Chapter 6 - Part 1
"Lady Daamon," Seth would have recognized her blindfolded. The only experience that came close explaining his attraction to her was when he could feel the demons' presence saturating the tournament grounds in last year's final game. Her presence was similar in the sense that he could feel her essence permeate the area. Hers' was an open void, not so much the absence of space, but rather, a deep infinity. He knew that if he wasn't careful, he could lose himself in her. Was this feeling the side effect of her being a survivor?
She moved her head just so, indicating that she had heard her name, but would force him to come into view. Hands behind his back, shoulders and back straight, he stepped out onto pedestrian crowded street and stood in front of her. He wouldn't allow her the chance to pretend she didn't see him. "Please, come with me."
The fourteen-year-old did something he wasn't expecting. She smirked. She didn't go doe-eyed and flushed beet red with the prospect of an older boy speaking to her. It surprised him that much more when she chortled, "No."
He didn't know what to do with that. His ranking didn't mean anything to her, and the uniform hadn't phased her as being mildly important to the school's core activities. She arched a brow at him as though daring him to try again. He narrowed his eyes at her, attempting to gauge how serious she was with that 'No'. "Please?"
Her smirk transformed into a grin. He wasn't sure that he felt comfortable with that smile or the way her pale blue eyes seemed to penetrate his being. She rolled her eyes and gestured to the countdown on display. "The opening ceremonies are about to begin..." Two minutes until the fanfares.
A twinge of guilt tugged at his conscience. He hoped that he could get the information that he needed from her quickly and make it to his squad before their showcase. On the one hand, his squad would be the last to perform their demonstration. On the other, he felt that this encounter was fated. He was hoping he wouldn't have to resort to desperate measures, but that didn't mean he didn't have a plan.
He should have waited until after the opening ceremony, but he had been so caught up in the prospect of meeting a survivor...
"You plan on watching the ceremony from here?" There wasn't a bad spot to watch the events. Most students were outside to watch the parade. They would retreat indoors to dine and watch the showcase. Odds were, she didn't know that. He didn't know anything about the opening ceremony in his first year, just that he needed to be on this street by 5:00 p.m. She had been told the same, no doubt.
"I'm meant to rendezvous with friends." He couldn't help but smile. She had chosen her words carefully before answering him. She wanted to sound like she belonged to her station, which was well above his.
"Perhaps I might help you find them," he offered his arm. She arched a brow and the smile on her lips turned into a grimace.
"I'd rather not," she admitted. "It's not you...No, it is you."
"Do I make you uncomfortable?" Seth realized that maybe he was coming on too strong.
She laughed a genuine hearty laugh. He smiled and relaxed. Maybe honesty would be a better approach. "No, that's not it. My friend is just a really big fan. I had to put up with stories about how awesome you were all summer."
"So you're giving me a hard time because of him," Seth concluded.
"No. I'm not letting you escort me to him, because of him," she reiterated.
He nodded. He could understand that logic. He'd have one hell of a time getting the information he needed from Astral with a fanboy vying for his attention. Of course, he could always use the fanboy to do most of the up selling of the military games for him. "I think I can handle it," he told her confidently.
"What do you want with me that's so urgent that it can't wait until later," she pressed, peering down the street, likely checking to see if her friends had come looking for her.
"I was hoping to discuss that with you in private," Seth challenged.
"It would appear that we're at an impasse," Astral stepped passed him to begin her trek down the street. He couldn't let her go. His reasons to recruit, albeit selfish, were less superficial than others who would no doubt seek her out. If word got out that he had spoken to her at all, the other squads would try to collect her out of a desire to deny him a potential asset. Her wealth and political connections wouldn't hurt any squad that would have her either.
His opportunity was narrow at best. He couldn't afford to let her go unless she agreed to join his team. He took hold of her arm. "If you want to keep that hand..." Astral's tone had turned from friendly to a low growl, making it clear that she did not believe in idle threats.
He noted the small teddy bear in her possession. "I know about Clearwater," he blurted.
Astral paused mid-step. His world felt a little colder, a little darker. He knew he struck the right nerve. A second later, he had lost her attention; she kept walking toward her destination, toward her friends. He needed to know if what the officer had told him was true. If she was a survivor, then she knew how to survive a demonic raid. Desperate he chased after her, grabbing at her once again, forcing her body against his, hissing into her ear. "I know about the puppeteers. I know what those demons did to the bodies. I know about the demon who made it impossible to leave." He felt her go rigid beneath his tight embrace.
The security feeds were ample across the campus. There wasn't a single area that wasn't under constant surveillance, outside or in. The A.I. algorithm regularly scanned the feeds for violent actions. In minutes, security personnel would come barreling out of their hiding places, and detain the assailant. The only exception to the crime alert protocol was during training sessions on specific training fields, ranges, and dojos. In the time that it would take security to arrive on the scene of an assault there would be no time to run. Given the high level of security, the student population felt safe, at least from each other.
He felt her arms wind around his torso, squeezing him, gently, comforting at first. He thought she was going to cry. The strength of her hug increased, driving the air from his lungs. "You. Know. Nothing." She hissed in controlled breaths. He could barely breath with the pressure she was applying to his ribs. He could feel her hand console stabbing into his back. He knew she wasn't going to let him go unless he relented. He couldn't break her hold without drawing attention to himself and her. He needed her answers, her experiences. He couldn't risk causing a scene.
"I need you to show me how to survive the war," he told her through clenched teeth.
A moment later, she released her grip on him. "Show me the way." The seriousness of her tone sent chills down his spine.
- Can you share an experience that you were sure was going to go your way, but didn't exactly go as planned? How did you feel in that moment?
- Since this is the early stage of the chapter, I'd like your first impression of the dynamics between Seth and Astral? What do you predict is going to happen?
- How do you think Seth will react to William when he meets him?
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