3. (Something Like Life)

Corgi is already outside waiting for me. I sometimes wonder where he goes when he’s not with me. He never really mentions his home or family, though I know he has them. He feels almost like a side character in my life, always waiting on the sidelines for somebody else to appear. Maybe I should ask him. I know he hasn’t been having an easy time recently.

“You linger like a bad smell,” is what I end up saying though.

“Yeah, and your attitude stinks, so that’s probably why we get along.”

I snort and give him the middle finger, which he returns like a patriotic salute. I start down the road and he trots behind me to catch up. Even at this time the streets are busy. The sky is black and a fine drizzle hangs in the air, but city life never slows. I notice that most of the beggars are gone though. I wonder where they go when crowds die down and the nights set in. 

I take the path that I’ve walked so many times that I could retrace it with my eyes closed. It’s a good job too, because coming back I’m usually so far gone that I might as well be blind. We don’t really talk as we walk. Most of our store of conversations had been drained during the morning. Thankfully though, it isn’t long before we are back in the shadow of the Wetherspoons.

Larry and Toto are already waiting for us inside. They’re sitting at the same table we had occupied hours earlier. The place is much busier now. Steak nights always draw in a good crowd. I slump into the chair beside Toto while Corgi goes to the bar to get us drinks. Again I vaguely wonder where he gets his money from, but know I’ll never bother to ask him. 

“You are looking well, all things considered,” Toto tells me. “I worry about you at times.”

“Life is just the interconnecting tissue between moments of misery. I accept that, so have no reason not to live it to the fullest. YOLO and all that bollocks, you know?” I answer with a smile that rivals Toto’s. “Alcohol is just the mortar to fill in the cracks in that confidence.”

“To be fair mate, that sounds like something an alcoholic would say,” Larry quips.

“An alcoholic probably wouldn’t have the coherency required to articulate philosophical theories regarding the ephemeral nature of existence,” I answer, my brain working in overdrive to pull out the most pretentious chain of words possible and speak them without fucking up. My brain fails me on most things, but any attempt to be a dick usually succeeds with flying colours.

“That’s proper good mate. It’s almost like you should be a poet or something.”

“Fuck you.”

It’s at this moment that Corgi returns, placing an orangish pitcher down in front of me.

“What the fuck’s this?”

“It’s a cocktail. Sex on the Beach. The bar lady recommended it.”

“Corgi, under no circumstances do I ever want to drink cocktails with you, let alone one named Sex on the Beach. Sex is the last thing I want to think about when I see your face. And why would you ever do it on a beach? Sand gets everywhere. That’s real uncomfortable. I can only imagine it’s like tossing off with sandpaper. Awful. So why have you put these thoughts in my head?”

“Because it’s fruity and filled with alcohol.”

I take a sip and it is indeed very sweet and filled with alcohol. I shrug and drink more. “Fair enough.”

Larry leans across the table and lowers his voice. “How’s Steph doing? I heard she’s been ill.”

“You’re as subtle as a sledgehammer to the balls. I want you to take any thoughts in your head involving my sister and thoroughly wash them away with bleach.”

“Hey, I’m only asking. It’s not like you care.”

“I care by association.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means that I don’t care what she or you do in your own lives, but I don’t ever want to imagine anything involving either of you, let alone together. I have enough nightmares as it is. I’m pretty sure that she finds you disgusting though, so thankfully I don’t really have to worry about it.”

“That’s harsh.”

“The truth hurts. What can I say? It’s only the flu, so don’t worry your little head about it, okay?”

“You just don’t like to see people being happy.”

“True enough. I wouldn’t surround myself with miserable bastards like you lot if I did. Except Toto. His outlook is as bright as your pasty skin.”

“And your thoughts are as dark as mine,” Toto adds merrily. “Yet somehow you gather people around you like a mother hen. Fate laughs at your attempts to push people away.”

“Yeah? Well fate can take a long walk off a short pier. Let’s not get the wrong idea here, I don’t hang around you for your optimism or company. You just make good food and are generous with your portion sizes. It’s purely a selfish, one way relationship.”

Toto just laughs and drains his drink. He isn’t wrong though. Somehow it’s me that holds this little group together. None of the others knew each other before me. I’m the common denominator. I guess that shows how desperate they all are if I’m the best option to spend time with.

“Tink say’s he’ll meet us at the house. He’s heading there with his brother,” Corgi says into the lull between banter. He has his phone in one hand and the cocktail pitcher in the other. “He expressly states that nobody is to cause trouble.”

“I wonder why he felt the need to specify that?” I say innocently. “At no point have I ever started a fight when Tink has invited us to these little gatherings.”

“You did draw a dick on that fancy painting when we were at his uncle’s BBQ. I’m pretty sure you spent most of his cousin’s wedding reception flirting with the bride.”

“Look, this is an invitation from little Po, and frankly, I’m not going to do anything to get on his bad side. I’ll be on my best behaviour. Scouts honour.”

“You were never in the scouts.”

“No. And from what I read in the news, they don’t have much honour, so it all works out in the end.”

Touché.”

Previous – 2.

Next – 4.

Chapter 1. (Thorns of the Shadow: The Taste of Lead and Lightning)

Heat rolled in shimmering waves across every surface. The sun hung proudly in a cloudless sky above. It was the kind of day that seemed to drag on and seep the energy from the world. 

On a suburban street, in a house like every other upon it, a young woman sat slouched across a sofa where she had been for the past few hours without moving. She was called Catherine Redthorn, but prefered to go by KT. Her black hair ended half way down her back and she had an athletic build that was currently clad in black jeans and a simple white vest. A few scars marked her arms but many more lay hidden in a chaotic pattern across her torso.

On the other end of the sofa was the sprawled out shape of her twin brother, Mordekai,  known better as Kai. He was taller and broader than his sister but shared her green eyes and love of dark clothing. He too bore scars, as did their mother and father, but nothing near to the level that punctuated KT’s skin.

To the best of the Redthorn family’s memories, they had been visiting the twin’s Aunt Susan up in Scotland when her guest lodge had suffered a gas leak which resulted in a terrible explosion. It had killed several of the guests, including Susan, and left the survivors with varying degrees of injuries.

Only, that was not what had happened. The truth was darker and near unbelievable. KT remembered it all too well. She remembered being attacked by a succubus, meeting the mysterious hunter Déaþscúa, and returning to find the lodge in flames, her mother crucified, and the other guests gone without a trace. She remembered herself and Kai fighting alongside Déaþscúa and meeting vampires, werewolves and witches. She remembered coming so close to ending the life of the infamous Black Annis when the Grand Moot, the magical equivalent to the government, arrived and stopped them. Déaþscúa had been arrested and KT, Kai, and the surviving lodge guests had had their memories altered.

Unfortunately for the Grand Moot though, nobody had informed them that KT was a Resistant, someone with a strong resistance to the effects of magic. Her real memories had returned after only a few hours. Not that anybody would have believed her if she had spoken out.

The television droned on about politics in the corner of the room. Nobody was really watching it but the remote had been left in the kitchen and nobody could muster the energy to go and get it. The sound passed KT by without notice until a single word snagged at her attention.

“That’s right, Clair. We are currently live here in Scotland where local businessman and entrepreneur, Roger Golman has announced his intention to stand in the Parliamentary elections. Golman had begun to make a name for himself in the international business world until a suspected terrorist attack on one of his compounds left him in hospital for much of this last year. Now he has returned to the public view and is already gaining considerable support.”

The screen was showing footage of a tall man in his late twenties with short black hair and an expensive suit addressing a crowd. His features were slightly on the pudgy side but he wore confidence like a second skin. His voice took over where the reporter’s had left.

“I have seen the best of humanity, and the worst. It is my dream te change the world and te help create a society that is not weighed down by crime, greed and corruption. This is but a first step on my mission to forge a better future for us all.”

KT couldn’t help but to snort at the words. Everything that the man said was bullshit. He was nothing more than an overambitious criminal. After a moment she amended this since all politicians were nothing more than overambitious criminals. Golman had sided with Black Annis for personal gain and had captured and abused the vampire, Ailia. The ‘terrorist attack’ in the report had been none other than KT and Kai breaking in to free Ailia. His hospitalisation had been Ailia’s parting gift to him. KT still shivered to remember that moment.

“I didn’t realise that you were so invested in politics that you could look so disgusted when one speaks,” her father said with a smile. Bob Redthorn was an easy going man who was quick to smile and slow to anger. He had dark hair, wore glasses and had a slender build.

“Bah! They’re all the same,” interjected Kai. “Politics, made up of the word ‘poly’ meaning multiple and the word ‘tics’ meaning blood-sucking parasites. Still, there’s something about that guy’s face that just pisses me off. He’s a businessman so you know he’d slit his own granny’s throat for a quick fiver.”

“Disgusting,” their father agreed. “You can’t buy anything with a fiver anymore. I’d struggle getting a Freddo and a bottle of Coke in this economy. Greedy green bastard. If you raised it up to a tenner we might have a deal though.”

It was nice to see him return to his usual self again. After the events of the new year that lead to his sister’s death, Bob had sunk into a darkness that KT had never seen before. The physical recovery had been hard for all of them, but the mental healing had taken much longer. Luckily the arrival of summer had done wonders for everybody’s mood.

“Stop casualising moral corruption. Kai doesn’t need the encouragement,” added their mother, Tara. Unlike Bob, she was a strong, stern woman with little time for nonsense. She had blonde hair and always wore smart clothes. Unlike the other members of the Redthorn family though, her injuries still affected her day to day life, leaving her weaker than she would have liked. The holes in her palms where she had been nailed to a cross rendered her hands near useless and her new reliance on others hurt her far more than any of the wounds to her flesh had managed. 

“Your words cut me deep,” Kai said with mock hurt. “I’ll have you know that I am a pillar of this community and a paragon of virtue.”

Tara raised her eyebrow. “Oh. You mean how you help all those poor young women with their studies? It is all for the good of their education and not for anything more selfish.”

“Those are some bold allegations there. If my irresistible charm clouds their concentration then I cannot be held responsible for that.”

KT couldn’t help but smile at the friendly banter. It felt good to hear everyone happy and carefree. The problem was that she felt like she was in a bubble that separated her from her family and friends now. Her memories prevented her from relaxing. While she sought the peace and happiness of normality, a greater determination pulled at her. How could she go back to regular life after killing men and monsters, meeting immortals and fighting at the centre of bloody battles that nobody else even knew had happened?

‘Such connections are worthless. Do not concern yourself with fitting in but with rising above your surroundings.’

The internal voice cut through her own thoughts roughly. She smothered it out with a practiced ease. The voice belonged to Ghodot, the former king of the fairies. He had tried to possess KT’s body in exchange for passage through a faegate but KT’s resistance to magic had meant that he had been the one to fade instead. Now he was little more than an annoying voice in her head. The intrusion upon her thoughts was frustrating enough but the fact that he could see and feel everything that she could, as well as being privy to her own thoughts, made him insufferable.

The trouble was that everything had begun and ended so suddenly that she could almost mistake it all for a vivid dream. Only her scars and memories told her different. She had not wanted it to end. She had had no choice in the matter though. No matter how hard she tried, she could not shake the feeling that she belonged in that world more than her own. 

Kai and her parents were still bickering good-naturedly so she decided to get up and try to clear her head. She wandered upstairs into her room and just stood staring at the space that had once been the core of her life. It seemed so hollow now.

Her shelves filled with fantasy books no longer held an escape from reality but as a reminder of what she had left behind. The same applied to her DVD and video game collection too. Only music helped her to lose herself now. 

She wandered into the bathroom, connecting her phone to the speakers on the shelf, then scrolled through the vast library of music without anything particular in mind. Tapping the screen at random, a heavy drumbeat echoed through the small room.

Showering had become much more difficult with the fairy making lecherous comments in her head, but she had grown accustomed to washing with her eyes closed. Efficiency was the aim of the game. Almost everything in her life followed that principle now.

‘When will you accept that I am a part of you, girl? We are one. Why hide from me?’

‘I’ll accept it when I can finally block you out of my mind.’

‘Ah, so cold. But we work so well together. The unmolded clay of your body combined with my unparalleled intellect. Just let me take over and all of your problems will fade away like mist.’

‘The last time you spoke of things fading away it didn’t quite go to plan, did it?’

Ghodot became silent. For all his talk of grandeur and power he tended to pout like a child. Enjoying the brief respite from his incessant comments, KT washed then dressed herself in jogging trousers and a t-shirt. She already felt sticky again from the humid air.

“Since when did England get this kind of heat? A bit of rain would be wonderful.”

‘The air feels… constrained. Something is building.’

‘Climate change?’

‘Magic.’

Ghodot would say no more. Months of knowing him had taught KT that he was only reserved when he didn’t have the answers, even if he didn’t like to admit it. Magic was building and the king of fairies didn’t know why. Or wasn’t certain at the least. It scared him.

She headed downstairs and back through the living room. Nobody else had moved since she had gone. 

“I’m heading out for a bit. Need anything picking up while I’m out?”

“A winning lottery ticket would be nice,” her father muttered wistfully.

“Milk and bread would be more practical,” her mother added. “Just don’t push yourself too hard.”

“Stop worrying, Mum. Most of my injuries were superficial. I feel fine.” Superficial might have been an understatement. Really, KT should have been dead after being impaled multiple times. Those were small details though that her mother didn’t need to worry about.

Tara sighed. “Why am I cursed with such a stubborn family?”

KT didn’t bother answering, instead just waving cheerfully and making her way to the door. She stepped out into the street and immediately felt the full force of the sun on her skin. Kai appeared at her side, cursing the heat. The thought of dressing in lighter colours had never crossed his mind.

“You planning to join me for a jog?” she asked him playfully. “That’s not like you.”

“I’ll pass. You can run through this humidity and come back looking and smelling like a drowned rat. I have other places to be. Better places. I just wanted to… well, I wanted to ask you something.”

KT slowed her walking slightly. It was almost as though Kai was being shy. A devilish smile tugged at her lips.

“Now then, little brother, what could you possibly be so sheepish about?”

“Shut up!” he snapped. He wrapped himself in what bravado he could muster. “We are the same age and I don’t care what you say to the contrary. I was just being a gentleman and let you out first. Ladies first and all that bollocks.” He fidgeted with one of his rings for a moment before continuing. “What I wanted to ask was, I, err… I’m kinda seeing someone and I, well, I wanted to introduce you to her sometime.”

KT burst out laughing. “Since when did you introduce anyone to the family.”

“Haha, laugh it up. This is different to usual. I met her at the hospital and we just talked for a few months. Maybe my near-death experience changed the way I see the world but I just kinda wanted to get to know her, you know? Do you think something is wrong with me?”

“It’s called being an empathetic adult.

“Implying that sluts are unempathetic and immature is stereotyping and is harmful for society.”
“I’m making no judgement on the poor souls you’ve led astray.”

“Ha! Assuming any reference to sluts is referring to women is sexist!”

“So you are calling yourself a slut?”

“I’m calling myself a coitus connoisseur.”

“That phrase makes me deeply uncomfortable. Please never repeat it.”

“Yeah, that was pretty bad. So, do you agree to meet her?  I just want your approval to make sure I’ve not gone crazy, okay. This means a lot to me.”

“You know I hate awkward social encounters, but if it’s important to you then of course I will. Is that where you’re going now?”

Kai nodded. “There’s a market on in town. Handcrafted junk and lots of food stalls. We’re going to head there for a while then grab some drinks.  You can join us at the Silver Spoon after you’ve tortured yourself.”

“Fine. I’ll go for my jog then get ready. Hmm. What do you even wear for meeting potential sister-in-laws?”

“Whoa there! Let’s not get carried away with allusions to the ‘M’ word. It’s just casual drinks, okay. Be yourself and the two of you will get along great. I mean, she does like me, and you’re just a watered down, slightly less charming version of that.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, kiddo. Your personality only seems stronger because it’s been left to rot. Think of it like a smell. Stronger isn’t better.”

“You know which cheeses cost the most? The foul smelling ones that are absolutely crusted with mold. That’s me.”

“Whatever you say, cheese boy. Don’t leave this girl waiting now. Go on. I’ll speak to you later.”

Kai grinned and turned, heading back towards the house. Shaking her head as she chuckled, KT picked up her pace and started her jog. 

It was strange just how seamlessly life had picked up after been completely shattered. Nobody remembered those events but they had left such an impact on each of their lives, mostly for the better. Their mother had needed to open herself up to cope with her injuries and now had a better bond with everyone because of it, while Kai had met someone that he finally connected with while at the hospital, a hospital they were only in because of the injuries they had all received in Scotland. 

And then there was KT, as disjointed as ever. Possibly moreso. So she trained and trained, pushing herself to her limits in the hope that her life didn’t return to the mundane grind of reality. She hadn’t liked that back when it was all she had known. Now it profoundly unsettled her.

Her feet pounded down the all too familiar pavement. The air was so heavy that she was already struggling to breathe. She lifted her headphones over her ears and pawed at her phone’s screen until sudden music blasted into her ears. She swore then quickly turned it down before increasing her pace. 

Minutes dragged by until her sanctuary of sound was interrupted by a commotion ahead of her. Her eyes drifted over to a street corner a short distance away. Three men stood facing down a fearful looking girl a few years younger than KT. They laughed and jeered at her obvious discomfort, one of them holding her arms so she couldn’t escape. KT slowed in front of them, stopping at the girl’s side. She bend down, resting her hands on her knees as she took heavy breaths.

“Whats up, luv? We take your breath away?” one asked her with a smirk.

KT held up a finger for him to wait a moment. She’d only been jogging for a short time but was already completely drenched. She straightened herself then steadied her breathing.

“Afraid not. It’s this thing called exercise. You should try it sometime. It might help you bulk up those twiggs you call arms.”

The young man’s friends laughed. The man muttered something under his breath then let go of the girl, turning his full attention to KT.

“What’s it to you anyway?”

“Your friend here doesn’t look like she wants your company. Figured I’d have a look since you already threw off my concentration.”

“We’re just having fun, right. We aren’t goin’ to hurt her or anything. Bloody ‘ell, you can’t even talk to girls anymore without being the bad guy.”

KT sighed. “I don’t think you could comprehend what it means to be the bad guy. Being bad and being a bit of a dick aren’t mutually inclusive you know.”

“You what?”

“I think she called you a dick.”

KT ignored the men and turned to the girl. “You okay?”

The girl nodded. KT placed a hand on her shoulder and prompted her to start walking. She called over her shoulder to the men as she left. “See you around. Maybe work on those people skills in the meantime, okay?”

“Thanks for helping,” the younger girl said when they were out of sight of the men. “They regularly do that. They think they’re just playing around but it’s scary, you know?”

“No worries. Glad to help. They seemed alright, if a bit obnoxious. Most people like that just need a firm word.” She offered the girl a reassuring smile. “And if that fails you just gotta kick their ass.”

“I don’t think that’s very realistic,” the girl pointed out. 

“Yeah, maybe not,” KT reflected. “The world’s a scary place filled with things stronger than us.” Her thoughts found themselves drawn back to the tunnels beneath Glasgow, to the fear she had felt while hunted by the cannibal, Christie. No amount of ‘can do’ attitude would have worked there. It didn’t even take a supernatural being like that to be dominating for the average woman. She suddenly didn’t know what to say to the girl. 

“Err, just remember to punch their nose with the base of your palm in an upwards strike. Sends the cartilage straight into their brain.”

This information only seemed to make the girl unsettled. She quickly gave her thanks once again then took off down a side street.

“Dammit,” KT muttered. Her mood only soured further when she realised that she would have to hold up a polite conversation with a stranger as soon as she got back. What the Hell did normal people even talk about? It had been hard to interact with people before, but now it seemed impossible.

She set off at a full sprint to drown her negativity beneath a wave of exhaustion. It didn’t work. Gasping for air, she slowed to a walk again, her mood sinking further. Back then, after seeing what Christie had done, she had felt a great drive to protect others who were vulnerable. As that adrenaline had faded though, the reality of the world had set in. She wasn’t some kind of superhero. She couldn’t solve the world’s problems with her fists. But then she could inspire people either. Where did that leave her?

Her hands fumbled with the door handle and she nearly collapsed over the threshold. She took a step forward then fell onto the carpet. Her mother poked her head around the corner to investigate the noise. 

“You have a fun run?”

KT raised a feeble thumbs up and made some vague sounds that could be interpreted loosely as words.

“You’re pushing yourself too hard you know? Why the sudden need to get fit?”

Why? KT mulled the word over. She dragged herself into a sitting position with her back leant against the wall. 

“I guess that… the future scares me. I don’t know what the Hell I’m doing with my life, but getting stronger is the one thing I can control. I can’t walk into my dream career and tell them to hire me. I can’t just go out there and know what to say to people. I can run though, and I can lift. I can get stronger, and then maybe that strength will come in handy.”

Her mother didn’t say anything, instead awkwardly sliding down the wall to sit beside her. It was a sentimental gesture she never would have engaged in previously.

“I don’t envy you kids. Ha, kids, just the word is belittling. We were adults at your age. Everything was simpler. Your generation are the driftwood in the tidal twilight of the times.”

“That was very poetic, coming from you.”

“You’d probably not believe that I used to write poetry as a girl. That’s what I wanted to do back in school. But then there was a pressure on girls to step up and cast down the shackles of femininity in order to work respectable jobs for good money. So I turned my imagination towards business and never looked back.”

“Huh, I never knew that.”

“I don’t really speak about it. What I’m trying to say is, the world is changing faster than at any other point in history. It’s okay to be scared. It terrifies me to see you and Kai feeling so lost because I know there’s nothing I can do to help you. I can’t imagine living through it first hand. Just… go easy on yourself and know that me and your dad are here for you. It isn’t your fault that the world hasn’t left you a seat.”

KT felt tears sting her eyes. “Thanks, Mum,” she sniffed, turning to embrace the older woman. Her mum held her back.

“Maybe grab another shower before the hugs, okay.”

KT glanced down at her dripping clothes and dank hair. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” She stood up, noticing a wet blotch on the wall where she had been leant. Then to drive home the fact, she remembered she had to meet up with Kai.

An hour later she stepped back out of the house in a simple pair of jeans and a long-sleeved white t-shirt with a cat on it. Even this heat couldn’t encourage her to wear a skirt or dress. She sent Kai a quick text as she walked and he responded straight away. They were at the pub awaiting her. There was no backing out now.

The Silver Spoon was a chain pub that had a reputation for being cheap and little else. It was hardly the most romantic of places but it did have a strange charm about it. KT entered the pub and spotted Kai at a table in the far corner. She crossed the distance, her attention on the chestnut haired figure that sat opposite him. 

On seeing her approaching, Kai got to his feet quickly. He looked genuinely nervous. Seeing him like this brought a smile to her face, his sudden shyness helping to dispel her bad mood. 

“Hey KT. Thanks for coming. Did that sound too formal? Definitely too formal. Sup, Sis. Nope, that just sounds stupid. Okay, starting over. So, you are here, which is a thing. A good thing. Another good thing, and by thing I mean person, is Cayla. Cayla, this is my sister, KT. KT this is my, wait, what are we? Girlfriend? Partner? Or do the kids call it SO these days? Oh god, I said ‘the kids’ and ‘these days’ This is it! Old age is setting in. I’m not cool anymore. Please tell me ‘cool’ is still a thing!”

The chestnut haired woman, Cayla, stood up and rested her hands on Kai’s shoulders until he stopped floundering. She was tall for a girl, just inching out KT’s height, but had a slighter build. A light smattering of freckles was dashed across the bridge of her nose. She wore a long chequered skirt and a band shirt. She smiled and offered her hand to KT.

“I’m Cayla. Pleased to meet you. Kai has told me so much about you.”

KT took her hand. She couldn’t imagine what Kai would be saying about her but she ignored the lurching feeling of dread. “Yeah, it’s nice to meet you.” That seed of apprehension in her stomach flared again as no other words presented themselves in her head. Thankfully Cayla took the reins. 

They all sat down around the table, Kai and Cayla at one side with KT at the other, while Cayla chatted pleasantly about meeting Kai. A huge blush covered his face for the entire story. Both women found enjoyment in his discomfort. It was weird to hear a nice story about Kai. If KT didn’t know better she would have thought Cayla was speaking of someone completely different.

Drinks were ordered and small talk about music eased the group dynamic. KT found the other woman to be easy to talk with and they shared similar tastes in most things. Kai had been right about that. She was happy to let Cayla carry the conversations too, and the woman seemed happy to do so. 

“So, Kai never told me what it is you do. Are you an athlete?” Cayla asked once music had been thoroughly been discussed.

KT couldn’t suppress a surprised laugh. “An athlete? No. I’m a part time receptionist. Making the world a better place one generic email at a time.”

“Really. You look so strong. Don’t you play any sports?”

“I used to. Now I just like to workout alone.” A wave of self consciousness washed over KT. She hadn’t really considered that she would look any different. Looking across the table she suddenly felt like she was in an interview. 

Kai noticed the brief look on her face and steered the conversation away from KT’s life. As the drinks came and went, the atmosphere was light-hearted, and even KT started to enjoy herself. Kai got over his nerves and became his usual abrasively charming self. Seeing him being himself again, KT watched the interaction between him and Cayla. She always had a witty response to his quips and made him laugh in a way that she hadn’t seen before. It was nice.

Eventually, many drinks later, the evening had gone so well that Kai made a resolution. 

“You know what?”

“What?” KT asked as she went to take a sip of her drink, spilling it over the table.

“Today went really well. Cayla, congratulations, you’ve passed the trial period with flying colours.”

“I’m honoured,” she answered dryly. “I guess you scrape a passing grade yourself.”

“Well, maybe it’s the alcohol talking, but I really like you. KT likes you too.”

KT made a thumbs up gesture without looking. She was currently occupied with being face down on the table in the pool of spilled drink. The excessive exercise, alcohol, and lack of food was starting to hit her hard.

“So I think it’s time,” Kai continued. He took a deep breath. “Time to introduce you to the family!”

This perked up KT. She sat up and stared intensely at her twin’s features. “Are you serious?”

“Super serious,” he slurred. “In fact, let’s go now! I’mma walk right up to Tara and be like ‘Yo Mum, this is my commitment because you always said I could never handle a girlfriend. Yeah!”

He stood up with a fiery determination in his eyes, swayed, then toppled to the floor. 

KT stumbled over to him and prodded him with her foot. “Hey, you can’t back out now. Passing out isn’t gonna get you out of this.”

“I have made a mistake.”

“You’ve made hundreds. This probably isn’t one though. Cayla, grab his other arm for me. Is this something you want?”

A brief look of deer in the headlights flitted across her face. When she looked down at Kai it resolved itself into a soft smile. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

“Good. Now help me carry him. Don’t let go once you have him or he’ll make a run for it.”

Kai blinked drunkenly. “No. This is the right thing to do. Because I… what’s that ‘L’ word? Oh yeah. Like. Because I strongly like you.”

Cayla waved her middle finger across his vision, causing him to cackle maniacally. The two women hoisted him to his feet between them and started the short journey to the Redthorn house.

Next – Chapter 2.

Chapter 3. (A Crown of Blood and Ash)

Despite his early night, Mal woke up late the next morning. He wasn’t used to having uninterrupted sleep. The main house was basically empty. No doubt that most of the children were already out scavenging or in lessons with Doctor Ritner. Mal quickly left and headed down the street toward the bulky structure known as the Works.

The building was ugly even by Sherham standards. It was the largest post war building in the city and it was clear that the slapdash construction of the Knighted Kingdom wasn’t suitable for something of that scale. Doctor Ritner had told them that it was built to imitate prewar office blocks. It served as a single building filled with hundreds of individual businesses. Doctor Ritner’s clinic was one such business.

Mal entered the building, receiving a scowl from the sullen guard that stood by the door. The children were considered as half a step up from vermin. If not for the doctors lessons, none of them would likely have been allowed inside. It wasn’t like they had money to spend and they did have a reputation for thievery. 

The ground floor of the Works was a semi-open space filled with stalls and traders pushing their wares. Dozens of smells intermingled in the air and there was a constant chatter of voices. Mal ignored them and headed straight for the stairs. Doctor Ritner’s clinic was on the second of three floors.

This floor was the opposite of the last. Mal stepped out into a narrow corridor flanked on both sides by dozens of doors. Each had a sign proclaiming some service or another. Over a hundred small offices were crammed together here. The doctor’s room was bundled away in the far corner.

Mal quietly opened the door and slipped in. A small window lit a room that was filled to the brim with objects. Shelves and cupboards lined the walls while the doctor’s cluttered desk took up the space beneath the window. Three pews dominated the rest of the space, each one tightly packed with fidgeting children. He spotted Kass and Lila at the back. They pushed and shuffled until there was just enough space for Mal to wiggle in.

Doctor Ritner stood in front of a chalkboard that was hung on one of the cupboards. He was a lean, middle aged man with milky eyes and a shaved head. His clothes were simple but neat. A pair of silver glasses sat across the bridge of his narrow nose.

“Ah, Mallan, good of you to join us. I’d complain at your tardiness, but I have been trying to get you to have a full night’s sleep. Luckily you haven’t missed much. We’re just going over eves, at Miss Lila’s request.

“To recap, eves are mutations of our DNA after the war. High levels of radiation and a whole cocktail of dangerous chemicals covered the surface of the Earth. These caused our DNA to become unstable. Over a few generations these mutations began to have a profound effect on our species. Can anyone remember why we called these mutations eves?”

Lila raised her hand. “It started as a shorthand for evolution.”

“Correct. Psychology and lexicography go hand in hand. Mutations sound bad, whereas evolution sounds good. They both essentially mean the same thing, although evolution is usually associated with a positive change. Do you know the other reason?”

Lila shook her head. Nobody else made any effort to answer. 

“What few pre-war records we have access to tell us that there was a mighty god that created humanity. Eve was the name of the first woman, the mother of all humanity. She was the dawn of life, but also the originator of sin. Just as our eves can be used to further our survival, so too can they be used for evil. Hmm, sadly, there are few other details of or progenitor. The records suggest that we evolved from apes, so historians are unsure if Eve was an ape that birthed humans, or if she and Adam, the first man, were created as the first Apes. There is so much knowledge that we lost to the war.”

Kass was looking uncharacteristically interested in the lesson. He raised his hand.

“But how do they work? There are so many kinds of eves, most of which don’t make sense biologically. Super strength or night-vision make sense as evolutionary traits in humans but my connection with the earth hasn’t evolved from an existing human trait.”

 “Nobody is sure. Maybe we had the technology before the war to look deep into our own DNA, but again, most of this has been lost. The prevailing theory is of Snap Survival Evolution. Each person’s eve is a genetic ball of evolutionary energy. Where normal evolution increases species survivability over generations, our eves release a stored pool of genetic material into our bodies to help with immediate survival.”

“That makes sense,” Kass muttered to himself. “So because I was trapped under rubble as a child, that energy evolved into the ability to manipulate stone?”

“Basically.”

Mal considered this. “Is that the only way to unlock an eve then?”

“No, my boy,” Doctor Ritner answered quickly. It was clear from his face that he hadn’t thought through telling a group of children that coming close to death could give them power. “Most don’t happen that way. At least not directly. “My eve for example allows me to see the electric currents and pressure points that run through the human body. It makes me an excellent doctor but isn’t much good in a life or death situation.

“These days, most eves are more stable. They will often develop along similar paths to that of the child’s parents. Others unlock gradually over extended repetition of a task.”

The lesson continued with a discussion of famous eves and their applications. Mal always enjoyed Doctor Ritner’s lessons, and this topic was one close to his heart, but today he was filled with nervous energy as he waited to speak with his friends. When the lesson ended he pulled the two aside.

“I’m in,” he told them. “We’re family. That means that your dreams are mine. So I’m going to do everything I can to get you there.”

Kass didn’t look as happy as Mal had expected. The older boy looked strangely sad. “That isn’t something of your own though. You-”

Lila cut him off. “It’s a good start. Helping others is a noble dream, and maybe he’ll find something more personal along the way.” She turned to Mal. “Glad to have you aboard.”

Mal smiled at her, but he was feeling nervous.

“I do have some conditions though.” Mal was never the one to set rules or tell Lila or Kass what to do. If he wanted to keep them safe though it would have to be something he learned to do. “We’re talking about doing really dangerous things. Every step forward we take could kill us if we go wrong. That means we get one shot at everything. If our dreams are life or death then we need to be prepared.”

Kass nodded. “What have you got in mind?”

“Nothing extreme. Just that we have a carefully thought out plan, a backup plan for if things go bad, and for each of us to be at a set physical standard. That means we need to be able to run fast, run far, climb, and fight.”

“We’re already fit,” Lila said with a slight edge to her voice. “And we might not be as strong as a full grown man but together we can take one down.”

“Mal’s right. Sure, we can take one man down if we’re together but what if we get seperated, or if we have to face more than one man. Things could go bad real fast.”

Lila bit her lip and scrunched her face up. “You boys always underestimate what we are capable of. But waiting an extra week or so won’t hurt us. I accept your proposal. If we’re going to do something then we might as well do it right.”

The three headed back home and set to work planning immediately. The attic had become the children’s planning room. Not just for Mal, Lila and Kass, but for all of the orphans. There was a constant flow of food heists and robberies to plan, schedules to learn and escape routes to arrange. A crudely drawn map of the city covered one of the walls. 

Kass stood beside the wall, grabbing a stick to point at the different building, imitating the way Doctor Ritner taught. 

“The plan’s simple. We need weapons to train so we go steal some. If we can get more than we need then we can sell them on and make a nice little profit on the side. We’ll be taking the weapons from the pogs.”

“That’s kinda risky, don’t you think?” Mal asked. “The pogards are hardly going to turn a blind eye to us taking their stuff.”

“That’s the beauty of it though. They are the easiest group to work around. Every time there’s a big match at the stadium they spread themselves thin everywhere else. If they’re all out guarding the rest of the city then they aren’t exactly going to have a lot of people sat around guarding their station. It’s like you say, nobody would be stupid enough to break into the pogs home base, so they wouldn’t be expecting it.”

Lila gave Mal a cocky grin. “Your concern was already in hand. We need a busy day to make our move, and no day is going to be busier than the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war. That happens to be in two weeks, giving us plenty of time to prepare.”

Mal should have known that they wouldn’t have jumped into something this serious without giving it plenty of thought. “Everyone knows the pogs’ armoury is locked. How are we getting in?”

Lila gave a sour expression. Kass kept his composure better, even going so far as to give Mal an easygoing shrug. 

“That’s the less easy bit. We need to borrow the key from the Keeper. That means we have to break into his house, steal the key, get a copy made, then return it before he knows it’s gone.”

“As simple as that?” Mal asked sarcastically.

“Don’t worry about it. We just have to find out who the Keeper is, follow him home, scope out the place, then sneak in and grab the key.”

Mal could see that this was already getting out of hand. With Lila and Kass looking at him with excited eyes, looking for his approval, he was finding it hard to keep his resolve. 

“Fine. We find out about this keeper then see what happens from there. Any time I feel like it’s a step too far though and I call everything off.”

“Deal,” Kass nodded.

Lila grinned broadly, brimming with energy. “Yes! We’re finally going to do it! We’re going to become Reclaimers! Thank you, Mal!” She calmed herself and quickly donned her royal airs again. “Let’s not celebrate yet. It’s time for us to pay the pog station a little visit.


Previous – Chapter 2.

Next – Chapter 4.

Chapter 2. (A Crown of Blood and Ash)

Mallan sat in his usual corner in the cluttered building known as The Club. It was a rundown building without a use that the city orphans had claimed as their own. There was a large gathering of children there to listen to Lila’s exaggerated tale of their daring break-in to the stadium. Mal was content to let her claim the centre of attention.

“It sounds like you didn’t really do anything, Princess,” shouted one of the older boys. Gant Draylor had been the de facto leader of the orphans but had lost a lot of support to Lila since her arrival two years ago. “Kass did all the work. Even Mal thought to bring a lantern. You just bossed them around.”

Lila stuck her tongue out at him. “It’s called leadership. Maybe if you practiced it you’d still be in charge.”

That struck a chord with him. His face flushed red with anger. “You think you’re so much better than everyone else, don’t you?”

“No. I don’t think anything. I know. It’s called divine providence.”

Gant spat. “There you go again with that royalty rubbish. You’re just another unwanted nobody like the rest of us. I think you’re just all talk. That you don’t even have an eve. All you do is lie.”

Lila stood up a little straighter and surveyed the room as though it was her kingdom. “I am Lilarith Elsan Keydrag Rilarendir, Star of the North, Royal Bearer of the Sacred Blood, and first in line to the Knighted Kingdom’s throne. One day you shall bow to me and weep.”

“Even if that was true, which it isn’t, the Knighted Kingdom doesn’t even exist anymore. The king was overthrown and the family killed. They say it was an absolute bloodbath. Say you were a princess and you somehow survived the slaughter. What exactly are you inheriting, your highness?”

“As long as I’m alive so is the Knighted Kingdom. You’ll see. I’m going to become the greatest Reclaimer the world has ever known. Then I’ll use that money and power to rebuild everything that my family worked hard to create!”

“You’re delusional. Everyone knows you have to see Doc Ritner every week ‘cos you’re a headcase. Nobody’s brave enough to say it to your face but people know you as Loopy Lila.”

Lila snarled at the older boy then marched out of the room without a word. Mal stood up to follow her but Gant stopped him.

“Why do you trail after her like a lost puppy? You don’t honestly believe all of that guff do you?”

“She’s my friend. No, my family. That’s why,” Mal replied curtly before pushing past him.

Mal didn’t know his family. All of his memories before meeting Kass were an indistinct blur. Lila had come into their lives when all three happened to break into the same building on the same night. The girl had a contagious intensity, but more than that she had aspirations for the future, something that Mal had never even considered in this bleak world. She was the youngest of them but had a gravity about her that sucked everyone else in.

He found her in the attic staring out of the cracked window. She didn’t look upset, but then Mal couldn’t recall ever seeing her be sad. She turned to look at him. There was that same intense fire burning in her eyes.

“Actions always speak louder than words,” she said softly. “Rulers are judged on what they do, not what they promise. That’s how you’ve got to live your life.”

“What are you thinking?”

“They don’t believe me so I need to prove them wrong. I can’t do anything about the status of my royalty but we can make a move to become Reclaimers.”

Mal frowned at her. “How? That was always a plan for when we were older.”

“Yeah, well waiting to get older is getting us nowhere. We can’t even use our time preparing because we don’t have the equipment. That’s why we’re going to steal some!”

“You want the three of us to steal weapons?”

“It’ll be easy.”

“Lila, we’re children. I don’t even have an eve yet. We can only rely on Kass so much.” Mal decided not to bring up the questionable existence of Lila’s eve. 

“We’re only as weak as we allow ourselves to be. That’s another thing my father used to tell me. And anyway, I believe in all of us, not just Kass. Once we have real weapons we can start real training. Only then can we start pushing towards our dream!” Lila paused for a moment and looked straight into Mal’s soul. “What is your dream, Mal?”

The question took him aback. He’d never really thought about the future. “I don’t know. I’m happy now, I guess, so I’d just like to keep things the way they are.”

“They won’t,” Lila said bluntly. “The world is going to kick you until you want to give up. You need a dream so you have a reason to keep standing back up.”

“Sure, but I don’t want to see you or Kass get hurt. To risk everything is crazy.”

Mal instantly regretted his choice of words. Lila’s fists clenched and hurt anger clouded her face.

“Never call me crazy,” she spat, each word coming out with the violence of a bullet. She threw open the window and jumped out. 

Mal knew there was a ledge just below the window, but the first time she had done that had terrified him. He sighed and dejectedly began to wander through the building. There was no point chasing her when she was in that kind of mood. Kass might have been able to calm her, but then he had a way with words that Mal didn’t. Up until meeting Kass, he had barely spoken at all. 

His life had been miserable before Kass and Lila came into it, and while they might joke that he had no fear, the thought of going back to a life without them plagued his dreams. He wanted to help Lila achieve her dream but knew that he didn’t have the strength necessary.

“You seem down. Thinking too hard again?”

Mal shook himself from his thoughts to see Kass standing in a doorway. He had two wooden swords in his hands. He passed one to Mal without comment. 

“I heard Lila left again.”

“Yeah. Gant upset her. I went to talk with her and just upset her more. I don’t know that I’ll ever get the hang of being around people.”

Kass clapped him on the back. “Baby steps, Mal. You talk to me okay. If you can do it to one person then you can do it with more. I’d say you’re there with Lila too, however she might act. She respects your opinion because you’re more rational than she is. She might not like it, but she does listen. In a few years she might even be able to hide her emotions a little better and you’ll see just how much she listens.”

They walked down into the basement as they spoke. It was a large space with stone walls and an unyielding chill. Other than for storing any excess food, none of the other orphans came down there often. Lilas had wanted to turn it into a training room, so it had been. 

The two boys stood facing each other, the wooden swords held at the ready. Kass nodded, then the blades clashed. They moved through their self-taught forms, the swords clacking rhythmically as they circled one another. 

“Let me guess,” Kass said between sword strokes. “Lila wants to move forward with the robbery?”

“You know about it?”

“I told her about the place.”

“So you want to go too?”

“It isn’t about wants. It’s about opportunities. I’m not going to say yes or no. We all know what we want to do, and we know how we need to do it. The question then becomes: When? Do we just wake up one day and know its time? Are we working towards a certain skill or ability that we have to have before we try? When would you say to do it?”

“I don’t know. Just not now. We’re kids. We can’t fight against adults. They’re naturally stronger than us. I don’t have an eve either so I’m putting us at an automatic disadvantage. Then Lila…”

“Don’t worry about Lila. What she can and can’t do isn’t our concern. She would try anything out of her depth if it could end up getting us hurt. That means she has to be confident in her skills. As for you, don’t worry about it. Eves aren’t the be all and end all. You’d be the best fighter of the three of us if you didn’t always hold back.”

Kass suddenly twisted a slash into a sharp lunge aimed at Mal’s throat. Mal sidestepped it then parried in a single flowing movement.

“You see? You avoided that easily and left me wide open. You just never followed it up with a finishing hit.”

“Yeah? And how many times could you have smashed the back of my head in with a flying rock?”

“Detail, details,” Kass laughed. Look, at the end of the day, if I had to choose anybody to have my back then I’d choose you, eve or no eve. You do remember when we first met, right?”

“Of course I do.”

“Well there ya go. You saved my life back then against the odds. Just because I’ve grown a lot since then doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly anything less than you were back then. Remember, you don’t have to live day to day anymore. We have a future now. You’re allowed to want more, to have ambition. Lila might be too driven by her dreams, but she’s right about having them.”

Mal raised his sword for another round but Kass shook his head. “I’d better find Lila before it gets dark. Put that brain of yours to use and figure out what you want from your life. Nothing is set in stone, but a direction to guide your actions is nice. I’ll follow you to Hell, just like I would Lila.”

Kass left, leaving Mal alone once more. It wasn’t late yet but Mal made his way upwards to the roof. A lone tent was set up between two bulky ventilation units that Mal called home. The other children slept inside in clustered dormitories. Mal had a tendency to have bad dreams that disturbed anybody near him, and sometimes would instinctively act with violence if he was woken. So he exiled himself at night. He didn’t mind too much though. Staring at the stars always calmed him.

He sat at the entrance of the tent and stared up into the grey void above. There was nothing inside the tent to pass the time with. Other than a thin cover and a lumpy pillow, Mal didn’t own anything. Was he happy with that? Did he want more from life?

Before meeting Kass he had wandered alone without purpose. Each day was a quest for survival and nothing more. It was a blurry time of constant pain to him. Now he had a family, a place to stay, and while food wasn’t plentiful, they always had enough to get by. 

Lila wanted to become a Reclaimer to try and take a throne that no longer existed. Kass wanted to become a Reclaimer to show the world his worth, and to prove that he was the best. Both dreams were crazy, near impossible, but it didn’t matter to them. 

Mal thought about what he wanted from life but his mind kept looping back to Kass and Lila. Then he realised that maybe he did have a dream. The thing he most wanted from life was to see his friends be happy. So that would be his dream. 

“My dream is to make sure that my family’s dreams come true. I’ll be Mal the Dreammaker.”

Speaking the words aloud brought a smile to his lips. It was no great revelation. Nothing about the way he lived had changed. Now he could put words to his feelings though. That was strangely a weight off of his mind. He’d work hard and do whatever was needed to get their little team into the ranks of the Reclaimers. It would be dangerous, but it was now on his shoulders to rise to the challenge and keep them all safe.

Content that the future had been neatly wrapped up, Mal crawled into the tent and nestled into the cover. Tomorrow was a new day, and for the first time ever he felt like giving it his all.

Previous – Chapter 1.

Next – Chapter 3.

Chapter 3. A Brave New World. (A Rubber Ducky at the End of the World)

Peace Lenrow was hungry. The door to his room hadn’t been opened in days. He had heard loud noises but had seen no sign of life. The electricity seemed to be down too. Something wasn’t right but he had not cared until now.

He stood up, flexing muscles that had not seen much use lately. It was beginning to dawn on him that he should be in pain. By now the hunger should have been eating at his stomach and seeping his strength. Instead he only felt a slight pang, almost a craving for flavour more than sustenance. 

“Hey! Anybody out there? Nurse! Anyone!” he shouted to the door. 

There was no answer. It would have been a surprise if there had been one since the building was empty except for Peace and another patient who was enjoying the solitude. The staff had ceased coming to work and most of the other patients had left. Super strength and a sound mind had done wonders for them.

His door was locked every night and had not been unlocked since his last visit from the nurse days before. He knocked then paused. His knuckles had left dents in the wood. He knocked again, harder this time, and the door shook in its frame. He shrugged then stepped back before ramming into it with his shoulder. 

The door burst open and Peace staggered into the corridor beyond. His concerns were confirmed as he took in the state of his surroundings. It looked like a storm had passed through the building. There were broken doors, shattered glass and several large holes in the walls. 

He walked over the debris in his cotton pajamas and fluffy slippers without feeling a thing. Glass crunched but no pain registered. A vague sense that his soul must finally have died washed over him slowly. He was truly numb to the world.

Only, he wasn’t. In reality he was more in tune with the world than ever before in his life and the reason that he could feel no pain was due to the strengthening of his body after the Change. It is strange though that reality has a tendency to bend itself around the beliefs of particularly delusional individuals. Personal reality trumps actual reality so often that you could be forgiven for thinking that we actually live in a truly chaotic world.

As such, it was not important what the universe had done to Peace Lenrow but what Peace thought that the universe had done to him. For all that he knew, the world could have been in perfect order and all of this was a product of his own delusional mind. 

Peace felt surprisingly happy. Whether it was the breakdown of society or the breakdown of his sanity, he was free. His biggest problem with life had always been other people so any reality without them was close enough to Heaven for him.

That sense of liberation didn’t last long though. No sooner had Peace left the hospital to be greeted by the ruins of his town, than his dream of escaping humanity was shattered. Swaggering down the centre of the road was a group of men who laughed loudly among themselves. Peace felt a vein twitch on his forehead.

I, as an omnipotent narrator, can tell you that the men had been washed up wrecks sustained by drugs and alcohol after never achieving anything in life. A successful football career cut short from an injury, a young love brought to an end by uncontrolled anger, and children born too early in life were the kinds of hallmarks worn by these bitter individuals.

“Old Jonesey didn’t know what hit him,” one cackled. “How many times had he and his lads beat us up? Then wham! I hit him with a car. Just picked it up and smacked him like it were a cricket bat. The look on his brother’s face. Ha!”

“They didn’t stand a chance,” sniggered another. “We run this town now.”

Another man suddenly noticed Peace and pointed him out to the others. “Hey look. Someone’s just come from the loony bin.”

Peace suppressed a sigh as every head in the group turned to focus in on him. He wasn’t very good with people. They had a tendency to annoy and confuse him. He tried to ignore them and keep walking but they had other ideas.

“What you doing out of your comfy little pillow cell, eh?” grinned a bald man with the build of a rugby player and the face of a crashed plane. 

Peace didn’t respond, instead changing his direction to try and avoid the group. One of the men grabbed his arm and pulled him back around.

“It’s rude to ignore someone when they’re speaking to you, boy. Maybe you’re a bit behind on the times. See, things have changed. We are the top dogs around here now. You do as we say. Got that?”

Peace frowned. “Sorry. What did you say? I zoned out for a minute there. Something about dogs. I like dogs.”

The man’s grip tightened on Peace’s arm. “Who the hell do you think you are, retard?”

“Who do I think I am?” Peace mused aloud. “A better question would surely be who do you think I am? I know who I am. I think.”

Cogs were turning inside the man’s head. Understanding dawned on him with about the same speed as an English sunrise in December. Anger sparked at the boy’s insolence and he lashed out his fist with a grunt.

The fist connected with Peace’s face with the force of a freight-train. The man, who was called Nicolas Drager but still thought of himself as the lad about town ‘Dray’, expected one of three things to happen. The boy could be sent hurtling backwards through the front wall of the hospital, his head could be torn off and bounce across the roofs like a stray football or his skull could implode under the pressure. Dray had seen all three happen. 

He had never seen somebody stand and take it though. He took a quick step back after letting go of the boy’s arm. Peace stood still, his eyes unfocused. Blood dribbled from his lips and nose. His brain felt like it had been put through a blender. Agony crackled through him. He laughed. To feel anything brought a sense of euphoria to him.

The sunrise effect was again spreading through the group of men. Common Sense screamed that perhaps the best thing to do would be to leave the area as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, common sense is in fact one of the rarest of human traits despite its misleading name. Fight or flight battered at the instincts of the men but it was testosterone that ultimately led to a scrawny man yelling “Get ‘im!” Mob mentality took over from there while Common Sense looked on in disgust and facepalmed.

Five fully grown men with plenty of fighting experience versus a seventeen year old fresh from a mental hospital. It should have been over very quickly. It was.

Peace felt as though he existed beyond the usual confines of time and space. He saw the men move, not exactly in slow motion, but as though he had seen each action a million times before like a favourite movie. He knew where their fists would land and where they would leave themselves open. Images filled his head, processing all of the information around him so quickly that he didn’t understand what was going on. 

He wove around the flurry of attacks without a care in the world but never fought back. Peace disliked fighting. Not because he was afraid of getting hurt but because it was a situation where all of the emotions that he tried to suppress came venting uncontrollably to the surface. Showing emotion made him less human. Pure rage would consume him and strip him of his humanity.

It had been a fight that had sealed his fate to be committed to the mental hospital. Self harm could be hidden, ignored, but biting off someone’s ear was somewhat more visible. It didn’t matter how horrible the person in question was. How many times they had bullied others, disrupted lessons and made life hell. The second someone snaps and puts them in their place they suddenly become the victim and you are a psychopath. 

One of the men caught him a blow across the back of the head with a brick that shattered on impact. Blood bubbled from the wound. Seeing that he could be hurt the men redoubled their efforts. Peace took a deep breath.

“That wasn’t very nice,” he said in a voice that was too calm. 

Peace’s fist drove hard into the gut of the man in front of him. It didn’t stop until it had passed straight through his body. Blood splashed across Peace’s face. The man screamed and flopped to the floor. He was still alive but couldn’t move due to the hand sized gap in his spine. 

This moment marked the second important decision for the men to make. Common Sense stood up to make its case again then decided that it wasn’t even worth the effort and left to find a can of beer and a good seat to watch the show.

The men dove at Peace and he offered them a feral grin. His conscious thoughts stepped away from his brain and took a seat beside Common Sense. 

Every punch that Peace threw connected then continued on its merry way unhindered by such simple obstacles as flesh and bones. Screams and blood filled the air in a symphony of pain and suffering. It was only a matter of seconds until five writhing, bloodsoaked bodies littered the floor and Peace stood in their centre panting as he wrestled to regain his composure. 

It was a scene of utter carnage. Peace surveyed the damage with dead eyes. A butterfly fluttered past the groaning mess, catching Peace’s attention. The sight of it lifted his spirits and cast any memories of his actions from his mind. He wandered after the butterfly with a smile on his face, everything else forgotten.

Previous – Chapter 2. A Father’s Duty.

Next – Chapter 4. A Flock of Faithful.

Chapter 2. A Father’s Duty. (A Rubber Ducky at the End of the World)

Humans are surprisingly dim for such clever creatures. It took them a while to work out that they had changed. People no longer got ill. They didn’t tire as easily, and they were stronger and faster than ever before. Lots of things happened that could only point toward humans having become more powerful, but people don’t like to connect the dots if the bigger picture is one that they don’t want to acknowledge. 

Even so, it was only a matter of days until the governments of the world were forced to announce that the experiment may not have gone entirely to plan. It went something along the lines of: “Somebody forgot to carry the one in the calculations and now the Earth and everything in it is atomically unstable. On a side note, you are all basically superman now. Please don’t use these powers and continue with your life as normal.”

If you think that anybody took that advice then you are more naive than I gave credit for. When confronted with power, human minds reach for extremities. They realise that they have no need to work when they could take anything that they want, or they develop a hero complex. Only, neither works when everybody is the same. 

How do you use your newfound powers to rob an old lady when she turns around and slaps you straight through a building? How do you protect the innocent when they can fully protect themselves?

Just like in nature though, not everyone was affected in equal measures. Some became stronger than others for reasons that nobody could tell. Many great stories of tragedy, triumph and the like rose during this time. There were millions of tales, such as Mrs Baker, and elderly woman who had been on her deathbed. After the Change she stood back up and took her poor dog on a long overdue walk in the park. Then there was Mr Dale who had thrown himself off of a skyscraper moments before the Change only to crash down onto a car and walk away unharmed, much to his own chagrin. 

None of these events factor into this particular narrative though. Instead we must shift our way through the chaos and miracles to a small terrace house in a rundown neighbourhood. It had always been run down but of late had been reduced to crumbling ruins.

Damian Smithson stood in the center of his living room with a crying baby cradled in one arm. He stared at his free arm, held out before him with fingers splayed, and watched tendrils of smoke curl around it. Before him on the ground lay a mound of charred bones.

Things had happened quickly. The bones belonged to a man who had broken into the house. This was a very literal statement too since there was a wide hole in the wall that marked the man’s entrance. He had come to steal from the single father, and Damian had done what he had to in order to protect his daughter. Only, neither man had expected Damian to fire a laser beam from his hand. People were stronger, faster, and could take more damage, but lasers? That was something new.

Slowly, Damian lowered his arm and tried to sooth the baby absentmindedly. He had always been weak. He was scrawny and had never advanced his career past being a supervisor at a fastfood restaurant. He had been bullied throughout his youth and had been unable to save his wife when she had been hit by a drunk driver two months ago. 

So why was he suddenly so powerful? Since the Change he had outclassed those around him. The man at his feet had not been the first to cross him. People could survive gunshots now but Damian had broken bones with a childlike ease. Only one explanation came to his mind.

He had been chosen.

“Hush Amelia,” he whispered to the child. “Don’t cry. Daddy is going to make the world a better place for you. Don’t fear the chaos, for I’ll bring order. Just you wait and see.”

Previous – Chapter 1. A Good Day for An Apocalypse.

Next – Chapter 3. A Brave New World.