it down his gullet. Maybe with a pill or two of potassium cyanide.
After the strange boy points out the Cosmo Prison to us all, Alex tells us all to disband. Another stupid move by our great leader.
The only person Alex ever listens to is Nidhi Yadav. As just demonstrated, as soon as Nidhi expressed agreement with Gene, Alex suddenly thinks it’s the greatest idea ever. That might’ve been fine by me if it weren’t for his decision to believe the strange boy with his implausible explanations. Besides, how did he know we could trust him? For all we know, that kid could be a werewolf in disguise.
Genius, I tell you. Genius.
“Alex for President, my boot,” I say sarcastically to Gene as we walk down the alleys, looking for shops to loot. “I’d feel better with Mickey Mouse.”
I’m about to escalate to a full-scale Sophia rant when something catches my eye. It’s a large, heavy key, an antique design, clunky and impragmatic. I kneel down on the concrete to examine it.
It’s slightly rusted and very old, its metal having lost its golden luster. However, I sense some kind of foreign energy emanating from it. Not daring to touch it, I call Gene over.
“Gene, come over here! I think I may have found the key that weirdo was talking about,” I inform him as he jogs over.
His eyes go wide with wonder as he stares at it, all anger at Alex forgotten. “You’re right, Sophia,” he says breathlessly, “I think we found it.”
Then, before I can warn him, he extends his hand and picks it up. I gasp and shriek, “Wait, Gene! It could be dangerous!” I’m too late. Gene takes the key -- and disappears.
I scramble to my feet and look around, yelling, “Gene! Where’d you go?”
To my surprise and relief, Gene’s voice responds right behind me. I turn to find him leaning against a wall, a feverish look on his face. “What do you mean? I’m right here,” he says weakly.
I stare at him. “What happened to you?”
He frowns. “That’s a good question. I picked it up to look at it, but my vision started to get really fuzzy and I felt really sick. I don’t know if it was just me, but it got really heavy and fluctuated between boiling hot and freezing cold temperature. I dropped it. It’s right over there.” He points at the enigmatic key, which is resting near his feet.
“Wait, but how come I didn’t see any of that happen?” I ask, puzzled. “I just saw you pick it up, then you disappeared and reappeared behind me. I didn’t see you walk over, or even stand up.”
“I don’t know.” Gene furrows his brow, the way he does whenever he’s confused. I find it kind of cute.
Back to the topic.
“We’ll figure that out later. Right now, we need to find a way to pick it up without getting hurt.” I say.
“I have an idea,” Gene says. He ducks into a shop nearby that sells clothes and returns with a baseball cap. “Here, scoop it up with the peak and let it fall into the hat.”
As I do as he says, I find myself marveling at his intelligence. I shake my head, clearing my thoughts. Focus, Sophia.
Holding the baseball cap containing the key, I contemplate what to do. Should I give it to Alex? No, he’ll just take the credit himself. So who else is there?
Only one more option. The stranger who appeared out of nowhere.
I don’t like the idea, but it seems to be the only choice we have. “We need to give this to the weirdo,” I tell Gene decisively.
At my command, Gene and I sprint down to the town square, where Alex had held the meeting earlier. I expected Alex and Weirdo to be there, and sure enough, they’re standing in one corner in a huddle, whispering cryptically.
I run up to them and clear my throat. “Hey,” I address Weirdo, “can you take a look at this? I think it might be the key you were talking about earlier.” I hold out the baseball cap.
Weirdo peers into it, looking at the key, and says, “Yeah, that’s the one.” He looks back at us, smiling, but not with satisfaction. A greedy look has taken over his eyes. Just a second -- then it vanishes, and his face returns to a mask of concern. “I see you’ve found out about its abilities.”
I nod in agreement. “The hard way.”
He gingerly plucks the key from the cap and examines it. His eyes have again taken on that strange lust and he lets out a soft whoop.
“Thanks, Sophia,” he says.
Wait, how’d he know my name?

I don’t have time to figure him out, though, because when I blink again, he’s gone. 
Like he’d never existed.


Chapter 08

*Leo Qi*
A cold sensation creeps down my back as the world shifts in and out of focus. My vision is dark at the edges, my skin cold against the stones of the floor.
Wait, what?
I sit up and look around. I’m in a cathedral-like place, all gray stones and blinding lights, no doors or windows.
How did I get here?
The last thing I remember is running to the school with Debbie, throwing open the door and plunging inside, only to realize that it hadn’t been Debbie. Instead, it was a tall, dark-skinned boy with short black hair and a wicked smile on his face. He’d raised his hands and pointed his palms at me. I’d felt an invisible sledgehammer hit me, and then... I can’t remember. I must’ve blacked out.
Debbie. My eyes go wide as I realize that she’s nowhere to be seen.
Oh, crap.

Without prelude, something appears right in front of me. I yelp and scramble back. It’s some sort of doorway, covered with a veil of rippling shadows, pulsating with a strange sinister power. However, I’m not given any time to further my theories. The doorway shimmers, and someone steps out.
I back up, pressing my back against the wall, trying to put as much distance between myself and the door as was possible, and for a good reason. The yield of the doorway is the boy from before, the boy who could summon that horrible force, the boy who knocked me out. I stare at him, my fear almost tangible, my heart beating so fast that I thought it might rip itself out of my rib cage.
Wordlessly, the boy grabs me by the arm and drags me over to the doorway. I’m still so stunned that I don’t even struggle.
He throws me through the veil and into the door. The dark interior swallows me whole and before I can say or do anything, I find myself rocketing forward, hurtling through the darkness at the speed of sound. Just when I think I’m about to throw up (which I don’t fancy doing while traveling this fast), I come to a grinding halt. Just in front of me, the darkness ripples -- if that makes any sense whatsoever -- and light appears. It’s almost magnetic, pulling me towards it against my will.
I pass through it and gasp as I find myself in an entirely different place. The darkness has disappeared but for a single patch -- I realize that it’s the doorway -- looming behind me. Instead, I’m in another church-like room with slabs of black rock for walls and a smooth, scarlet floor. The ceiling spirals upwards, so high that I have to squint to see where it ends.
I’m not alone this time. In addition to the boy who brought me here, there’s an Asian girl and another unknown individual dressed in a dark cloak.
The girl opens her mouth, a condescending smile on her face, but before any sound can come out, I beat her to it. “Where’s Debbie? And who are you people?”
The boy frowns in disapproval and starts to speak, probably about to chastise me, but the cloaked person cuts him off. “Why don’t we just tell him? It doesn’t matter anyways. Not anymore.”
Asian Girl shrugs and says, “Have it your way, then,” and beckons to me. Hesitantly, I step forth.
She tilts her head and looks me in the eye. Without moving her gaze from mine, she gestures to the boy. “This is Sid Akalwadi.” He nods, his eyes narrow and suspicious.
Then, she points to the cloaked figure. “Her name is Ruiran Xun.” Ruiran throws her hood back to reveal her face. She’s also Asian, but her eyes don’t hold the same ice as her mistress’. She nods at me once, then turns away quickly, refusing to meet my eyes.
I turn towards the first girl. “But who are you?” I demand.
Her eyes are normal at first, but they start to change. A chill travels up my spine and it takes all my self-control not to waver, not to sprint away as fast as I can. Her eyes contain a strange quality, an insane, manic rage. She’s mad. Utterly, completely off her rocker. I know it.

“My name is Christy Qian, and I am going to kill you.”