The next few days went by at a breakneck pace. We were all put on construction detail together at first, but once they found out Erin and I were stronger than normal, they reassigned us to helping drag logs back to the camp area. Not that surprisingly, no one would sell a bunch of illegal metas any lumber, so they had to cut down their own trees.
It was probably for the best with all things considered. I didn’t know the first thing about construction, but neither did any of the others really. For the most part they weren’t asking us to do anything complicated, and a few of the other Idyllium locals who had experience with construction gave instructions and assistance where they were needed.
Still, it was slow going when most of the workers hadn’t used a hammer before they came to Idyllium. Erin and I were a bit hesitant to be separated from the group, but eventually we started to relax. Even Ian seemed to dislodge the stick from his ass, at least a little bit. He managed to talk his way closer to Savant and Edward, helping with the group that found new potential members.
Dani had stayed in what felt like constant contact. She was on the same lumber-moving team as Erin and me. Her powers were cool, honestly. She could control gravity to some extent; negating it, increasing it, revering it, etc. She could compete with Erin with how much she could move while I was stuck dragging one tree at a time.
And these trees were big. I remembered Ian grumbling about it being illegal to cut down trees in a national park. It was a good point, but on the other hand, the people here were ostracized if they tried to be themselves, maybe they were owed something.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to think, but for now, I was focused on dragging a particularly large tree out of a thick grove. It was slow going, and my grip kept slipping. No matter how I grabbed it, the energy around my fingers made it damn near impossible for them to find purchase.
“Guess I’m better at punching things than grabbing them,” I muttered to myself, moving to the middle of the tree to try and lift it that way.
“Need some help?”
I jumped at Dani’s cheerful, but sudden, outburst and dropped the tree on my foot. “Shit!”
“Oops, didn’t mean to startle you,” She said innocently.
“It’s fine,” I said through gritted teeth. My energy kept most of the weight off, but it still hurt like a motherfucker. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I was just finishing up my last trip for the day and wanted to stop by and see how you were getting along.”
I looked past her to see a bundle of five or six trees gently floating a foot or two above the ground. Faint traces of her energy sparked off the rounded ends of the logs.
“Ah, no, I’m fine,” I said, puffing out my chest a little. I could drag a damn tree out of the woods on my own. I was pretty sure.
“Okay, just looked like you were having some trouble.” She went quiet for a bit, watching me struggle with the tree. “How are you and your friends liking it here so far anyways?”
“It’s not so bad,” I said, managing to will my energy to heft the tree precariously onto my shoulder. “Definitely better than it was out there.”
“And—uh—Adam? Is he…liking it here?
“Adam? Yeah…I guess so. He doesn’t really talk much,” I said, raising an eyebrow at her interest. Was she interested in him? She was a few years younger than we were, though I didn’t really know exactly how old Adam was.
“Oh…yeah, exactly. I just noticed he didn’t talk much, so I thought I’d ask you because he doesn’t—talk, I mean—and I figured since you were his friend, you…”
It was rude, I know, but I ended up tuning her out. She could go on like this for what felt like forever. The tree was starting to feel heavy on my shoulder, and I had to focus on my energy to keep the tree from crushing me.
Dani was still going on about something or another. Hoping to actually have a conversation with more than one side, I spoke up; “Hey, you seem to know a lot of the people here. Do you know a girl about my age; a blonde telepath?”
Dani thought for a moment, floating along. “No, I don’t think so. Why? You interested in her?”
The Tree almost slipped. “N-No, I mean, I’m not…never mind.”
I concentrated on keeping my energy focused to my shoulder, but when I looked down the path, I saw Edward walking towards us.
“What’s he doing here?”
“I dunno,” Dani said, noticing him about the same time I did.
“Miss Hester, it’s a pleasure as always, and it’s Mr. Peterson, right?” Edward asked as he greeted us.
“Uh, yeah. That’s me,” I said, shaking his hand while being careful to not hit him with the tree.
“Dani, could you excuse us. I would like to speak to Mr. Peterson and make sure he’s feeling welcomed here.”
“Sure,” Dani said, giving us a smile and walking ahead with her floating trees in tow.
He wants to talk to me? Why? I thought to myself.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” Edward said once Dani was out of earshot. “I’m an empath, remember,” he said the second confusion flashed through my mind.
“Oh, right,” I said, forcing a laugh. “So…what did you need?”
“Well, like I told Dani, I wanted to make sure you were feeling welcome. We haven’t had a chance to really talk yet, and I try to make it a point to personally screen all of our newcomers.”
Oh god, they’re going to throw us out.
“What? No, we’re not going to throw you out.”
“I thought you were just an empath?”
Edward laughed. “You’ve had some bad experiences with telepaths, haven’t you?”
“Uh, sort of I guess.”
“A short blonde with a big attitude?”
“Yeah…how did you…?”
Edward’s smile grew a bit. “I’m only an empath, I promise; I’m just very good at what I do. Once you’ve peered inside the heads of as many people as I have, it get’s easy to pick up on specifics.”
“So, you knew all that about The Anarchist just from my emotions?”
“That, and I’ve met her. I know everyone in Idyllium.”
“Oh,” I said, slightly relieved.
“She’s a bit of an oddball, and it doesn’t help the fact that telepaths are particularly hard for empaths to read.”
We walked and talked for a bit and it seemed like it was innocent enough, but I got the uncomfortable feeling Edward was using his powers. Reading me like a book.
“So, isn’t it a bit weird that you and Savant are both empaths?”
Edward shrugged, seemingly not caring that I changed the subject. “It’s certainly not common for two empaths to work together, but I feel that Savant and I each bring certain skills to the table. Her powers work for miles, and while mine lack that range, they have a certain nuance. Speaking of powers, I must admit I haven’t been completely up front with why I wanted to talk to you.”
He sounded almost guilty as he slowed his pace before coming to a stop.
I knew he could tell I was getting nervous and that somehow made everything worse.
“Savant is the face of Idyllium, but I’ve made it my personal duty to make sure anyone we take in won’t pose a danger to the others here. I’m sure Dani mentioned that we’ve had to turn some people away due to a violent past; unfortunately, we’ve also had to turn away some poor souls who couldn’t control dangerous powers. I need to make sure your powers are under control.”
“Oh, is that all,” I muttered. “So, should I drop the tree or…?”
“…That would probably be the best, yes.”
I let the tree roll off my shoulder and crash to the ground, a bit louder than I expected, and I knew that Edward knew it startled me—god, I hated empaths—but not him as a person!
Edward grinned, “Relax, Nate. I just want to know what you can do. That little barrier is interesting, why don’t you start there?”
“Okay, well…” I started, letting the energy fade and then summoning it back to my fist. “I pull it from some sort of alternate dimension or something like that. I can cover my entire body with it, and sorta move it around,” I said, summoning more energy and letting it flow across the rest of me.
Edward watch with almost fanatical fascination. I swallowed, and my mouth suddenly felt weirdly dry. Stage fright? Maybe.
“It’s mostly bulletproof, and it’s like an exoskeleton; it makes me stronger and faster—”
“—Can you fly?”
“N-no, I don’t think so. I’ve never really tried.”
Edward nodded. “It might be worth giving it a try. But what else can you do? I have the feeling there’s more.”
I wasn’t quite sure how much I wanted to tell him about my visions, but I had the feeling he would be able to tell if I held anything back. But he was art of the place that was supposed to keep me safe, right?
“Well, sometimes I see visions.”
“Yeah, except sometimes they’re a bit vague. They were actually what led us here.”
“Really? Your visions showed you Idyllium?”
I nodded, “I didn’t know about you or Savant really, but I knew it was a safe place.”
“How interesting,” Edward said, looking at me with an expression I couldn’t quite pinpoint. “But how do you know that this energy comes from another dimension?”
“Because I’ve been there,” I answered. I could see interest burning in his eyes, so I reached out a hand and opened the swirling mass of a portal a few feet from us.
“Can I see it?”
“That wouldn’t be a good idea,” I said, picking up a stick and pushing it part way into the portal. It was only in there for a second, but when I pulled it out, it was already almost completely bleached and starting to crumble.
“I see what you mean,” Edward said as the rest of the stick turned to ash. “But an entire dimension is through that portal?”
Almost like he was in a trance, Edward reached for the portal and the blue light seemed to shift as his hand got close. Suddenly, I felt the presence surge from the back of my mind.
With the most panic-inducing déjà vu I’ve ever felt, my body lurched towards Edward, energy forcefully brimming with malicious intent.
With an almost amused curiosity, Edward pulled his hand away from the portal, and my muscles relaxed as I felt the presence retreat.
“I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…that wasn’t me…”
“Don’t worry, I know. Something…drowning in anger surged up inside you. ‘The Presence’?”
“Uh, yeah. It’s…like a voice in my head, I guess. I’m so sorry about that. It—it won’t happen again, sir.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure you’ll learn to control it.”
Smiling, more to himself than to me, Edward turned and started walking out of the woods without another word.
What just happened?
“Nate! What took you so long?”
“Sorry, I had a strange talk with Edward,” I said, dropping off the tree.
“Oh yeah? He does that sometimes. Anyways, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, you too.”
I felt bad; I still hadn’t learned the name of the guy who ran the lumbermill-thing. He seemed like a nice person, though. He was heavier set with some kind of cutting powers. I waved goodbye and headed towards my tent.
Dani ambushed me after I’d gone about three feet.
Dani rolled her eyes, “What did Ed want to talk about?”
“Nothing much, he just wanted to learn a little bit about my powers.”
“Oh,” Dani sighed dramatically. “I thought something cool might happen for once, but…why would I be lucky?”
“Is that the only reason why you talk to me? You think I’m some kind of cool magnet?”
Dani thought for a moment. “You? Nah. But if you fuck up, I’m betting it’ll be hilarious.”
“Thanks,” I said with faux offense.
“You’re welcome! Oh, by the way, some of us are having a little party down by the river and we were wondering if you guys wanted to join us.”
“Yeah, you know, some of the older teens smuggle some booze away from the old farts and we have music, and yeah. It’s pretty legit.”
“Booze? What are you, Fifteen?”
“Sixteen!” She said with slight indignation, “What are you, the fun police? Like you’ve never had some beer at a party before. You’re not going to snitch on us, right?”
“What? No. I didn’t say that—”
“Good. Then you’ll come?”
I grinned, “Yeah, I guess so.”
“And you’ll bring the others?”
“Yeah, I’m sure they’d love to come.”
I rolled my eyes jokingly, “It’ll take some convincing…but I just might be able to convince him.”
Dani smiled. “Awesome. Just walk down towards the river until you hear the music.” Violet energy swirled around her arms as she lifted herself into the air and hovered away.
Leaving me to walk back alone. Great.
It didn’t take much to convince the others to go. Whitney agreed the second she heard there would be alcohol, and she did most of the convincing from there. Ian took a bit more than the others but once Whitney threatened to blow up everything he owned, he relented.
I somehow ended up leading us through the woods, not that I really knew where I was going. I vaguely knew what direction the river was in but hadn’t actually been down there myself.
“What river is this anyways?” Corey asked as we pushed through tree branches and bushes.
“Lake Creek,” Ian answered.
“Of course, you would know that,” Whitney said. “Does it flow from Lake Lake?”
“Phelps Lake, actually,” Ian shot back.
“Whitney don’t blow Ian up,” Erin sighed.
“Then tell him not to annoy me.”
“How old are you?” Ian asked
“Knock it off,” Adam said. “Both of you are annoying.”
“Do you guys hear that?” Corey asked.
“Yeah, that’s defiantly music,” I said, pushing through another patch of dense bushes.
The woods opened up as we walked towards the river, which didn’t look all that impressive, but the Idyllians had done a pretty good job setting up a little area for themselves. The music was coming from a kid with a laptop hooked up to a few small speakers he had set up on a small outcropping of rocks.
The rest of the party goers were talking and laughing in a little area that had been cleared of debris with a good-sized bonfire blazing in the middle.
“Hey! The new guys are here!”
“Sup bitches!” Whitney yelled, letting a shower of sparks erupt from her hands much to the delight of the crowd.
“Awesome, you guys made it!” Dani called out as she floated over, coming to a landing next to Adam who immediately looked uncomfortable.
“Thanks for the invite,” Erin said, surveying the scene.
“Yeah, totally!” Dani grinned.
“I was told there would be drinks, so…” Whitney began, an expecting smile taking over her face.
“Right, yeah, let’s get this party started!” Dani said, floating several feet into the air before moving over to an area with a few coolers manned by one of the younger adults I’d seen around the camp.
“Hey new guys,” He greeted us. “What can I get you?”
“Are we just ‘the new guys’ to everyone?” Whitney asked.
“Uh, kinda?” The guy said.
“Fair enough,” Whitney shrugged. “Get us all a round!”
“Uh, hold on, I better not,” Corey said. As the bartender-ish guy was passing out beers.
“Come on, Corey. One won’t hurt,” Whitney said.
“—Yeah, yeah, the whole ‘bird’ thing. Just live a little. Even Nate’s having one.”
I raised an eyebrow as I opened the can but wasn’t sure what she meant by that. “Should I be offended?”
“Nah,” Whitney said offhandedly.
“Alright,” Corey relented, accepting a beer.
“Fuck yeah!” Whitney cheered as she proceeded to start chugging.
From there, the night slowly started to turn into a blur. Whitney was the life of the party, but that really wasn’t a surprise. None of us knew anyone there, but that changed pretty quickly. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. Whitney tried to get everyone to dance, but I hadn’t drunk nearly enough for that yet.
Neither had the rest of the team, apparently. Ian sulked on the edge of the party, slowly nursing the same beer he started with. Adam was marginally closer, but Dani was constantly hovering—literally and metaphorically—around him.
And it was probably the alcohol, but I slowly started relaxing a bit as the night stretched on, and before long, I was talking like I’d known the people here for years, laughing at jokes and even cracking some myself. They were probably shit, but to a bunch of drunk teens and young adults, they were hilarious.
Some more people came and went, but I figured there were roughly forty people or so at any given time. Eventually, a large group started dancing; it at least seemed like dancing and I had enough drinks that it felt like a good idea for me to join in.
I didn’t know half the faces, but they all went by in a blur, until I heard a familiar voice over the music and the talking.
A pair of hands spun me around to face the Anarchist looking up at me with a shit eating grin. “You…” I managed to say. “Come here often?” I asked about as smooth a gravel.
The Anarchist giggled despite my drunken attempt at…something. I wasn’t really sure myself.
“Can’t say I do, Soot.”
“Why do you keep calling me that?” I asked over the noise.
“Right, you don’t remember,” She said, her brow furrowing in thought.
Before she could say anything else, a chorus of oohs and ahhs rose up from the crowd. I looked over to see a completely unabashed Corey shedding his heavy jacket and stretching out is brilliantly white wings. He must really be drunk to show them off, I thought.
“Hey, why don’t we get out of here and see if I can help you remember?” The Anarchist asked, pulling my attention back to her.
“Look, Anarchist, I—”
“What?” I asked, confused.
“Call me Eli,” she said with a genuine smile, offering a hand to lead me away.
I froze, not sure what to do. Ian warned me about her, and I got some sort of strange vibe when she was around, but…
Maybe it was the booze or the moment, but I took her hand and she pulled me through the crowd. I thought I heard someone call my name, but just then we reached the edge of the group and The Anar—and Eli picked up her pace, leading us a good distance away from the nose and festivities.
“So, you really don’t remember me at all?” Eli finally asked, breaking the awkward silence.
“No. I’m sorry if I was supposed to, but…everything has just kinda been a fog for the past few months.”
Eli nodded. “I think someone fucked with your memory.”
“Who? And why?” I asked, thinking it was crazy.
“Argus?” She offered in a way that meant “Duh”. For some reason, that made sense, sort of.
“Why would they mess with my head?”
“Have you met Argus? They do whatever they want to get what they want.”
“Are they after you too?” I asked.
Eli shrugged, “I guess so. I’m not on their Christmas Card list this year, I can say that for sure.”
I laughed, and I saw Eli’s smile return.
“Okay, if they messed with my head, then tell me how we know each other.”
I saw a pained look glint in her eyes, and she dropped her gaze. “We weren’t exactly on great terms last we saw each other.”
“What, are you my Ex or something,” I said, joking under the effects of the booze.
“No, nothing like that,” She said, sounding like she remembered something sad.
“Well, then, can you use your powers to help me remember? You’re a telepath, right?”
Slowly, her gin came back and she gave me a sly look.
“Maybe, but you’re going to have to trust me, okay?” She said, stepping in very close and looking up at me.
“What did you have in mind?” I asked, not sure if I should be refusing.
“Well, I need to…touch to use my powers.”
There was a voice somewhere in my head telling me I should stop, but there was a much louder voice telling me the exact opposite. Deciding to blame everything on being drunk, I found myself leaning in…
And then we heard what sounded like a heard of elephants crashing through the woods towards us. Eli pulled back, and we looked over to see Corey stumbling closer.
“Hey, Nathh, Nathanan, hey Nate, there you are.”
“Yeah, I diddn’t know wh-where you went, so I went looking for you.
I looked over to Eli whose face was flushed, “You should probably take care of your friend.”
Corey reached us and partway fell, leaned into a hug, wrapping his arms around my waist.
“Uhh,” I looked back, but Eli was already walking away.
“You’re warm,” Corey said, hugging a little tighter.
“Maybe we should get you back to the tent.”
“Yeah, let’s go the tent!”
“How many drinks did you have?”
“I told you have a small metbl-metababl—I have wings,” he finally managed to say with the conviction that it was a decent explanation.
He could barely walk, and at this rate it would take forever to make it back to the camp. Corey weighed practically nothing, so I picked him up and started trudging back.
“Wow you’re strong.”
“And you’re very drunk.”
Corey giggled, wrapping his wings around me.
“You’re hot, too.”
“What?” I asked, not sure how to respond to that. All too conveniently, Corey was out cold.