Chapter 1.1: Koston
Chapter 1.2: Vila
Chapter 1.3: Raiden
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“She's only fifteen, Tomas,” Tessa Bennihan hissed at her husband in the next room.
“Not in her mind she isn't.”
“I don't care! She took my shuttle and disappeared this morning. She was gone for more than seven hours. I had no idea where she went off to and she wasn’t responding to any of my messages. I was worried sick.”
Her father hesitated before speaking. “I thought she told you about the interview today.”
Lies. Eliza thought as she sat awake in her bedroom. She had told her on several different occasions. After her mother said, “no,” she stopped bringing it up, but that was beside the point.
“Tessa, she's fine. She went and came back unharmed. And she didn’t even get the offer. Do I agree with her actions? No, but things could have been a lot worse.”
“Yes. She could have been in an accident, or gotten lost, or killed!”
“I mean, she could be doing drugs or have taken up some other nasty habit. She could be a delinquent, but she’s far from it. She’s a little anti-social, but she’s careful, very smart, and even more convincing. I almost considered letting her stay down in Larcos.”
“Out of the question!” Her mother screamed back.
This made Eliza smile. She had always been her father’s girl. Her mind traveled back to the days in Larcos when he’d gotten off of work late in the middle of the night. Mother would have been a sleep long before then, exhausted after a full day of making meals and walking airily around the house. Eliza was usually still awake, studying local or planetary law or reading essays from some of her favorite authors. When father got home he would take her out to their local diner for a midnight snack. They would talk for hours. While he ended up becoming an ecologist, he had once had political aspirations himself. Those nights in the diner had been the highlights of Eliza’s week, but the last time he had taken her out was months ago. Ever since they moved from Larcos to Kalia, Tomas Bennihan was usually too tired to do anything.
Thoughts of how hard he worked made her frown. Having an argument with her mother about Eliza must have been the last thing that her father had wanted to do that evening.
“She wants to get into the BAA. She thinks that in six months she’ll be mature enough to live on her own—and in Barencos of all places! Humph! Barencos—can you imagine, Tomas? It’s the largest city in the world. It must be crawling with criminals and it’s on the other side of the continent! What makes her think that we’d ever allow her to go there?”
Her father had told her long ago that the Barencos Advisory Academy was damn near impossible to get into, but if anyone could do it, his daughter could. If she did, she had his permission to attend. When her father had gone silent, Eliza could only imagine what sorrowful facial expression he was giving his wife. Eliza gulped and braced herself for whatever stratospheric octave tone of disbelief was going to come out of her mother’s mouth.
Thankfully, her father spoke before her mother shrieked in apprehension. “It’s across the narrower end of the continent, and it’s only half a day’s drive. In six months she’ll be sixteen; practically an adult.”
Her mother began to stomp across the room. It was better than listening to her scream at him. To Eliza’s surprise, when Tessa responded she sounded more hurt than loud. “She’ll still be just a girl. I… I don’t get it. Why can’t she just wait another two years and apply with other people her age?”
There was a pause.
“She will always be our little girl, but it's time to start letting her go.”
There wasn't too much more that was audible enough for Eliza to make out. Her mother had cried for a little bit, and Eliza assumed that her father was consoling her. Hopefully Tessa would feel better in the morning.
Outside her window, the moon shimmered down on the streets of crushed crystal, making them sparkle. The ground below became a sea of stars. Even after living there for several months, Eliza was taken aback by Kalia’s beauty.
The city-state itself was predominantly constructed out of crystals and water and ran on hydro-electric power. The sidewalks were marked off by inch-wide man-made streams that came from the hydro-dome in the center of the city, and trailed off to light up the crystal spires spread across Kalia, properly dispersing electricity. The streams glowed neon in the night, lighting up the parts of the pavement that the dancing blue flames atop the street lamps could not. The triangular and hexagonal crystal structures that dominated the Kalian landscape were already dulled to their nighttime navy hues. They wouldn’t shine again until Hela reclaimed the sky.
Her parents had become silent. Eliza strained her ears to determine whether she could still make out if they were awake or not. She wasn’t the least bit tired, and on particularly beautiful nights like this one, she often took a stroll around the city-state, or would sometimes head to the park to read. She had checked out a book on Kalian government on her way back from Hewenia earlier that afternoon. Vila had advised her to admire a new representative, and her mother wasn’t about to let her intern somewhere out of the city, so she was going to have to find someone within it that she liked.
She grabbed the book and slid out of bed. She was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt which was size too big for her, and shorts that her mother once said clashed with her outfit. People looked at her funny when she went out sometimes, but she lost will to care long ago. When she left her room, she heard snoring coming from her parent’s bedroom. She didn’t know if they were both asleep, but she doubted that either would check on her that night. She slipped through the kitchen and then out the front door.
The soft hissing sound of the shimmering stream gave noise to the otherwise silent streets. With the text in hand, she admired the architecture of the buildings that lined the sidewalks. Some of them were close to the shapes of regular houses, while others looked as if spikes of crystals were shooting out of them in all directions, sometimes as high as fifty feet in the air. No two structures in Kalia were exactly alike. Every street brought with it a totally new set of buildings. Eliza sometimes took scenic routes to the park, but that night she chose a more direct one.
She found herself at the end of a street, staring at an open grass clearing lit up by lines of trees made of crystal that absorbed the moonlight and bounced it across the field. There were nets at the end of it that were used for Kaliki Ball, a popular sport in Noreis. In the center of the park were a set of benches facing a neon fountain. All too often she caught lovers in an embrace while sitting before it. It’d be a great place to take a significant other, if she ever decided to get one. Eliza preferred this spot because the light was bright enough to read by even on cloudy nights.
Only two of the benches were occupied, so she found a space quickly and made note of a group of two guys and two girls toward the other end of the park. She couldn’t make out who they were, but noticed that one of the guys was bouncing a ball the size of his head up and down with his feet. He then launched it into the air, did a backflip and hit it with his chest to his other guy friend while the two girls giggled in their short skirts.
Eliza scoffed and opened up the Kalian government book to section four where she’d left off. She started to mutter the first sentence out loud, but found herself listening to the girls as they continued to giggle. She glanced back over to them, all laughing and having a fun evening. Although still too far to see, she could tell they were an attractive bunch. Nothing about them or what they wore hurt her eyes (a phrase that even her mother used about her all too often).
She watched them, but only grew more perplexed. She was as smart as she was driven, and had worked damn hard to ensure that she’d have a great career ahead of her. So if she put all of this effort into an enjoyable life, why wasn’t she the one giggling over some jock goofing off? What made them so special? Was she unable to appreciate the simplicities of life, or too intelligent to not be amused by a guy doing tricks with his ball? She wondered they would chase the moving red dot of a pen light if she had one handy. Then again, the red dot wasn’t a six foot tall man who likely bore a six pack.
The jock with the ball kicked it high into the air again. This time he leapt three or four feet off the ground in a spinning front flip that was nothing short of impressive. As the ball hurdled toward him, he yelled something out and he kicked it sideways. Before she knew it, the ball was shooting toward her at a disturbing speed. She dropped the book and held her hands out in front of her to brace for impact. She closed her eyes and looked away and then—gasp!
She opened her eyes and turned to face forward again. The ball was between her fingers. Her hands were burning after it slid between them at such a velocity, but somehow she caught it,.
The group of four rushed toward her, muttering things to one another as they approached.
Oh no. Eliza thought. Upon getting a closer look, she realized that she knew the two girls from school. She didn’t care enough to learn their actual names, but she’d designated them with her own names, which were befitting of their personalities: Drama, and Bitchface. Next to Drama and Bitchface was a clean-shaven young man barely taller than she was wearing the emblem of the city-state of Cardeau across his chest. And the other man… No. It couldn’t be.
Bitchface approached and her look of astonishment turned into a sneer. “Oh. It’s her.”
“Oh my Gods, it’s the know-it-all.” Drama let out a laugh. “And in her usual attire I see.”
The boy with the emblem smiled, but quickly withdrew it. Eliza got a closer look in the Cardeau emblem he wore when he entered the light. It wasn’t the emblem of just any Cardeau resident: this man was knight! “Good evening,” he said to her in a tone much friendlier than that of the two girls.
The second man stepped into clear view. Eliza recognized him instantly and shot him a disdainful glare. It was Marquez Donnick, the great-grandson of Abraham Donnick, who was arguably the greatest Monarch Superior that had ever lived. The Donnicks were quite possibly the most respected and well-known family in all of Noreis, or at least they had been before Marquez started hitting the tabloids. As famous as his father was, Marquez had become infinitely more infamous. There was a new story every week about a party he had thrown that got too rowdy, or about him being apprehended by the authorities for underage drinking, drug rumors, or reckless driving. Still, he was constantly on magazine covers. Photos from his latest model shoots were shown and he was consistently revered as the sexiest man alive (which only added to the controversy, being that he wasn’t technically a “man” yet).
As his perfect skin glowed in the moonlight, even Eliza couldn’t protest that he was the most beautiful person she’d ever seen. His sandy-brown hair was the perfect kind of messy, and his brown eyes were like two lovely portals that countless women had found themselves lost in. His gilded clothes were perfectly fitted and she was able to make out his muscular, but not overpowering frame through the custom-made fabric. He smiled, with perfect teeth of course, and Eliza had to think for a moment about what he actually said to her. “Nice catch!”
She didn’t respond right away. Drama and Bitchface were giggling again.
“Can I, uh, can I have that back?” Marquez asked her sweetly, as if he was talking to a child.
The very notion irritated her enough to get over his good looks. He was only two years older than she was and was handed everything on a silver platter. He had no right to talk down to her. “You’re Marquez Donnick, right?”
“Oh my Gods, she knows who he is,” Bitchface laughed.
“I didn’t think she knew anything that actually mattered,” Drama said.
Marquez ignored them. “I am. And this here is my knight and best friend, Sir Malifest Milo.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Milo said with a nod, more fixated on Marquez than Eliza.
“You are the son of Koston Donnick.”
“I am aware,” Marquez said. He walked over and slid between Bitchface and Drama, placing his arms around each of them. They swooned, of course, and then continued giggling. “And, from the sound of it, you know these two lovely ladies as well.”
“This is the girl we were telling you about,” Drama said. “The one our teacher told would pass as long as she stopped correcting him.”
Bitchface spoke. “There were two weeks where everyone thought she transferred—”
“Or died,” Drama added.
“But she was just in the library. Then everyone was, like, really sad.”
“Oh, and Marquez, you should see some of the clothes she wears,” Drama said.
“Yeah, like, this outfit doesn’t even do it justice,” Bitchface said. “I can’t believe that her mother even lets her go out in that.”
“Are you sure she even has a mother?” Drama asked.
“Hey!” Marquez barked, catching everyone by surprise. As the moonlight splashed on his symmetrically perfect face, a hint of sadness slipped into his eyes. “Everyone has a mother.”
“My mother is fine with what I wear,” Eliza lied. “At least my clothes don’t insinuate that I’m easy. Lord only knows how many times the two of you have gotten the worms.”
Sir Milo burst with laughter. Marquez snickered too, but controlled himself while in close proximity to the girls that he was actively trying to sleep with.
Bitchface stepped forward with a snarl on her face and a pair of scorning eyes that were preparing to rip Eliza to shreds. “At least someone would want me. Look at you. You’re a helpless, pathetic, silly little girl who has to find love in books because deep down inside you know that no one will ever give a shit about you.”
“Ouch,” Drama and Sir Milo muttered.
Eliza and Marquez exchanged glances for a moment. Even he looked like he was ashamed to want to sleep with Bitchface at that moment. Of course, he probably still would.
Eliza sighed and stood up, just a few feet from Bitchface, who was balling up her fists. “Even with all of the books that I read I’ll never have as much wit as you have infections. Your clothes should come with their own ‘caution’ signs.”
“And your clothes should come from somewhere other than the department of eternal rejection.”
“What would you know about the department of eternal rejection? Word around school is that you’ve accepted every applicant that’s wanted to get between your legs.”
“At least someone would want to,” Bitchface hissed.
“At least my nose isn’t broken.”
Eliza flung the ball toward Bitchface, who caught it right between the eyes and yelped with pain as blood spewed from her nose like a broken faucet. She shrieked with tears and covered her face. The guys laughed uncontrollably.
Drama looked too shocked to speak. Eliza took her silence as an opportunity to approach her. She leaned in and whispered in Drama’s ear. “By the way, I walked it on Professor Stupin having sex with your mother during parent-teacher conferences. She looked like she enjoyed it.” Eliza paused. “I guess I do know things that actually matter.”
Drama’s mouth spilled open and she let out an uncontrollable howl before bursting into tears. The boys gawked at them both, trying to figure out what just happened and who was more perplexed.
“She’s—she’s horrible!” Drama exclaimed.
Eliza turned around and grabbed her book. “Have a good evening, gentlemen.”
If she didn’t know any better, she would’ve sworn that it was Marquez that was trying to flag her down. When she turned back around, she saw his beautiful figure standing before her and was at a loss for words.
“Hey,” he said with a smile. He shyly scratched the back of his head. His aura was warm and inviting. He wasn’t at all how she imagined him to be.
Eliza gawked at the very thought that he could be nervous around her. There was no way that he could have found her interesting. She was too interesting for someone like him to find interesting.
“That was, uh, wow. You really know how to take care of yourself.”
Eliza blushed like an idiot. “Yeah, sometimes. I should… go… though…”
She turned around again, but he reached out his hand and gently caressed her shoulder. His warm palm sent shivers down her arms and all she could think was ‘he’s touching me!’
“Wait—before you go…”
Eliza looked at him again and opened her mouth. It was several seconds before she said anything. “I’m Eliza.”
“Hi, nice to meet you,” his eyes were so beautiful in the moonlight, as if they were singing a silent serenade meant just for her. She could understand why so many women got lost in them. “But that’s not actually what I was asking.”
“Oh,” she said airily.
“Those girls don’t really have the worms, do they?”
Eliza felt as if she’d just been splashed with cold water. “Huh?”
“It’s my last night in town and I’m really looking to get some ass, but I don’t want to contract anything, you know?”
Eliza sighed. “They’re just rumors.”
“Oh—phew! That’s great news. Father’s advisor inauguration is in a couple days and if I caught an STD he’d be real pissed at me.”
The soft light continued to kiss Marquez’s face, but as she looked past his whirlpool eyes she got a better look at his overall exterior. She had to admit that he was still pretty… Pretty douche-y. “Good night, Marquez.”
He spoke before she could turn around again. “Which one have you heard is easier?”
“I kind of want a sure thing. You know them better than I do. Which one has a looser skirt—or better yet, no underwear?”
Why did I waste that ball on Bitchface?
“The girl whose mother is getting screwed,” Eliza muttered.
“You wanted to know who’s easier,” And I want to rid myself of this conversation. “It’s that one. I basically just ruined her life, so she’ll be in need of some consoling. Though really, it should be an easy choice since the other one is bleeding profusely from the face.”
A wide grin spread across Marquez’s face. “You are the coolest girl that I’ve ever met.”
And you, Marquez, are an asshole.
He grabbed her hand and used his other to high-five it. “I owe you one.” He back stepped toward the girls and Sir Malifest, and pointed his index fingers in her direction. “If you’re ever in Cardeau…!” He turned and ran back toward the others.
Eliza shook her head and walked in the other direction. She was going to need to find a less exciting place that evening if she had any hope of getting some reading done.