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Chapter Nine

Alia's day had been a whirlwind. The camping group had left that morning at five in the morning. People were trudging through the hallways, muttering in audible voices, waking Erica up. The rustle of the sheets, high pitched groan, and her thumping steps woke up Alia and Roxi. If Erica was bad later in the day, she was like a demon unleashed from hell at five at this time. Erica then promptly shrieked at the top of her lungs about her "beauty sleep" and started a pillow fight in which no one was allowed to fight back (In actually, Erica was just beating and throwing pillows at Alia and Roxi). She eventually wore herself out and fell asleep still clutching a pillow. These kinds of outbursts from her roommates made Alia wonder if she really was in hell. She believed in a heaven and a god, but never a hell. Erica Merrick was making her second guess herself.

After that delightful twenty minutes of seeing Erica without make-up with an "I will kill everyone" expression on her face, Alia hadn't been able to get to sleep. Instead, she'd lay in bed and silently wept. It wasn't just Erica who made her cry; it was missing her family so far away in Israel, and her old self. The one who would have stood up to Erica, the one she desperately wanted back.

She had become so bitter at her roommates that all she could think about was beating them up. Anger had weighed her down during the first mall trip, feeling like a ball of lead that was jostling around in her stomach which made her sick. Yet, she had let herself be dragged to yet another small excursion to the mall. During the car ride, she attempted to avoid listening or looking at the girls who had made her life miserable. Her mutation, however, made this more difficult to do since she could enhance one of the human senses. She focused on her sense of taste so that her sense of hearing and seeing was minimal. It helped a little but every time she did catch a glimpse of Erica's face, she felt a sudden urge to slap her so hard the pound of make-up on her face came off. It would serve her right to be make-up-less in public, Alia thought bitterly as she stepped out of the car and her senses returned like a punch in the face.

Over her time with Erica and Roxi, she'd learned things that they didn't even know about themselves (or liked to pretend didn't exist). She even kept a small list on her iPhone, hidden away in an obscure note taking app where her roommates would never find it. The title was "Weaknesses." About Erica, she'd learned make-up was her shield. It was what allowed her to mask her emotions and made her seem like emotional Troy, unable to be penetrated. Too bad her Trojan horse was coming to break through those infamous walls.

Roxi was more complicated. Her attitude of "Daddy's Little Girl" had been dulled next to Erica, but beneath it Alia knew there was a nicer side that loathed how Erica treated her. And, of course, there was her teddy bear. If anything happened to Mr. Kuddles, it would destroy Roxi, especially if Erica found out. He was Roxi's dirty little secret, always hidden under her bed at the very bottom of a small pile of miscellaneous items.

She allowed herself to be dragged into Delia's, Forever 21, Nordstroms, Bloomingdales, Akira, and what felt like thousands of other stores. Erica forced her into a few outfits then mercilessly criticized her until she spent five minutes trying to hide tears in a dressing room. Roxi didn't fare much better when she tried on outfits. Both seemed relieved when Erica declared it was time for lunch and marched them to the food court.

"I have to go to the bathroom," Alia sighed, not lying, she felt ill, but this didn't seem to stop Erica from giving her another tongue lashing.

Erica, the haughtiest aerokinetic around snorted before she said: "Hon, you have to eat before you throw up. That's how bulimia works, but do what you want." Alia and Roxi looked at each other shocked at what she just uttered. Roxi was a Bayville witch but even she thought Erica's comment was out of line. Alia pursed her lips walking away, restraining herself from knocking the girl out.

Alia walked down the same hallway to the women's bathroom that Kat had taken when she presumably disappeared. A cold shudder ran through her as she wondered if the same fate that befell Kat would happen to her. Even if she worried, she felt as though it would be a wonderful way to escape from Erica and Roxi's vise-like hold on her. Allowing herself to slip away into her thoughts and her body went into autopilot, she hardly noticed the figure following after her with feline stealth.

"Alia….?" The gender of the voice was indiscernible, but it still made the Israeli girl turn around and her eyes widened in shock. A name formed on her lips, however, she never had the chance to speak. Or to scream.

"The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round," Rai sang loudly as she took another drink from her bottle of Coca-Cola and leaned against Mia, laughing happily. It was her third bottle of Cola along with a pack of "Family Sized" skittles that Mia bought for the two of them, but didn't touch. The sugar rush had hit. And it was hitting hard. Along with singing incredibly annoying road trip music, Rai had been bouncing up and down in her seat. The singing was what really got to the other eleven recruit passengers on the bus.

Through his headphones, listening to a book on tape, so he was peacefully spared from having to hear several renditions of "The Wheels on the Bus" and "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall." Mercifully, some thought, she hadn't yet gotten on to the pop songs and Scott, who was acting as the bus driver, hadn't turned on the radio.

"We should turn on the radio!" Mia yelled, giggling as she took a swig of Cola from the bottle, acting as though it was alcohol. She was imitating Rai—and drunk people on television—partially just to keep Rai acting like a crazy person. The way she saw it, was that if Rai saw her acting wild then she would keep it. Anyways, it was fun to go a little wild sometimes.

In her life before the Xavier Institute, Mia had been the daughter of a plumber who lived in a family apartment. Since the majority of her friends were from her church, there was a certain degree of behavior that was expected to them. If the Mia living in Grand Haven, Michigan; saw herself now she would probably never believe it. Quiet, mild-mannered, and usually calm was what her church friends used to describe her. Rai would likely say: childish, fun, and a little bit crazy sometimes. Chocolates, sweets, and new friends change people sometimes.

A chorus of groans arose from the six boys who had decided to come on the trip, with the exception of Hunter, who laughed. He enjoyed having any reason to watch Rai, even if it was because she looked like she was kind of losing her mind. Avery, Jesse, Henry, Mason, and Michael didn't exactly see things from his point of view. Despite the protests, Scott turned on the radio and cranked it up, hoping it would drown out Rai's off key singing.

"Tonight let's get some and live while we're young!" Mia and Rai sang together. Much like Mia, Rai was almost nothing like the shy and at one time introverted girl she'd been. Leading the Olympians through Danger Room sessions had brought out a confidence she never thought she'd have. The social awkwardness vanished in the fourth routine Danger Room session when she'd been tossed in the air like a rag-doll by a Sentinel and had been in Nimbus' arms for an uncomfortably long time. Having James used his X-Ray vision to make sure nothing was broken, felt so much like an invasion of privacy that it forced her to toughen. Erica, Alia, and Roxi's cruel words had hardened her skin.

The Xavier Effect, as Grayson called it at one time, showed just how much everyone changed through experiencing the Institute. Other students could be cruel, but most were supportive. Locker rooms for changing and sharing bathrooms (not just with people of the same gender) desensitized most to discomfort with their bodies. Roommates and teams made them begin to learn to rely on each other, to trust, while still standing alone. It turned everyone who came to the mansion into an almost entirely new person. A better version of themselves, Hunter had once told a few of his friends while they were studying for a test in Mr. McCoy's Literature and Composition class.

"Other than having woken up at 5 this morning and having to listen to that," Reese started to say to Carmon as she nodded towards Mia and Rai. "I think that this trip is off to an excellent start and the forests we keep driving through just get prettier and prettier. I love this so much."

Carmon was about reply when Rai yelled: "Come on everyone! Let's all sing."

Cheers rose from the group and Carmon and Reese joined in, laughing a little bit.

As soon as they arrived at the campsite, the twelve recruits poured out of the bus, eager to stretch their legs after several hours on the road. Rai had crashed from her sugar high an hour and a half before they arrived. Now, she was the only one who lagged behind on the bus with the teachers. It took a little bit of coaxing from Jean and Mia to get her out to into the open air.

Wind gently rustled the leaves that had just begun to turn from green to orange. The few leaves that had turned shades of vibrant orange or deep red were littered across the clearing. There was no grass in the clearing, only solid, packed earth which made it easier to set up the tents. With the antics of several recruits—Rai and Mia—who spent half the time horsing around, it took close to an hour to get everything set up. As soon as this was done, the teachers stepped away to discuss their activity plans, leaving the group of twelve teenagers alone.

"Is there anything, in particular we could do?" Tatiana, one of the younger members of the group, inquired, piping up for the first time that trip.

"Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm kind of tired. I hate long road trips and then we had to set up camp, which was tiring. How about we call it an early night, the sun's setting and it's probably around six or seven, probably six-thirty." Rai sighed, punctuating her statement with a loud yawn that made Grayson snort.

"It's only 5:40," Henry argued. "I came on this trip because I wanted the chance to do something fun, not because I wanted to sleep on the uncomfortable ground. If I liked sleeping on hard dirt, I would sleep outside the mansion by the woods."

"I think there's supposed to be a stream nearby, a swim would be really nice, especially since this might be one of the last chances we get. The later we get into fall, the less warm days we'll have to go swimming even if Zelda can superheat the pool in the blink of an eye." Hunter suggested.

The group debated for a few minutes, but from the start the outcome was obvious. The final vote came out to eleven in favor and one against the idea. Rai made her way towards the tent that she was sharing with Mia, Tatiana, Reese, Grayson, and Carmon as the others went off to find the stream after grabbing bathing suits.

Hunter led the way through the fall trees, picking his way through shrubs and doing the best he could to avoid poison ivy. The sun, although it's light was fading as it drew closer to the horizon, was still burning brightly. Warmth was still prevalent and without a cloud in the sky, it was a decent enough day to go swimming if not a little brisk. It was obviously one of the last few days nice days there would be and Hunter was fully intent on enjoying it.

"Are we almost there?" Tatiana asked for the third time as she clambered across a fallen tree with some help of Henry's telekinesis. He set her down on the other side and gestured to the stream that was only about five feet away. Only about six feet deep, it was slow flowing and clear. The rocks leading down to it were coated in a thin layer of moisture making them slippery.

"I'd say the answer is yes," Reese replied as she watched Mia charge into the water sending a spray up around her. The hydrokinetic hadn't even bothered to strip down to her bathing suit before sliding under the surface of the water. She came up grinning despite the fact her white shorts were now transparent and through them the dark green bottoms of her bikini could be seen.

Michael laughed as he grabbed Reese, threw her over his shoulder, and carried her down to the water. She cursed and yelled at him while trying to push her auburn curls out of her eyes. Ignoring her pleas, he waded out to where it came out to the middle of his chest before tossing Reese into the water. Those still on the bank laughed as Mia, who, was floating on her back, squealed when she was hit by the spray from Reese's splash.

The auburn haired girl came up sputtering and gasping, while desperately trying to push her dripping curls out of her face. As soon as her eyes were clear, she turned a murderous gaze on Michael, who hadn't thought to move away. She dove under the water, a move that confused everyone, and a few seconds Michael was dragged under the surface. Mia kicked her legs to help the current move herself away from the rough housing.

After pulling a red shirt on over her black bikini, Carmon sat down on a rock in the shallow part of the stream. Being made of metal, she couldn't go out into the water deeper than her chest because of her tendency to sink. From her place on the rock, she watched as a splash fight broke out between a team of boys and a team of girls. Mia, backed up by Grayson and Reese, hurled entire waves at Michael, Hunter, and Henry. Using his telekinesis, Henry blocked her ferocious water attacks, but the water was all around them and it was hard to stop her even with telekinesis.

They battled in the swell for nearly half an hour until Jean came down to tell them that dinner was ready by the camp fire. Soaking wetting and dripping water, they trudged up the path after Carmon, who's clothes were dry. Hunter and Michael raced half the way to campsite as soon as they caught the smell of food. After getting to the campsite, they devoured nearly half the hotdogs before anyone else had a chance at them. Despite complaints, the others divvied up the potato chips—which they refused to share with the two who ate all the hotdogs—and what was left of the hotdogs.

"Should we be going to bed soon?" Mia asked with a yawn. "Rai's already passed out and snoring really loud. Besides, I'm really tired even though we hardly had anything to eat because of Michael and Hunter."

"Sorry," the two boys chorused in unison.

"I guess we should," Jesse replied. "The teachers are already asleep and we said we'd be following suit like twenty minutes ago, even though we promised it would only be five minutes."

"I'm tired, anyways," Tatiana mumbled as she got up and walked to her tent. The other girls followed her and the boys also went to bed a few minutes later.

The moon hung low in the sky, barely anything more than a sliver that was hidden behind passing wisps of clouds almost every minute. The forest was plunged into nearly total darkness and everything was still, although the animals were all holding their breath. The campsite was peaceful and still, so much so that it almost looked deserted. Rai's snoring had stopped after Mia rolled her onto her side.

In the girl's tent, Mia had rolled over so much as she was sleeping she was almost draped over Rai, who she was sleeping next to. Carmon lay sprawled out taking nearly all the room in the already cramped tent, which was helping things any. Lying back to back by the door, Reese and Grayson breathed perfectly in-sync like they were the same person.

The situation in the boy's tent was only worse. Henry had curled into a ball in the corner of the tent in a cat-like fashion to avoid the other boys, most of who were lying across the tent. Jesse, Michael, and Hunter lay spread eagle like they were all in a competition for space and were more or less lying on top of each other. Mason lay close to the tent wall, pressed up against it with his nose peeking out through a ripped piece in the tent. This had been a problem earlier in the night, when it rained for a half hour, but the smell of wet earth had quickly lulled him back to sleep. Avery sat by the shoes, at the tent door, sleeping against the tent wall and nearly knocking over the whole thing.

A scream shattered the peace of the night into a thousand little pieces. Animals were dragged from their dreams and into the waking world. Something none of them responded well to and a chorus of birds chirping, squirrels squeaking, and hundreds of other animals making a variety of noises filled the air. Along with the animals, nearly all of the recruits were roused. Rai remained asleep, breathing deeply even after Mia and the others scrambled sleepily to their feet. At this time of year, there weren't many other people camping so it was most likely one of their own. And if it wasn't, they were still obliged to help.

Reese, Grayson, and Henry were the first three out into the clearing. The teachers had in earplugs to keep from being disturbed and remained fast asleep in their own tent. Everyone else with the exception of Mia and Rai arrived about a minute afterwards, tugging on various articles of clothing. Last to arrive, was Mia dragging a very sleepy Rai. Both of them till wore pajamas under their coats.

The morning was brisk as the recruits assembled in a jumbled semicircle of sorts to discuss who was missing and what the best course of action was.

"Should we do a role call or something to see whose missing?" Jesse suggested, his speech slurred with sleep.

"No," Grayson snapped, looking like she was a couple seconds away from slapping him upside the head. Being woken up in the middle of the night had a tendency to make her irritable, as it did with most people. "It's pretty obvious that it's Tatiana who isn't here."

"Well, where is she?" Mason asked shyly.

"If we knew that, there wouldn't be any kind of problem now would there!?" Avery snarled at him, making Mason cower away from him.

"There are footprints on the pathway," Reese observed, pointing to them. "If we follow them they might lead us to Tatiana."

The group started off into the woods, following after Tatiana's footprints, while being careful not to step on them in case they needed to back track. Mia silently thanked God that it had rained earlier that night so their friend could leave footprints and they could track her in case she was in trouble. Through trees, over logs, and countless patches of shrubbery they walked after Tatiana's footprints. Several times, they lost them before they came to the same river bank they'd been to beforehand.

Walking along the stream, was none other than their missing friend dressed in black pajamas with her chestnut hair pulled into the bun she wore it to sleep in. She walked slowly, like she was in some kind of trance.

"Tati—" Rai started to call before Hunter clamped his hand over his mouth and whispered to her, "never wake a sleepwalk, especially when they're that close to a river and could fall in. She's not hurt now, the last thing we want is her to hit her head on those rocks and seriously injure herself, especially if we can't find the way back in time. None of us have healing powers and the nearest hospital is far away, we can't risk is."

"Then how do you suggest we get her back to the camp site?" Carmon asked Rai and Hunter in a hushed whisper. "We'll have to wake her up."

"But only once we get her away from that water," Michael chimed in, suppressing a yawn and looking like he was going to fall asleep on his feet. He rubbed the sleep from eyes and yawned again.

"I'll get her," Henry said and without waiting he reached out and pulled her toward them a little shakily. She hovered a few feet above the ground and he had to go slowly to keep her from waking up. If she woke up and began to struggle, he knew he wouldn't be able to hold her. He set her down a few feet in front of them and the others took her back, but Henry hung back to look for the shoes he left by the river earlier.

A hand came down on his shoulder and Henry turned around. He barely had time to gasp before a the person smashed his fist into Henry's head, making him crumple to the ground.

"Sorry, man, I really am."

A/N: A huge thank you to my lovely Beta Reader, Sincerely Anonymous! Think you to Crazzygurl123, chinaluv, flying feather scribbles, Death For One, Sithlord8665, San child of the wolves, and DoubleCrescentMoon for reviewing. So sorry for keeping you all waiting, I've just been working very hard on school. The next chapter will hopefully be up in a week or two.