Chapter 31 – Battleground

They were heart wrenching screams; the kind that reverberated with primal fear. The sounds cut off abruptly, interchanged with staccatos of shouts. Another scream, then silence.

It came from the outside. Sam turned towards the room’s windows, overlooking the school plaza with the fountain. When he looked outside, he could see a host of students hunkered down behind bushes or benches around the open area in the middle. They were all yelling, making gestures, looking up over their makeshift barricades, pointing at students opposite themselves.

Then someone stood up – a boy Sam did not recognize. He raised his hand, palm first, and a green sheen appeared around his hand. With eyes widening by the second, Sam watched as a ball of green… stuff flew out from the palm, towards those hiding on the opposite side of the plaza.

From the side, someone else came out from hiding – a girl with long blonde hair – making a similar gesture, firing a green ball back at the boy. The boy’s own shot hit the back of a bench and fizzled out, just before he managed to avoid the retaliatory shot fired at him.

The blond girl was not so lucky, though. A large male fired a third ball at close range, hitting her straight in the chest. She convulsed on the spot, back arching dangerously as she screamed her lungs out. From her chest, at the center of the green ball, an explosion of green wires flew out.

The large figure was already back behind cover, evading two shots fired back. The green threads flew back towards his position, and when they came close he caught them with a hand, pulling them back. Like cut wires, they snapped their ends off the girl, dancing around wildly as they were drawn in.

Still screaming, the girl’s outline began to flicker, then shimmer. Finally, her form dissipated in a flurry of golden threads fading into nothing, ending her scream at its highest pitch.

Mouth open in shock, Sam staggered back from the window. Outside, new rounds of shouting began, soon resulting in another scream.

What the hell is going on?

Was this what Teslynn had been worried about?

Thoughts scurried about in his mind, unable to reach any solid conclusions. Whatever was going on, he decided it would be best to do exactly as Teslynn had told him, and stay in the room at all cost. What else had she said, don’t touch anyone? What did that mean?

A loud ‘bang’ on the wall from the outside made him jump on the spot. Vaguely he heard voices from the outside – loud voices. Another ‘bang’, now at the door, had him scrambling for a place to hide, certain this was no time for heroic last stands. With desperation, he began tipping tables, hoping to make it look like an ordinary catastrophe had happened here.

Overturning the last table to face the door, Sam hid behind it and closed his eyes.

Don’t come, don’t come, don’t come…

The door burst open, spraying splintered wood all over the classroom. Sam dared a peek over the top of his barricade, and saw someone land on the ground on top of the splintered remains of the door. Blood staining blonde hair, the figure groaned and stirred.

“Shit, he goddamn stung me, the bastard!” The voice came from outside, followed by an even longer string of curses.

“Don’t move,” said another, “You’ll just give him the advantage.”

The two kept talking, but Sam focused on the boy lying on the floor nearby. Those wounds looked bad; maybe he should help him.

Why Sam? Why on bloody Earth should you help him?

Stay here, stay quiet, and don’t touch anyone – those had been his instructions. With a twisting stomach, Sam realized he was about to break at least one of those instructions. Quick breathings, then he swung out from behind his cover and ran crouched towards the boy. While the two on the outside bickered about ‘staying whole’ and ‘no refills for failure’, Sam reached the boy’s side and took hold of his jacket.

Trying to adhere to the letter – if not exactly the spirit – of his instructions, Sam dragged the boy back behind the tables, touching only his clothes.

To his relief, nothing happened – maybe Teslynn was just being paranoid. Then again, if Sam had known this would happen, he would be paranoid too.

The boy was about Sam’s height, but had more flesh on his bones. Despite this, Sam found it surprisingly easy to move the limp body. With a last heave, he got the boy into cover. Still touching only the jacket, Sam used the boy’s own hand to slap him on the cheek.

“Wake up!” Sam hissed, and was rewarded with another groan. Face twitching, the boy’s eyes fluttered open, revealing stark green eyes. He looked up at Sam with confusion, then shook his head a little and looked again.

“Who are you?” he finally said.

“Is that really important right now?”

The boy put a hand to head head and pinched his eyes together. Half moaning, he said, “Mm-no, no it’s not. A green shimmer appeared around the boy, and he shook himself again. Sam felt the shimmer this close, reminding him of a sensation he had nearly forgotten.

“Alright,” said the boy when he opened his eyes again, “I got one of them good, they won’t risk an assault before they’ve pulled out the stinger and–“

“Got it!” One of the voices yelled from outside.

“God dammit,” growled the boy and sat up to take a peak over the side of the table, “Alright, one of two things is about to happen… Wait, are you full?”

“Full?” Sam asked, probably looking as stupid as he felt.

“Yeah, full? Are you fully stocked on juice?”

“What juice?”

The boy stopped looking over the table to give Sam a bewildered look. “You know, ‘force’. This thing?” As he spoke, the boy raised his hand, and green light coalesced in his hand to form a disk.

Sam just looked at it, then back at the boy. Could it really be what he thought it was?

“Are you serious? How are you here without knowing… holy shit; are you that new kid?”

Sam nodded, eyeing the doorway where the two speakers were rustling about, just slightly out of his line of sight.

“And no one briefed you? No one told you about this?”

“No, I don’t know what the hell is going on!”

“Shit…” The boy said, looking back at the doorway. “Alright we don’t have time for explanations; they’ve decided to do the stupid thing. Stay behind and follow my lead, okay?”

“Oi, Sandy – still whole?” One of the voices yelled from outside the doorway.

“Right here, you dick,” the boy – Sandy – yelled back, “Did you like the stinger, Perci?”

“Fuck you, Sandy,” said another voice, thick with repressed pain.

“That’s the spirit; keep pressure on that wound, hear?” Sandy grinned, turning to Sam to give him a wink, “He can’t even do a basic recovery, the idiot.”

“You’re the fucking idiot, Sandy!” The wounded boy yelled back, “You tried to screw the bloody Raven, and this is what you get for it.”

Sandy rolled his eyes, but did not respond. Sam was bewildered by their tone of voice. What appeared to be a life or death situation, was treated like a minor inconvenience – an ordinary part of daily life.

Deciding to get some answers despite the situation, Sam said, “Sandy, right? This force, is it lifeforce?”

Sandy turned his green eyes on him, quirking his brow slightly. “Lifeforce? What; you into some mystical new-age shit, dude?”

“Isn’t all of this ‘mystical shit’?” Sam hissed back, trying to contain the growing anger within.

“Good point. Now stay quiet – they’re coming.”

Sam looked up over the table, and saw the first figure appear in the doorway. A pale boy with dirty blonde hair came into the room, holding his hand outstretched before him, in front of which a shimmering sheet of green light floated.

Behind him, another boy followed, hunched over and holding one hand to his stomach. The second one was not tall, but very wide. He held his other hand at the side, from which a wicked green spike protruded.

“I see you’ve got company,” said the one with the shield, looking at Sam, “Who are you?”

“I’m Sam,” he said, trying to sound confident.

“I haven’t seen you before. Free agent or faction?”

Sam looked to Sandy for help, to which the blonde boy pointed a finger on upper right arm. There was nothing, except his jacket sleeve of course, but when Sam looked over at the two others, he saw two gray armbands. Now he thought about it, those down in the plaza had also worn armbands.

“He’s with the Blue Mink,” said Sandy, loudly, “Best not hurt him; you know how the Mink gets when her pets get hurt.”

“Bullshit,” said the boy behind, “Ain’t no way the Mink would let one of her strays get too far into the warzone all alone.”

“You willing to take that chance?” Sandy asked, his voice taunting. How was he being this confident?

“Easy way to find out,” said the first, pointing at Sam, “Stand up – let’s see your marker. If you’re really with the Mink, we can let you go. All we want is this little weasel.”

Sam looked to Sandy. Now what?

The blonde boy put up a finger, rummaging through the inner pocket of his jacket. From within, he drew out a blue piece of fabric, twisting it about Sam’s right bicep before securing it with a safety pin.

“Now, whatever-you-name-was, no more wasting time!”

Sandy signalled Sam to stand up, and he did so, hesitantly. The two boys scrutinized him closely, but made no move to attack. “Alright then,” said the boy with the shield, “Get out. We want no trouble with the Mink.”

Sam looked back at Sandy, who nodded and urged him on. Was he really going to leave him behind? With stiff limbs, he began walking around the table and towards the exit, giving the two assaultants a wide berth.

Halfway there, the hunched-over boy raised the wicked green spike towards him, halting his step. “Wait up there, blue mink,” he said, a grin on his otherwise pained face, “How’s Walter doing? Being second in command to your bitch of a Well must be exhausting.”

Shit.

“I’m sure you are confused,” said Sam, trying to adopt the same tone that Sandy had just used, “There’s no Walter in second.”

Would he be satisfied? Had Sam seen through the bluff, or was it a double bluff?

The spike was lowered, but the boy’s eyes narrowed a little. “I suppose you’re right, I got my names mixed up.”

With bated breath, Sam took another few steps. He only managed a few, before the boy said, “Remind me: what’s the name of your second, again?”

Sam froze. He could not fake his way out of this one. Instinct made him crouch and roll to the side just as the spike cut through the air where his head had been.

“Perci, what the hell?” The boy with the shield yelled, but was quickly distracted when Sandy vaulted over the table and attacked. Sam only managed to catch of Sandy’s hands shimmering with green light before he came back up on his feet and faced Perci again.

“He ain’t no blue mink, Rob! He’s just another free agent.”

Still holding a hand to his stomach, Perci thrust the spike forward. Though it appeared solid, Sam could feel the lure of the energy that maintained it. He was increasingly certain that these people were flinging around lifeforce.

But how?

No time – only action. He sidestepped the trust, getting closer to the wall. Perci turned the thrust into a sweep, using the spike as a club. Sam sucked in his stomach to meagerly avoid the sharpened point, but found himself unable to avoid the follow-up kick. Hit hard in the chest, he staggered backwards into the wall.

His lungs burned, his entire body felt slow and heavy. How dared these pathetic underlings to attack him – him?! Anger surfacing, Sam felt his hands vibrate.

“Well now, that is interesting,” said Perci, as he approached, readying his spike for a final thrust, “You do have a bit of bite in ya, huh?”

Kertal,” Sam hissed, the word escaping him without thought.

Perci stopped, face growing pale. “What?”

It was decided. This one would have to die. Hands shaking with power unleashed, Sam grabbed Perci’s spike with his bare hands. Perci tried to pull back, but green threads extended around Sam’s hands, wounding around the spike and pulling at it. Where the two flows of energy touched, throbbing red veins began sucking in the surface of the spike into Sam’s threads.

“No! That’s not…” Perci tugged even harder, but was unable to free himself from Sam’s grasp. Releasing one hand, Sam instead grabbed Perci’s throat. His chest burned, but he let it burn.

Let it all burn.

The contact between his hand and Perci’s throat heated up, every blood vessel along the aorta glowing with read light now. He felt something from within the boy, a kind core. An intense desire to obtain this core overcame him, and he commanded the red threads to surround it, to take it.

Descending down his neck, glowing through the fabric of Perci’s school uniform, the red threads converged around the center of his chest. Feeling his way forward, Sam wound his threads around the core and pulled. A wave of sweet, sweet lifeforce hit him in an instant. The contents of the core was not enough, though. He needed the whole thing.

Ignoring the screams from Perci, Sam crushed the core with his threads, sucking in the condensed energy with ease. This was so much sweeter than the mere contents of the core, so much better than any experience he had had with lifeforce so far. This was true bliss.

Screaming, Perci disintegrated into golden threads from the chest out while Sam held him up until he was completely gone.

To the side, Sandy and Rob had stopped their own fight, and were just staring at Sam with mouths wide open. Sandy was the first to regain his wits though, smashing aside Rob’s shield and thrust a similar spike to Perci’s into the chest of his opponent.

Cursing, Rob staggered back, his shield fading away. “You’ll regret this, Sandy,” he said, his form already fizzling out with golden threads. Sandy just grinned, a new spike already reforming around his right hand. “I don’t think I will, Rob. Not any more.”

Rob shot Sam a glance, then shuddered. “I will remember this,” he hissed, settling his eyes back on Sandy.

“No you won’t,” said Sandy, and pierced through Rob’s head with the spike. Green threads appeared from Rob, which Sandy grabbed and drew into himself. There was no change in color, like the one Sam had forced.

Still angry, Sam found no reason to question what had just happened. The strong had won – he had won – as it should be. Instead he wondered how much sweet energy Sandy might contain.

“I’ll be damned,” said Sandy, dispersing the spike, “You’re a bleedin’ Well, huh? Wouldn’t have pegged you for one.”

“A Well?” Sam asked, licking his lips with the desire to devour another core.

“Right, nobody told you nothing,” said Sandy and sighed just as the gung rung throughout the school, “I guess the pocket won’t stay open for much longer. It’s a brief one this time, it seems. Once you go back, things are going to be a little weird, but try and hold onto your memories. It will be a little fuzzy, but you should be able to pull it off.”

Sam was barely listening, his eyes intent on Sandy’s chest where he felt a trace pulse of energy.

“If you want to know more about what happened today, then come see me. My name is Friedrich Sandkov, but my friends just call me Freddy Sands or Sandy.” He grinned, giving Sam another wink.

“Samuel Welbourne,” Sam answered, half-heartedly, stepping closer to the unsuspecting youth, “You can call me Sam.”

The gong resounded again.

“Right, Sam. I think we will get along splendidly!”

“So do I,” Sam breathed, only one step away from the prey, when the gong rang for the third time and everything froze.