Every day was the same. Wake up, find breakfast waiting on a small tray in the middle of the tiny cell. Then he would spend the first part of the morning exercising as much as the cramped space allowed, including some work with the free weights that the Crossroads Headmistress had spelled to pop into the room at that time before disappearing again exactly sixty minutes later. Not that he could have used them to escape even if they had stayed permanently.
After that, Trice would spend the rest of the morning studying. Sinclaire had set educational books to pop into the cell at that time. Not that he had the faintest fucking clue what the point of that was, unless the bitch just couldn’t get over her compulsive need to educate everyone.
Either way, he would study the college-level textbooks until lunch, when more food would arrive. In the afternoon, there would be a random test focusing on one of the subjects from that morning. He never knew which one it would be, so he had to study all of them. And the reason he studied at all was because of the reward. If he failed the test (which in Sinclaire’s world was apparently anything worse than a C), he was only given more study materials to work on.
However, if he passed the test with a C, he was given a choice of fictional books to read for the rest of the day, including through dinner. A B would earn books and his choice of music, while an A earned the above as well as a single movie that would be projected on the wall of the cell during and after his supper. Then it would be lights out around ten in the evening, before they repeated the exact same thing the next day. This had been going on for so long that Trice had lost track of what day it was. Or even what month. He asked now and then and was told, but he didn’t know if he believed the answer. And lately it hadn’t seemed to matter. One day was the same as any other. Who cared what the actual date was?
That particular day started like any other. The boy opened his eyes, staring at the ceiling of the cell for a few long, quiet seconds before he slowly sat up. Turning on the cot, he put his feet down on the bare cement floor while staring down at them. Another day that would be just like any of the others. Would Sinclaire visit him that day? She hadn’t for awhile. It was like she was distracted by something else. Something more important than him. He knew that someone was at least making sure he was still alive and getting all of his food, study materials, and rewards, but whether it was Sinclaire or someone else, they didn’t deign to interact with him.
Words echoed within his head as he sat there, staring at the floor. Hannah’s words, accusing him of helping the people who had fucked with his brother’s head to make the boy attack her. Her vicious, emotional diatribe about how the two of them could have made the monsters pay for what they did to Torv, but that he had actually been helping them instead. Accusations bounced around wildly inside the boy’s head so much that he had long-since lost track of whether they came from things that Hannah had actually said… or what he himself thought.
Was is it true? Had they been helping the same people who engineered Torv’s death? At the time, he had denied it the same as he denied all of her excuses. The girl had clearly led his brother on all that time, and then attacked him for making a move. That was what he told himself, anyway. She deserved to be put down for killing his brother. Didn’t she?
Or did he feel guilty himself for his part in things? After all, he had been the one to tell Torv to make his move when the boy had come to him confessing all the feelings that he had for the girl. He’d been going on and on about how much he wanted her, to the point of obsession. Trice had told him to go for it, had encouraged him to take the leap and get in on that while he could.
Their entire conversation had played itself out in the boy’s head over and over again, unrelentingly for months. Was what he had seen as simple, possibly incredibly drunk enthusiasm and ranting about love actually Torv being affected by some magical spell? Had he himself contributed to it by encouraging the boy to make his move?
Had he helped to send his own brother to his death by not recognizing that his mind had been affected somehow? Could he have stopped it? Could he have saved his brother’s life right then?
Had he been helping the same monsters who engineered Torv’s death in the first place?
Seosten. That’s what Sinclaire had called them during one of their brief conversations. The Seosten had been his mysterious benefactors, the ones who had hated Hannah so much and seemed to have such unlimited resources. According to Sinclaire, the Seosten were the monsters behind Torv’s death, as well as a bunch of other shit.
With those thoughts weighing even more heavily on his mind than usual, Trice reached down for the breakfast tray. His fingers found nothing, and the boy turned slightly to look for it.
There was no tray. No breakfast at all. It wasn’t there. That never happened, never. For all that he might complain about the time he had spent locked up in here like an animal, there had always been plenty of food and water for him. Slowly, the boy frowned before raising his gaze for the first time to the rest of the cell.
The door was open. That was the first thing that he noticed. It was just sitting open. And beyond, he saw trees and sand, rather than the same dull cement room that had always been there before. Trees and sand? Open cell door? Now how was Sinclaire trying to fuck with his head?
For a few long seconds, the boy didn’t even move. He remained seated there on the cot, half-convinced that the Crossroads Headmistress, or even Hannah herself, were about to reveal themselves. But nothing happened. No one was there. It was just… an open door.
Well shit, what else was he supposed to do? If this was a test of some kind, he had no idea what the point was. With a sigh, the boy stood up, and moved to the open doorway. Hesitantly, he put his hand up, expecting to find a force field.
His hand went straight through instead. There was nothing to stop him from stepping out. So he did just that, finding himself standing barefoot on the soft, warm sand beyond. He was on a beach somewhere. Not the Crossroads beach. There was no school in the distance. And the sand looked different from what he had seen of that place. It was even softer, lighter than the sand from that place. The sand was almost as white as paper. The nearby ocean was deep, deep blue. The whole place looked unnaturally, (probably literally) magically, beautiful.
One of those tropical birds let out a loud cry from overhead, and the boy’s gaze snapped up toward it. He saw a flock of them flying up there, disappearing into a stand of trees in the distance. His eyes followed their flight path briefly, until slight shift in the air nearby made his head snap back around, already shifting himself into a defensive stance reflexively.
A man stood there, a dark-skinned man with pale green eyes and slicked back short black hair. He was wearing black armor of some kind, with a pike that had an electric shock prod at the end. He wasn’t aiming it at Trice, though the boy got the general idea anyway. When he spoke, his voice was calm. Not flat, but almost melodic. “Your presence is required.” With those words, the man lifted his free hand to point down the beach.
“That right?” Trice started, eyes flicking from the man to the direction he was pointing and then back again. “And what if I’m not really in the mood to go that way?” It was a simple question, his tone more curious than actually challenging. He wanted to know where this guy stood.
The man’s response was to touch the trigger on his pike, making that pointed end light up with electricity for just a moment. He didn’t make a move other than that simple demonstration.
“Yeah,” Trice grunted. “That’s about what I thought.” With that, he turned on his heel and began to walk through the warm sand, letting the grains move between his toes. “You know, if you people were gonna take me out of there, you could’ve at least provided shoes.”
There was no response from the man walking behind him. Not that Trice actually expected one. This guy was just a lackey, a grunt doing his job. The boy also had no doubt that he wasn’t the only one escorting him. He was just the only one that they were allowing him to see. No, even if he jumped this guy, there would clearly be others ready to step in.
“You could at least tell me why my powers still aren’t working, you know,” he pointed out after a few more silent seconds had passed. “I’m out of the cell, but I still can’t use them. If you guys were actually freeing me, you’d think you’d fix that too.”
Nothing. No response. Apparently he wasn’t important enough to be escorted by someone who could (or would) actually explain anything to him. Just like Doxer hadn’t been important enough for their supposed ‘allies’ to give the slightest shit about when he fucking died.
Doxer. Poor Dox was dead. That Chambers girl had killed him. Which, well, they’d been fighting and Dox would’ve killed her given the chance, but still. Every time Trice thought he’d gotten over it, he’d think of something that Doxer would’ve said about this whole situation, and the fucked up reality popped back into his head. Doxer would never make any more crass comments, would never say anything so fucked up that Trice just had to stare at him before laughing despite himself. The two of them, and Pace, would never get drunk and take shots at some of the wild animals out in the forest surrounding the tree again.
Torv would never beg to come along, bothering them like the annoying little shit that he was.
That was still Hannah’s fucking fault, wasn’t it? The fuck did she have to kill Torv for? If he was fucked up by magic, if that was even true, then nothing he’d done was his fault anyway. So why did she have to kill him? That was still… it was still…
Fuck. Fucking fucked fuck. Where was something he could hit? Because he really needed it. This whole situation was fucked beyond belief. Torv… Doxer… and what about Pace? Was she alive? Was she dead? Was she still trying to free him or avenge Doxer? Shit, did she think he was dead too? Did she have the slightest clue what had happened, or did she just think that he and Doxer had both simply disappeared?
Was she still working for the people who had recruited them to do all this, who had set this whole thing up? What the hell was going on out in the real world?
For a few minutes, they just walked like that. Finally, he saw some kind of beach cabin up ahead. It was sitting right up toward the edge of the water, that end of it raised up enough that when the tide came in, the ocean wouldn’t end up in the cabin’s living room. Instead, the water would simply turn the area beneath the beautiful deck into a wading pool.
“Go.” His escort had stopped, and was pointing to the wooden stairs that led up to that deck.
“What?” Trice snapped back at him flippantly, “You’re not coming with?” Getting no response from the man other than that silently raised hand that was still pointing, he sighed. “Right, of course.” He saluted his escort briefly, then turned as ordered to walk to the stairs. Once again, he reached for one of his powers, any of them. Nothing came. He was as helpless now as he had been in that goddamn cell. Probably because these Seosten wanted to find out exactly what he’d told Sinclaire, and where he stood with them, before they actually let him be a threat.
A threat, right. If a quarter of what he had been told (or just inferred) about these fuckers was true, even with every power in his arsenal, Trice was about as much of a threat to them as a fly was to the truck whose windshield it splattered against. Fucking assholes.
There was no one waiting for him on the deck. Because of course, he wasn’t fucking important enough to have someone already sitting there. They would make him wait instead, probably to make that exact point. At least they happened to be gracious enough to have food ready, since they had stopped him from getting actual breakfast. A table had been set up with a veritable feast lining it. Tray after tray of various meats, fruits, cheeses, and desserts adorned every inch of the available space, along with another smaller table with coffee and juice waiting.
Filling a plate as much as he could, and taking a cup of coffee (while trying as best as he could not to cry at the very idea of actually getting coffee rather than simple water for once), Trice set himself down at the nearby empty table, digging into the feast with a ravenous hunger.
The stray thought about poison occurred to him, of course. But he dismissed it just as quickly. If these guys wanted him dead, they could have done so a dozen times before now. No, whatever their deal was, whatever reason they had for freeing him, it wasn’t to turn right around and poison him. They probably expected him to be blindly grateful for their generosity.
Well, they could expect all they wanted. If these assholes were actually responsible for what happened to Torv, then he didn’t care how much food they offered, or anything else. He was going to find a way to murder the fucking cocksuckers.
Not that he felt any better about Hannah. He’d never liked her, even from the beginning. He’d never seen what his brother liked about her so much, aside from the irrefutable fact that she had eventually grown up to be hot as hell. Hot or not, however, she’d still killed Torv when he wasn’t in his right mind. But if these guys were more responsible, he would make them pay for it.
Okay, maybe the honest truth was that he didn’t know how he felt about the fucking Hannah situation.
Correction, he knew exactly how he felt about fucking Hannah. It was the same way most red-blooded straight men probably felt. But he didn’t know how he felt about the girl specifically, as a person or whatever. It was all so confusing and hard to keep straight. Maybe he’d fucked up by putting all the blame on her so quickly. Maybe he’d allowed his grief about his brother’s death to manipulate him into doing shit he shouldn’t have, into listening to people that he shouldn’t have. And maybe he’d said and done some stupid shit in general.
But what was he supposed to do, just completely forgive that she had killed Torv? His brother wasn’t in his right mind. What he’d done wasn’t his fault. He was a good kid, and Trice had promised to take care of him, had promised that he would do the ugly shit to protect his brother and keep him safe, no matter what.
So maybe he was blaming her instead of himself. He’d been the one who hadn’t noticed that Torv was being affected by some actual spell or whatever. He’d just thought that the kid was finally acting on feelings he’d been suppressing for a long time. Maybe ignoring all that and blaming Hannah had been easier, just because he hadn’t liked her to begin with. Maybe… fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck.
All those thoughts, and more, kept bouncing their way around inside Trice’s head as he finished his meal. Gulping down the last of his coffee, he heard movement behind him as the door of the cabin opened and shut.
Still, he didn’t turn around. “You know,” the boy muttered, “getting me out of Sinclaire’s clutches is really impressive and all. Seriously, I dunno how you managed it, but fucking kudos. Still, the least you could do is give my powers back.”
“A simple spell,” a female voice informed him calmly. “Well, simple for me, anyway. You’ll have your powers back as soon as I’m certain that we are on the same page.”
The boy snorted slightly at that, looking into his empty coffee mug for a moment before retorting, “On the same page? Is that the page where you tell me all about how you Seosten are the ones behind everything that ever fucking happens on this world? Or were you just planning on playing mind games to find out if Sinclaire already told me that part? Seosten, right? That’s how you say it?”
“Seosten?” The voice sounded amused, and Trice finally stood and turned to find an unfamiliar woman with short black hair standing there, watching him with a slight smile.
“Dear child,” the woman drawled, “whoever said that it was the Seosten who freed you?
“My name is Denuvus. Let’s sit down and have a chat about your future.”