3.1: When Within Strikes

There I was dancing with some boy, enjoying my life more than I should’ve been without them, and I froze.

     The tart stench of the frozen building permeated the halls. The cold tiles on the floor were nothing but shards. They tinkled and scratched against each other and the floor, the ocean of shards at the mercy of a hurricane called Evic. His white attire, sword case, and hair made him shine like a supernova in the dark corridor. The deposits of ice and rime reflected his brilliance as he passed. He knew what he would discover here, even before he saw the state of the hideout. He’d had no communication with his father for the last two months.

     Avinia’s primal world will return, and those with new era bloodlines shall all be extinguished.

     His father’s words stuck with him still.

     Evic reached a ledge with a twenty-foot drop straight down. He jumped down and landed lithely on the most broken tile thus far. Dust erupted from the floor, staining his boots and pants. As he dodged cobwebs and occasional stalagmites, his radiant appearance darkened, and he marched on. This dark hole in the ground was his childhood home, for better or worse. If he was as alone as he felt, he wanted to say goodbye to this place first.

     While most of the furnishings were gone, the broken things, such as the floor, remained. He kicked in one of the double doors to a large room. Inside was a broken table on two legs, a barren kitchen with only outlines of where the appliances lay, and a bookshelf broken down the middle. The latter is where Evic went first.

     Wisps of smoke rose from his shoulders as he closed in on the bookshelf. The books that remained were coated with frost. Evic stomped down on the books and shattered them. The wisps of smoke grew into a small cloud. He heard a voice call to him.

     “Your deal was with my father, not me.”

     As the smoke clambered over his shoulders and stretched to his feet, Evic stood and listened. His calm expression broke slightly. Despite the cold, a bead of sweat slid down his face.

     “My mother is not the bait you think she is. Not anymore,” he said.

     The smoke rose around him, a trap ready to ensnare him.

     “You helped to raise a monster! Come and see!” he shouted.

     The smoke swirled in the air and condensed into a sphere, a crack in the wall behind it. It soared swiftly, blinding him as it attacked.

     The light from the dorm lobby strikes Evic’s eyes harshly. He exits the elevator slowly, allowing his vision to recover fully. Nightmares-

     Or visions.

     -have plagued him all semester, and they’re wearing him down gradually.

     I let my control slip once. I will not allow that to happen again!

     On cue, the center of his back throbs, the energy within trying to escape. A stubborn force, not unlike the young man keeping it contained.

     “Whoa, Evic, you okay? You look…I don’t know…stressed,” Valine says. She stops kicking her feet when she sees his heavy, shadowed eyes and wrinkled brown dress shirt and pants.

     “Yeah. And what’s up with the clothes? You never look so- and no offense- bummy,” Sticker says.

     “Don’t concern yourselves. Just had a rough sleep. I’ll be fine.”

     “If you say so…” Valine hedges.

     The door to the east stairwell bangs open. Norris and Devito race through the dorm wildly. Evic glances at his watch.

     Late for Zathony’s class again. Not ones built for punctuality.

     Hugh and Mila emerge from the stairwell next, followed by Mac and Fain. The latter two leave at a more casual pace while Hugh and Mila join Evic’s party. The sharp look that Hugh throws at the door briefly catches Evic’s attention. The way his eyebrows don’t move as his eyes grow cold is reminiscent of his father. The second he senses the smoke on his shoulder, he slaps his palm down on it, patching the leak.

     Valine jumps. “What was that bout?”

     “Are you sure you’re okay?” Sticker asks.

     Evic faces them stonily and keeps quiet.

     “Yep, he’s fine. Same old Evic,” Valine comments.

     “Is that statue mode again? Man, been a while since I’ve seen that!” Lauron boisterously announces. She and Professor Cwen come onto the scene, both dragging the same cart full of black crates.

     “Lauron, I’ve told you to retire that phrase,” Professor Cwen stresses.

     “Sorry. My mistake. It just caught me off guard. Haven’t seen him shut down like that in a while.”

     Cwen looks at him differently then, her concerned expression deepening when she inspects his appearance. “Evic, dear, would you like to skip today? I don’t mind excusing you if you need it.”

     “No weakness brat!” Liamria shouted, annoyed by him recoiling from her touch around his shoulders.

     A punishing blow sent him to his knees. The one blow wouldn’t normally have but from the litany of bruises on his abdomen, it’s clear that wasn’t his first of the night. His tight-lipped grunting sounded like the cries of a wounded elephant. In spite of the pain echoing throughout his flesh and bones, Evic rose quickly, coming face to face with his father. He couldn’t stop the heat from his wounds from shaping his expression. It clashed with the cold in his father’s gaze fiercely.

     “That will not do, Evic. Heat telegraphs intention and emotion. Cold disguises and mystifies. You must remain cold and sharp. Nobody should be able to decipher you at a glance. Fear, rage, and worry will be what your enemies look for. The second they realize you will not break, that is your chance to instill fear in them.”

     “It’s a waste of time, Victa. A tool that’s broken when made will never work,” Liamria said.

     “My son is not a tool, Lia,” Victa replied with a modicum of bite to his tone. “He is a canvass. The scene painted on his soul will take time but it will be beautiful. He will get there. He has no choice.”

     Evic didn’t feel like either but it was rare for his father to speak of him fondly or in his defense. To get both simultaneously was a once-a-year delight. He would never voice his reservations to his father but he does have a choice. He endured unimaginable pain and torment since his mother was taken but he would endure any amount to see her again.

     And once I free her, she and I will escape my father and his obnoxious dream!

     Victa nodded at Liamria. “Again.”

     Evic braced himself for her venomous touch, steeling his shoulder muscles.

     The young man cools his gaze and fortifies his posture. “I’ll be fine, professor. We can go.”

     “I’d like to but we still have- ah, there she is.”

     Evic turns curiously and manages to keep himself calm. He places a vice grip on the energy raging inside of him.

     Stay in your place!

     “Good morning, everyone. Hope I didn’t keep you waiting,” Nuria says, her good cheer not ringing true to Evic’s ears.

     “Wait, I thought Pan was our only guest today?” Lauron asks. “Nobody told me about this.”

     “Nuria came to me last night and asked if it was okay. I said yes. And Lauron, I run this class. Do not let your appointment as hall monitor go to your head.”

     “Yes, ma’am,” she groans. The self-made security shirt she has on promises future overstepping. The prophecy comes true moments later when her bet with Pan becomes everyone’s business.

     “Lauron, we made you hall monitor to watch, not to police your peers,” Professor Cwen snaps.

     Lauron huffs. “I’m just trying to keep order. It’s not like late-night trips are necessary for anyone. And as of late, guarding my floor has been stressful, giving time for Carnya and Norris to slip by.”

     “The point remains. Take it down a notch. That’s an order.”

     She exhales through her nose. “Yes, ma’am. Guess our deal’s off. You’re free to go.”

     “No, I’ll earn my peace, but we can change the terms now.”

     “You two can figure that out inside. Come on,” Cwen says.

     Nuria moves to help Cwen drag the cart inside. Evic’s feet carry him that way before he’s cognizant of his trajectory but stays the course when he is. Cwen smiles when he grabs the cart’s other handle. He and Nuria take the cart to the center of the dome.

     “Thanks,” Nuria says quietly.

     He nods back at her. The smoke is filling his mouth so he can’t speak. He grabs one of the crates and swallows the smoke forcefully.

     “Evic?” Nuria asks.

     He looks over as she lowers her own crate. She may not look the way he does on the outside but the look in her eyes is desperate, pleading. Then it changes, softens, when he meets her gaze levelly, finding a safe purchase to land upon. But they also harden. Not like tempered steel but like a safety harness. At that moment, he knows that she can glimpse his turmoil as clearly as he can hers.

     Evic shattered one last tile shard with his fist. The smoke that consumed his sight evaporated at long last. He breathed laboriously, his sweat dripping onto the cold floor, freezing in seconds. The walls and floor throughout the room were covered in fresh slash marks. Some were just losing their red-hot glow while a select few glowed violet with red-hot borders on their sides.

     He stabbed his sword into the floor to anchor it, using it to prop himself back up. His white coat was torn in two places, from his shoulders to the hems. He yanked it off and threw it to the floor. He planned to get a new one at the Mount Handreau resort, using what little money his father left available to him.

     Evic took one last look around the destroyed room. Leaving his cursed home in this condition was more than he could’ve hoped for. He left satisfied and proud. He was able to step beyond the confines of his abusive life and do what he wanted. He didn’t know what that was yet but it didn’t matter. He was in control now.

     As he neared the exit, the sound of erratic snow crunching irked him by habit. Over the years, a myriad of drunken idiots from the resort would stumble too close to their hideout and be erased by his father to Liamria. He thought briefly of following in their footsteps but a curious scent gave him pause. It wasn’t alcohol that wafted through the door but the aroma of…boiling water.

     He peered out the door and followed the cloud of mist and crunching snow. Only when the trespasser paused to catch their breath did Evic get a glimpse of them. He’d know those white eyes and braid anywhere. When Nuria took off again, he considered going the other way.

     I should have, Evic thinks, watching her wrestle Lauron with what little enthusiasm she can muster. He envies her fortitude, that she can bounce back at all, overcoming how downtrodden she feels deep down, even briefly.

     I’m not that way. Too wired by how I was raised. I was free from my father. From everything. Yet and still, I chose to return here. The only place left for him to find me if he chooses to. Lauron was wrong. Statue mode never left. I’m stuck in place.

     “You got it open!” Sticker cheers.

     “What?!” Lauron shouts.

     “How?!” Nuria asks.

     “Not all about powers, ladies,” Pan taunts them. “So, how do we solve this puzzle?”

     “It wouldn’t be much of a contest if I told you. But if you can open the chest without a key, you’ll do just fine,” Cwen says.

     As Pan and Sticker empty their crate of the mismatched blocks inside, Evic uncovers the solution, even before Sticker does. His father gave him a host of various puzzles to get him in the practice of thinking critically at a faster pace than most other kids his age. Even as tough as it was, it did pay off. However, it irks him that someone like Lauron is able t compete with him occasionally. Her temperament and attitude disguise the fact that she can be insightful and graceful in her own unique way.

     She didn’t earn that. She didn’t go through hell! Not like we did!

     He looks at Nuria somberly, focused on the scar on her lip. It bends and twists as she forms the question, “Mythic?”

     Hers and Pan’s eyes sail past him as they ask in unison. Evic leers as the other sets of keys lower into Hugh’s open hand. He did not expect to run into another Mythic, especially at Four Hearts of all places.

     Lauron launches into an explanation, annoying and surprising Evic with her accuracy on the subject. “You see, there are S’nue powers so rare that they’re nearly mythical. They don’t follow any basic genetic rules. You can be born with them out of the blue, even if your parents have vastly different powers. People who can use telekinesis, read minds, shapeshift, or even predict the future are all Mythics. They tend to get shunned because of that, too.”

     Evic watches Hugh carefully as he approaches, his hands specifically. Details on telekinetic Mythics are frighteningly accurate since so few have ever been documented. One of the key details says that telekinesis is only executable through the wielder’s hands. Hugh keeps one in his pocket while he proffers the keys to Evic.

     “But I want to show that I’m starting to feel comfortable here. I don’t mind sharing.”

     Evic takes the keys and moves to turn away when his wrist jerks slightly. He peers over his shoulder and meets Hugh’s cold gaze for a second.

     Was that a threat or a joke? Either way, I’ll have to watch him.

     “What about you, Mila? You a Mythic, too? You said your power was invasive; can you read minds? What am I thinking right now?” Lauron asks.

     Mila laughs and squirms, darting her eyes low. “Not a mind reader. That’s all I’m fine saying.”

     And that’s all I need you to say. Lauron didn’t list all the Mythic powers. People like Hugh and I rely on our hands for our powers, though our limitations differ. If her reaction just now is any indication, it must deal with her eyes. She’s an empath; regular, a synesthesia variant, or most like, Spectrum Empathy. She can enhance someone’s emotions through eye contact.

     “Besides, you guys are making great strides. Evic here still hasn’t told us his S’nue power, and he’s been here since we were just freshmen,” Lauron says.

     Nuria sidles close and rests an arm on his shoulder. Evic would not react if the smoke wouldn’t try to claw its way free. “Oh, you mean he hasn’t told you yet?”

     He sighs and bends down to unlock the crate, and to distance Nuria from the threat of the smoke. “Stop. She’s going to believe I told you.”

     “Uh-huh. I’m watching you two. Let’s get this done, Valine.”

     “Oh, crap!” Pan exclaims.

     “Done!” Sticker announces.

     “What?!” Lauron shouts.

     “No way!” Nuria says.

     Evic turns slowly and inspects her blocks. Not all of them are put together perfectly, mirroring his disheveled appearance, but they all match. Still, he admires the speed. “That’s impressive.”

     He wants to blitz through the puzzle, eager to show off his superior skills, but Nuria’s casual pace crumbles that dream into dust. She does initiate the trend of piling up the separate colors to put together later. Lauron goes about it as expected while Hugh uses his powers to split the blocks. And all of them appear calm, a still ocean surrounding a quaking island. Their serenity in the face of his stress offends him, all but one. And her serenity is the most confusing. He knows what she’s lost, the pain it has to cause her. And even if it pains him as much to admit it as it feels, he actually misses his father. Sometimes.

     “Why’d you come back?” he whispers.

     She briefly hesitates to complete one of the yellow blocks. She puts it down and stares at the yellow faces reflected in her white eyes. He sees the pain he expected, that he wanted. Just when he’s close to not being the only island, she smiles, even laughs. It’s quiet but he can hear the unadulterated joy.

     “It–” She clears her throat and speaks softer. “It was a long shot but I hoped to just…be happy again.

     Evic doesn’t understand her logic. To risk her mental health on a gamble of such magnitude is ridiculous to him. Nobody’s return was guaranteed, not even his own. He’s the only returning student without a request to be fulfilled for his return, largely due to the fact he didn’t make his intention clear until the day before the school year began.

     Not like I deserve it. My family’s mission is the sole reason the school nearly died. And now I’m dead to my father. Coming here was not worth it.

     Evic needs to know why she made such a foolish call. He can’t believe she sees a future with all of her classmates in her life permanently. Not with her phoenix power to revive.

     She won’t make it that far!

     All at once, throughout his entire body, Evic feels the energy inside explode. But he was prepared for such an assault, using the minutes since the last to bolster himself. He doesn’t react at all as he keeps his power in check.

     You’ve improved, Evic. But do you thank Liamria for that? Your father? Or me?

     Evic rose from the ground, another blow to his gut that put him there.

     “You’re pathetic!” Liamria spat. “How can we trust you if we don’t fear you? I know how deadly your father is just as sure as he knows I’m not to be trifled with! But you…” She jeers disgustedly. “You are a letdown!”

     She morphed her arm into liquid and aimed to strike the center of Evic’s back. Her strike was stopped with one hand, her liquid arm becoming solid flesh once more, and she choked her with another. She was lifted into the air and slammed against the wall so hard it cracked.

     “Evic, you there?” Nuria whispers.

     He calmly faces her. “Sorry, you were saying?”

     She shakes her head, still smiling. “Don’t worry about it. You did more than enough to help with this already.”

     “Doesn’t mean I can’t do more. What did you say? I’ll listen properly this time.”

     You are a FOOL!

     “Go on,” he insists.

     Nuria’s smile deepens before she explains, “Coming back here helped me find strength again. I’m still not back to one hundred percent but I was running on empty before that. This is the family I found…and I’d be nothing without it. It’s like you said, find something to anchor the calm. I finally found that something.”

     Nuria finishes their last block, bringing an end to the contest. Cwen dismisses the class and reminds Nuria and Valine of their last rehearsal. Just before she leaves, Nuria bounces back past everyone and ensnares Evic in a hug.

     “I know you might not like this but I had to do it. And thank you. You made the worst time in my life survivable. I’ll never forget that,” she whispers.

     Evic watches her leave with everyone else, stupefied. He’s never had the chance to give advice. The only two people in his life only ever instructed or ordered him around. His input was a non-factor. He never once had any ideas on what to do for himself because he felt he had no valuable insight. His last few months were a painfully long and boring existence. But now, he has confirmation that he has something to offer others. No longer is he only viewed as just a tool or canvass, but also as a friend.

     One who insulted and harmed her!

     Evic’s eyes widen with terror ad two visions of Nuria are forced into his mind. In the first, she’s violently angry as she chased him down. The way he toyed with her in that one leaves Evic ashamed. The second vision, however, makes him feel undeserving of Nuria’s gratitude. From his own blade, a wave of violet energy was fired, gunning for Nuria and the large phoenix at her side. With a gilded flaming fist, Nuria broke the wave in two. One half sliced her face open and the other catch’s the phoenix’s beak. Nuria slid through the snow on her back, leaving a scattered trail of blood in her wake. She turned over in time to witness the phoenix abandon her for the skies above.

     Would you truly hide that from her? Do you expect she’ll forgive you if you did?

     Evic loses himself to his guilt and his doubt, loosening his control.



     Smoke erupts from Evic’s mouth and eyes. He keeps his eyes open, even as they sting, and grabs hold of the plume gushing from his mouth. He claws at it fiercely to drag it back in.

     You don’t have the strength to stop me! Give up and let our deal be done!

     Evic just keeps clawing at the smoke, reining it in slowly.

     You are nothing to her!

     Evic does not respond and does not yield. He refuses to break again.

     Does she mean more to you than your own mother?

     With one hard yank, he traps the smoke inside his mouth. He locks his jaw and swallows powerfully. He regains his composure, staring defiantly at the smoke that escaped through his eyes.

     You cannot survive outside me in that form for long. Treat your vessel with respect and stay where you belong!

     Liamria pawed at Evic’s hands but the grip on her throat didn’t wane.

     “Look at me!

     She looked up and not even her gaze stayed cold for long. In place of Evic’s eyes were two smoky orbs. His back muscles expanded and covered the two of them in shadows unnaturally dark, chasing away the limited warmth of the air away.

     “This is my vessel! Mine! You can train it as harshly as necessary but treat it with respect! I did not go through all the trouble of granting you this power just for you to squander it!

     One back-handed throw sent Liamria straight through the bookshelf beneath them. Evic’s back muscles whipped and sent a cold gust through the room. Victa lifted his eyes from his wounded partner and into those smoky orbs.

     “I have given you the power to see to your desires. In exchange, you will eliminate my targets. I will not tolerate betrayal, Victa. Watch yourself.

     Ah. You believe yourself exempt. You, young man, are more mine than his. Your life is at my mercy. Claim as you may that your mother is of no consequence, we both know someone is.

     Evic feels the sweat forming but doesn’t telegraph his anxiety.

     Allow me to show you how outmatched you are. Look behind you.

     A pair of midnight wings are fully spread from his shoulders, tearing right through his white jacket. His mouth hangs open, chilled breaths escaping. He didn’t even feel any power escape from his back during the power struggle.

     I can escape any time I want. I am simply biding my time until striking is convenient. Enjoy these last days, Evic. My targets are coming to me soon and you’ll not be able to interfere.

     The smoke jettisons to Evic to reenter his body through his eyes. Evic snatches the smoke out of the air and inhales it through his nose, long and slow. His midnight wings vaporize and follow suit. When he exhales, he smiles. He knows what his first true desire is now.

You will regret making me yours. One day this power will be mine! And I will hunt you down and kill you with it! Mark my words!

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