So... This is me writing for something that isn't The Hunger Games... I suppose there's a first (and probably last) time for everything! To all of you who ended up here expecting more Panem, forgive me - normal service will resume next week but I couldn't resist a bit of gap-filling in a different universe :P
I obviously don't own the FAYZ or anything in it. If I did then I'd make sure Dekka was alive, healthy and happy at the end of 'Light', which she hopefully might still be!
There's something strange going on at Coates Academy. Stranger than normal, I mean. Not just the usual weird stuff associated with the weird kids who go to school here. Not even the way all the adults have vanished or the way some of us have powers we shouldn't have. We've kind of accepted all that by now even if nobody can explain it. Or maybe not accepted it but at least filed it in the 'to deal with later' section of our brains.
What's really weird is that Taylor's gone now. I don't like Taylor much. She's annoying and she gossips more than anyone should. But that's not the only thing about Taylor. Something else about her is that she can move from one place to another instantly. Like some kind of teleportation. And now she's gone. I don't like it. She has power, just like the others who've gone. Combined with how nobody can leave the building through one of the back exits, I can tell something's not right.
I look around the dinner hall, at the kids raiding the kitchen in a way they'd never have got away with only a short time earlier and the kids jumping on the tables and throwing food at each other. I search for Taylor, willing her to appear as if that might disprove my theory and make everything fine again. She's not there. She's nowhere. But Drake Merwin seems to be everywhere these days.
I hate Drake. I don't say that lightly about anyone, but I truly hate him. Or I should say that we hate each other, because even if he does have a psych report that probably accounts for a large amount of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, when it comes down to it, he's a bully. And all bullies hate what doesn't fear them.
Most of the other kids who've stayed here fear him. They lower their eyes respectfully like he's some kind of god and run from him at the first opportunity. But not me. I look him in the eye. I stand my ground and silently tell him that I'm not afraid, that if he messes with me then I'll mess with him and he might not be the one who comes out the winner. That's why he hates me. Or at least I guess that's why he hates me. He might just be a racist, but that's too boring for someone like him so I'm still going for the other reason.
Drake strolls through the open double doors, scanning the room like he's looking for someone in particular. Most of the kids look at the ground, praying it's not them. He stops when he sees the group of girls in the corner, narrowing his cold, emotionless, blue eyes at the one standing on the table. She stares back, defiant and determined, but then Drake gets closer.
A loud gasp fills the room as Drake raises his fist, not at the girl on the table but at one of the others sitting down. His hand connects with the side of her head and she slumps to the floor to the accompaniment of a scream of rage from the girl on the table. Brianna. I don't know her but I know her name. I've seen her around, watched her race from one mad, crazy thing to another with a lack of fear bordering on insanity. Perhaps it's insanity that makes her launch herself at Drake. Either way, insanity or otherwise, he's ready for her and he smashes one of the cafeteria trays over her head.
"Pick on someone your own size, Merwin!" I shout, reacting without thinking and throwing my hand up so the cart stacked full of trays rises upwards and then crashes down with a sound like an exploding bomb. "Or are you too scared?"
The kids in the hall part like two retreating waves and suddenly there's nobody standing between me and Drake and Brianna's tiny body at his feet. Drake looks uncertainly at the wreck of the trays but is sneering again by the time the other kids can see his face properly.
"Are you calling me a coward?" he yells back.
"I know you're intellectually challenged but I thought even you'd be able to follow that one," I reply, finding courage I didn't know I had from somewhere.
"I'll kill you, Dekka!" he snarls, kicking Brianna as he launches himself across the hall towards me.
I wait for him to get closer, seeing from his eyes that his unusual surrender to blind rage has made him forget what I can do even though I stupidly reminded him only seconds before. Then I flick my hand again, cancelling gravity in the circle around him and raising him up until he floats on the ceiling, trapped and incapable of hurting even the smallest child in the room.
There are a few cheers from the others, but mostly there's stunned silence. I can see it in their eyes and I know Drake can see it as well. They've seen him overpowered. They've seen him defeated. I don't know what to do next, but he's weaker now, humiliated in a way he won't forget. So maybe I should just drop him and check on Brianna. Then I can leave. Get far away from Coates before he recovers enough to get Caine and they both come for me.
My eyes drift back to Brianna as she stirs on the ground. She raises her head a little, but she isn't looking at me. She's looking behind me, and her eyes are wide with fear.
I feel an impossible force hit me from behind and everything goes black.
Caine. He's my first thought as I begin to wake up. It was him. It had to have been him. There's nobody else here with that sort of power.
I try to sit up, and my eyes fly open when I find I can't. I can't move my hands and they're so cold. The block of solid concrete I see almost makes my heart stop. This is what they've been doing. A freak's power comes from their hands. This is their solution. Caine and Drake's way of stopping us from fighting back. It must be, because all around me there are kids who've had the same treatment. They're all those who aren't regular kids anymore. And they're mostly those who have no love for or loyalty to Caine Soren.
The sound of heels hitting the ground stops my blind panic what could be hours or just seconds later. The girl walks slowly towards me, deliberately making her hips sway like only she can. I close my eyes and turn my head away. I don't want to see her. Yes, she's beautiful on the outside, but inside she's as hideous as Hell itself. How I could have thought her attractive, I'll never know.
"Don't be mad, Dekka," Diana purrs, brushing her impossibly soft hand across my cheek. "This is for your benefit as well as ours. For your own protection, for the protection of all of us."
I try to jerk back from her touch but there's nowhere for me to go. I open my eyes, because all I can think of is showing her she can't use my feelings and my emotions against me anymore. But suddenly I'm not looking at her. It isn't her I see. The person I see is Brianna, as trapped as I am but with a defiance and anger in her eyes that makes them shine in the artificial light. I've never seen anything or anyone more beautiful. She makes Diana look like a gaudy and overdone copy, a poorly made imitation of the real thing. If I thought before that I could be fixed, I know better than to think it now.
"Leave her alone," she growls, fearless despite her situation. "Bitch."
"Or you'll do what?" replies Diana lightly, still not taking her hand off me. "You don't seem like you're going to get very far to me."
"This won't be forever, Ladris," snaps Brianna. "You'll see. This will end and then you'll end. And I'll laugh when I take you down."
"Such stupid courage. Such a pointless fight. And I think you should apologise for your filthy mouth, young lady."
"I'm not a lady. And I'll never apologise to you."
"Brianna," I hiss. "That's enough. Leave it."
She glares back at me but doesn't speak. Her narrow shoulders are visibly trembling with rage. A little voice in my head hopes it's directed at Diana and not at me. I just want her to shut up so she doesn't get hurt. Surely she can see that?
"That's right, Brianna," sings Diana mockingly. "Listen to Dekka like a good girl and nothing bad will happen to you."
"Oh yeah," I reply, unable to help myself. "Don't think a girl with her hands encased in concrete is gonna believe that one."
"Diana! I need you!"
Caine. I'd recognise that voice anywhere. The already cramping muscles in my hands tense and itch as I long to clench them into tight fists. I'd kill him if I could.
"You and Ladris got history then?" comes a voice, snapping me away from my murderous thoughts.
"What d'you mean by that?" I reply, turning to look at Brianna.
She's so close and yet so far away. If my hands weren't trapped I'd be able to push the strand of hair that's fallen across her eye back behind her ear.
"I don't know. Just… I don't know."
"I hate her. Like I hate Caine. And Drake."
"Then why did you tell me to shut up?"
"Because you can't exactly take them on right now, can you?"
"I could try," she retorts with a half smile. Then she looks wistfully at the hall doors. "D'you think they'll feed us again?"
I look at the tray in front of her and realise I must have still been out of it when we were fed the first time. Then I shake my head as if that will get that thought out of my mind. It makes us sound like animals. I can't bear it.
"Not tonight," I reply, scowling at the thought of being dependent on the likes of Drake Merwin.
"I'm going to sleep then," she says, and my breath catches when she shuffles on the bench and then tilts her head to the side until she's leaning on my shoulder. "Goodnight, Dekka."
I try to sit up straight to start with, telling myself that it's not too late and that I can still cure myself if I try hard enough. Then I decide that everything else is crap so I can allow myself this one small thing. I lean over to the side, pressing my cheek against Brianna's soft hair.
If Caine, Diana and Drake want to break me then they shouldn't have chained me up next to probably the only person in this room who can make me feel so strong.
"How are all you freaks doing?" crows Drake as he strolls towards us, sadistic grin well in place. "Having a nice day?"
"Better than the one you'll be having when I get out of here!" yells Brianna, and I don't know whether to curse her defiance or smile because of it.
We've been here for days, tied up like animals, and her spirit still hasn't broken. She answers back every time. She's the one with the real strength, and sometimes when I'm cold and hungry and feeling sorry for myself, I think the only thing keeping me going is having her beside me.
Drake doesn't speak as he walks slowly towards us, smacking his leg with what looks like a branch off a tree. And I've been at Coates for long enough to know that silence is worse than yelling with him. Silence means he's properly thinking about what to do next. That's never going to be good for us.
"Think that makes you tough, do you, Merwin? Waving a stick around and threatening people who can't fight back?" I snarl, deliberately baiting him because it's the only thing I can think of to get his attention. "I'd like to see how tough you'd be if I didn't have this concrete block on my hands."
"But you do have that concrete block on your hands," he replies, his voice far too measured and calm for my liking. "And your little girlfriend's pissing me off."
He raises his arm, leaning over Brianna, who stares straight back at him as if she's daring him to do it. I can't let him break her. I won't let him break her. She's my only light in this darkness. I'm starting to think that if she falls then so will I.
What should have been a scream comes out as a low growl when I grit my teeth and force myself to my feet for just long enough to send my block slamming into Brianna's. I'd wanted it to smash but I'm too weak now, and all it does is skid along the floor. But it's enough. It's heavy enough to take her with it and my momentum puts me in her place.
Drake's whip crashes down on my shoulder. The pain of it makes me crumple off the bench to the floor, my head hitting the concrete still fixed to my hands. This time I do scream.
It's Diana, and I know what her coming here means. She's found another one. The freak who can read the power level of others has betrayed someone else and there'll be one more person sleeping here with us by tomorrow morning.
"Saved by the bell, Talent," Drake growls.
Then he kicks me in the head and everything turns black. Again.
"Dekka. Wake up. Dekka!"
I hear a pained groan and quickly realise it's coming from me. I try to open my eyes but everything's spinning so I give up and close them. My head hurts. My hands hurt. My shoulder hurts. I don't think there's a part of me that doesn't hurt. Even my legs have started to cramp from being folded underneath me for God knows how long.
"Dekka!" sounds the voice again, increasing in pitch every time. Something pushes against my shoulder right where Drake's whip hit me and I yelp again. "Dekka!"
"You don't give up, do you?" I mumble, attempting to open my eyes for a second time and finding myself face to face with Brianna, who'd apparently been nudging the top of her head against me because she obviously can't use her hands.
"No," she retorts, sounding shocked that I'd even suggest it. "You shouldn't have done what you did. Your head's bleeding now. And your shoulder."
"Is that surprising when you keep knocking it with your thick head?" I reply, trying to keep going because the only other option is letting Caine and Drake win.
"What else was I supposed to do? You wouldn't wake up."
"Might have something to do with Drake kicking me in the head."
"I needed you to wake up. I need you to get up. We fight back together, you know that."
"I know," I reply, and her words give me the strength to struggle back onto the bench. Eventually.
"You lean on me this time," she says, making a show of flicking her hair back off her shoulder.
"Too heavy," I manage. I don't have the energy left for a whole sentence.
"I'm stronger than I look," she replies, narrowing her eyes determinedly at me. "Don't argue with me."
I don't answer, lowering my head against her for a minute before sitting up again. It's more of a physical and mental effort than I thought it would be.
"Don't argue with me," I echo before she can speak. "Just go to sleep."
"Move your tray," I say, my words coming out in the rasping whisper that's all I seem capable of now.
"Why?" she asks, still leaning down to lick the tray like it's going to make more food appear.
When I don't reply, she looks up at me, her hazel eyes still shining even though her cheeks are hollow with pain and hunger. They've barely fed us for days. I don't even know who they are any more. Caine, Diana and Drake have vanished, and rumour has it that they've gone down to Perdido Beach. I almost miss the distraction from hunger that the sight of Drake gave me. Nothing seems to cancel out all other feelings like total, all-consuming hatred.
"Just do it, Brianna," I hiss, forcing my attention back to reality.
She nudges the tray to one side and I push mine over to her at the same time as she realises what I'm doing.
"No," she says, her voice stronger than it was before. "It's yours. You're starving, too."
"You're skin and bones, girl. I'll live," I tell her. "For a bit longer," I add darkly, hoping I was too quiet for her to hear.
She looks at me long and hard for a second and then her hunger gets the better of her. She lowers her head to eat again and I close my eyes, trying to mentally picture another idea for how to give Drake the slowest and most agonising death imaginable. Over the past weeks I've thought of many, each worse than the one before. Or I should probably say better, for me anyway. But perhaps death is too good for him. Perhaps I would encase his hands in concrete instead and see how he likes it.
"Nice language. And in front of the Pe-tard, too."
I know then that he's back. The sound of that voice is about the only thing that can make me tear my eyes away from Brianna. Because I have to look at him. I have to show him that he'll never beat me, that he'll never break me or see fear in me. Never.
There are others with him. I don't recognise them, so I guess they must be town kids. They didn't go to Coates, I know that much anyway.
"It's the circle of freaks," Drake calls, waving his hand in our direction like the ringmaster of a circus.
I glare at him and picture being free from my chains, standing up and using my powers to dump the school's outer wall right on his head.
There are six of them, the strangers. Five who are about my age and one small boy holding what looks like a Game Boy. Drake has his gun trained on one of the girls, blonde and pretty, obviously something to the leader of the group from the way he resentfully does as he's told and presses his hands into unset cement.
Their words are a blur to me. I'm too weak to follow what they're saying properly, but I can see them arguing over the second girl. She's as dark as the other one is blonde, not as good-looking but somehow more beautiful, although maybe that's just because she seems to me to have more fight in her than her companion.
"What're they doing?" mumbles Brianna, finally looking up from my tray.
"Concreting more prisoners," I reply wearily, trying to pull my hands up one more time and almost passing out in agony.
I keep thinking that if I was just strong enough to slam my block into hers like I did before then this time one of them might shatter. When I picture it in my head, it's always hers. She'd be gone before Drake knew what happened and he wouldn't even see her leave.
"Dekka. Dekka," she whispers, leaning her head onto my shoulder to get my attention. "Look."
Caine and Diana. Walking across the lawn with more on their minds than enjoying the show. Whoever these people are, they mean something. They're not just another group of freaks.
The boy Drake forced to put his hands in the cement by threatening the blonde girl is called Sam Temple. I've never heard of him but Caine has. That much is obvious when he struts over and starts congratulating Drake like he's won some great battle or somehow saved the universe from a fate worse than death. All for capturing this boy and his friends. It doesn't make any sense. Which I guess isn't unusual for Caine and Drake so I shouldn't be shocked.
Then everything happens so quickly that it doesn't have time to register. They're arguing but I can't quite hear what they're saying, Drake shoots the boy called Sam in the leg, there's a lot of screaming, shouting and wild gesturing in the direction of the little boy with the game, and then my concrete block vanishes.
The pain in my hands is mind-blowing, but I raise my arms anyway, narrowing my eyes at Caine as he sees we're all free and turns to run. A sapling tree he's sprinting past flies into the air as the gravity keeping it down vanishes, but Caine keeps going and I can't. My arms drop back to my sides and I hear myself cry out. There's another gunshot, a blinding flash of green light and a scream like nothing I've ever heard.
I don't even blink as I watch Drake's arm burn black as he wails in agony. He deserves it. He deserves it for what he did to me and he deserves it for what he did to Brianna.
He runs away like Caine and Diana did and I don't try to stop him. His day will come, but it isn't now, not when I can barely lift my hands. There's no point trying to start a fight I can't win with someone like Caine or Drake when there's a chance I might have a better opportunity later. My father taught me that a long time ago, back before when we were close and the 'L' word was love and not something else.
"He's getting away," Brianna screeches, her voice painfully loud in my ear because she's so close. "Get this off me," she continues, gesturing at the rope that's still tied around her neck.
Her hands are even worse than mine. So tiny and shrivelled and white that they hardly look like part of her. She won't be running anywhere right now. Not that she can see it.
Before I can speak, another one of the strangers, a Hispanic boy with a serious expression and kind eyes, comes over and pulls a knife from his pocket. I raise my hands and from the way he mirrors my gesture in surrender, I know straight away that the Coates kids aren't the only ones to have worked out where the power comes from.
"I'm just gonna cut your ropes," he says evenly. "Then we're out of here. You can come if you want."
I sit forwards so he has no choice but to reach for me before Brianna, just in case he's going to try something. He doesn't, and when he unties me, he's shaking his head.
"This is sick," he whispers softly, almost to himself. "I've never seen anything like this."
"Caine's sick in the head," I reply, staying sat down because Brianna's still leaning against me and I'm not convinced she won't fall over if I move. "And Drake's worse."
"I'll kill him," proclaims Brianna as soon as she's cut loose. "Drake Merwin is going to die."
She jumps up off the bench and starts forwards, obviously expecting her super-speed to be as good as it was before all this. But it isn't. Her hands are too messed up. She's too weak and too hungry. So she falls back and I have to catch her before she hits the ground. I've never known pain like that which shoots up my arms and it's all I've got to stop myself from dropping her.
"You've got balls, girl," says the Hispanic boy. "But you can't go anywhere now. Not like this."
"I can," she snaps, but she's shaking and I know she's hurting as much as I am. "Nobody does this to me and gets away with it. Dekka, let me go!"
"If you want to end up on the floor then fine, I'll let you go. But you're not going after Drake and that's final."
"You can't stop me!"
"Do you want a bet?" I retort, pushing her just far enough away for me to be able to move freely.
Before she can hit the ground, I cancel gravity around her, holding her about a foot up in the air and trying to ignore both the agony and the amount I'm physically shaking with the effort.
"Wow, that's so cool," says the boy.
Then he catches Brianna as my strength runs out and I collapse. When she pulls free of him and stumbles back to me with concern in place of her usual cocky arrogance, it's suddenly all worth it.
"Give me your hands," says the dark-haired girl who steps out of the shadows in front of us, stopping us from carrying on down the road.
It's the girl who was at Coates with the others who helped us, the one who tried to fight back when Drake was going to cement her hands.
"Why?" I ask suspiciously.
"Because they need healing. Why do you think?" she retorts just as abrasively. "I can leave you to suffer if you want."
I shake my head and mumble an apology. She doesn't know me well enough to be surprised and just shrugs her shoulders.
"No," I tell her when she reaches for me again.
Then I get up and drag a shocked Brianna around me so she's the one in front of the girl who claims she can heal us.
"Dekka!" she exclaims. "Quit pulling me around! My hands still hurt and if they don't get better then I can't run."
The look in her eyes tells me that gaining her freedom has gone some way to helping her get her usual attitude back. It didn't take long. I knew it wouldn't because she's like that. I smile slightly at her and I can see the confusion on her face.
"I yell at you and you smile," she says. "There's something wrong with you, Talent."
I roll my eyes and sigh.
"Heal her first," I say to the town girl, who shrugs and holds her hands out to Brianna, who's still looking up at me, her expression now a different and almost anxious kind of confusion.
"She says she can heal people. You saw what she did when that kid got shot as well as I did. Just give her your hands."
She shrugs, winces, and then links hands with the healer girl. We both watch in awe as her old, useless skin is replaced by a new version that's so exactly perfect it's like she never wore the block of concrete.
"What's your name?"
"Lana," she replies, taking a deep breath as she lets Brianna go.
"Thank you, Lana," I say, still not convinced I'm not going to wake up in a minute and find myself still weighed down and powerless.
"I haven't healed you yet," she answers amusedly, extending her hands to me.
Yes, you have, I think to myself as Brianna tears off so fast down the road that she's little more than a blur. You've already healed me more than you could ever know.
When I reach my hands out to Lana, she changes her mind at the last minute and stretches out towards my head instead. I jump back and she does the same in response. For a second she looks scared, then she looks confused, and finally she settles on angry. And I don't want an angry healer, especially now.
"Sorry," I say, giving her a second apology in the space of a few minutes. It must be a record. "Heal up my hands from the plastering, but leave my head. I want something to remember it by. Please," I add, hoping my manners don't sound like too much of an afterthought.
She takes my hands and heals them like she did Brianna's. Then she stands there watching as I examine them in wonder. She looks tired. I almost ask her if healing wears her out, but she speaks before I can.
"What was all that up at the school?" she asks. "Sam and the others know them because they came down to town and tried to take over there, but I…haven't been around. That kid, he's something else."
"You mean Drake? Or Caine?"
"Both," the other girl admits.
"You saw Caine's power. Drake doesn't have anything like that. He's just a kid, but the most messed up, depraved kid at Coates. Or in the whole world, probably. He does what Caine tells him 'cause it suits him and Caine lets him indulge his not-so-inner psycho. All of us with the concrete, we tried to stand up to them. And some day soon they're going to get what's coming to them because of what they did."
"So you're all freaks?"
"Obviously," I reply. "They did what they did so we couldn't take them down."
"I saw your friend go, so I know what she can do, but how about you?"
I smile at the mention of Brianna and then again when I aim my hand at the ground about twenty feet away from us and it explodes, sending a pillar of dirt up towards the sky and then plummeting back down seconds later.
"Quit showing off, Dekka," teases Brianna as she abruptly appears beside me.
"Says the girl who breezed off at a million miles an hour as soon as her hands were healed," I retort, looking back over her head at the bedraggled group behind us.
"Breezed…" she repeats thoughtfully, making me look back at her again. "I like it. Brianna the Breeze."
"Don't even think about it," I tell her with a firmness I only half mean, but it's too late. She's the type of girl who's probably always wanted to be a superhero, and I can already see the idea forming.
I start to walk forwards again, not really knowing what I'm walking to and not really caring as long as it's away from Coates, but then a boy steps out into the middle of the road. Sam.
Maybe now I'm finally going to get some answers.