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Harlequin and the Hunters Part Three
I leap onto the Duo, its three heads whipping around in distress. An arrow has one neck pinned to the wooden floor, the wound leaking dark brown blood over everything. I swipe my dagger across the yellow scales under its snout and the orange head rolls away. Blaze places his hand on the stump, the skin burning and folding in on itself until there are only two heads again. The remaining mouths scream and bite at me, narrowly missing my arm as they lunge forward. With one long movement, I cut off the two heads at once and Blaze burns the stumps before four new heads grow. I stand and kick the lifeless body, then the memory of the Sucker doing that to baby Aaron fills my mind and my mouth fills with bile. I close my eyes and turn away, walking away from the Hydra as I clean my knife on my jeans.
Blaze burns the body, a putrid smell penetrating the cloth around my nose and mouth. He coughs and gags, putting his face in the crook of his elbow and running ahead of me to the safety of the outside air. I follow him and breathe in the fresh air, pushing Aaron out of my head.
“Sorry, Quin.” I glance at Blaze and pull the cloth off my face. He smiles apologetically. “I was too slow in burning the head the first time, and it had time to regrow. I shoulda been faster.”
I shrug. “Yeah, it would have made things faster, but we all make mistakes. At least you didn’t get anyone killed, right? Everyone’s back at the Nest waiting for us- Merda discovered a new power.” My voice is bitter, even if I don’t like to admit it. I’d been such a jerk about her never getting any powers; now everyone was going to think I was an idiot for being so adamant about something that isn’t even true.
Blaze senses my discomfort and entwines his fingers in mine. His touch sends heat up my arm- not because I’m enthralled by his touch, but because his body temperature is just that warm. “You worry too much, Quin. So what if you couldn’t sense her powers? Doesn’t mean you’re losing yours- hell, if anything you’re getting stronger! A year ago, that damn Sucker would have never been able to send you a memory; you never would have watched (or, rather, felt) Aaron die from his point of view.” I flinch involuntarily, thinking of little Aaron, and he squeezes my hand comfortingly. “Maybe it’s something even people like you can’t see.”
I lean my head on his shoulder and squint my eyes, looking towards the bright sun. “Maybe that’s what I’m worried about.”
“We’re back!” I holler, and there’s a quick scuffle as Blaze and I stomp down the stairs. When we pass the wall blocking us from the rest of the Nest, Pixie and the others are in a circle around something. All save Marshall, who’s lounging on the couch with his tail flicking over the edge. He looks up at us, bored, and I’m surprised to see that he’s bare-chested, his white skin practically glowing in the harsh light. At least, I’m surprised until I see the large white bandage slung across his stomach, already stained red. His yellow eyes are dilated and sleepy, but he’s awake enough to raise an eyebrow at my questioning gaze. My cheeks turn pink and I look away.
Pixie clears her throat, smiling from ear to ear. “Qinny, Blaze, we have something to show you.” They all step away, revealing little Merda- our pet name for Clara until a name more suited for her particular powers reveal themselves.
She smiles shyly at us, one cheek dimpling adorably under the splattering of freckles across her nose. Then she begins to grow, slowly at first and then more rapidly until she’s standing eye-to-eye with me. Her hair darkens and gains color, her eyes cloud, more freckles explode across her face, and her nose lengthens. Her clothes change even slower, the too-large purple sundress morphing into a tattered leather jacket, white tank top, and ripped skinny jeans and her little white sandals shifting into black combat boots. I gasp.
I’m looking at myself.
Every detail is right- the tangled red-brown curls windswept from my fight with the Duo, the gray eyes strong and guarded, the lips lush and pink, marked with red from where I’d bitten it. There’s even a dark smudge on her cheek from wiping my dirty sleeve on my sweaty face. She grins at me and sweeps her hair off her shoulder like I do when I’m embarrassed.
Blaze laughs and jumps towards her, lifting her off her feet and spinning her round in the air. On the second spin, she’s back to her little blonde self, giggling. “Merda!” He booms, and drops her abruptly on her feet. She sways, then smiles sweetly up at him.
“That’s not all I can do,” she says.
As if on cue, Pixie’s hair wriggles around her shoulders. She’d finally decided to grow it back out, and with her particular Surge it was growing unimaginably fast. It grows even farther, reaching her waist and curling up into snowy spirals. Her eyes flicker, stuck between colors, for half a second, then turn a brilliant blue, the color of the afternoon sky. Then, finally, her wings shrivel and disappear, leaving the slit back of her t-shirt gaping open. She twirls on her heel, beaming.
My mouth drops open and suddenly Marshall’s at my side, his bare chest against my arm. “You couldn’t sense her,” He says, and I shiver. My arm is burning- but not because of Blaze’s heat. “because her powers are of concealment and trickery.” He gives me a knowing look with blazing golden eyes and vanishes into the boys’ room.
I tremble, slumping into a chair. He’s right. Even now, any thought of her powers in my teammates’ minds is cloaked, hidden from my searching gaze. I rummage through Blaze’s thoughts, frantically searching for any mention of her Surge, but there’s literally nothing there. I growl under my breath and dive into the darkest curves of his mind, tearing apart every memory to find something, anything.
He shudders like a bucket of ice was dumped on his head and turns to me, his eyes filled with hurt. What the hell are you doing?! He yells at me, sending his thoughts like daggers into my head. What the hell do you think you’re doing, Quin?!?! You can’t just search my mind! Damnit, what’s wrong with you!!!
I jump out of my seat like I’ve been burned and run up the stairs, tears stinging my eyes.
“Harlequin?” A soft voice wakes me, and I nearly topple out of the tree I’m perched in. A heavy weight falls on top of me, pinning me to the branch before I tumble out. My eyes shoot open, meeting a pair of golden ones.
“Marshall,” I sigh, and he pulls away, sitting against the trunk. I yawn. “How long have I been gone?” My muscles are sore and my head throbs. I rub my thigh muscles, groaning as they slowly loosen.
He glares at me and stands, pacing on the thin branch with the ease of a cat. “Over two days. Pixie’s frantic, Blaze is pissed, and Arrow spent the entire day yesterday shooting arrows at the wall. Giz hasn’t bothered looking for monsters, so I’ve had to track them down myself. No one else will hunt.” He turns and punches the trunk of the tree, scowling. His knuckles crack and start to bleed. “You know no one listens to anyone but you, Quin! I had to bribe Lyra to get her to go buy lunch yesterday, and she bought only enough for two people then left before I could tell her off! This sucks, Quin, it SUCKS!” He screams the last bit, his voice echoing through Central Park. A crow perched above us caws and flies off.
I look away from him, down at my dirty hands. I hadn’t showered since I’d run off, and I didn’t see any way to besides going back. Looking at the dirt crusted in my palms reminds me of days spent making mud pies with Blaze as a kid, and I burst into tears.
Marshall stops pacing and sighs, crouching down in front of me. His cool arms wrap around me, and the motion reminds me even more of Blaze, reducing me to gulping sobs. I cry for what feels like hours before he lifts my chin and placing his lips on mine.
I gasp and push him away, harder than I meant to because he slams into the tree. His face is guarded, but his disappointment and hurt is given away by the restless flick of his tail and the slight glimmer in his bright eyes. I cover my mouth and back away, my jeans scraping on the rough bark.
“What the hell were you thinking, Marshall?!” I yell, broadcasting my words through my thoughts subconsciously. He flinches and glances away from me, towards the ground yards below. You “know” I’m with “Blaze and” there’s” no way” you could ever “think that” I would be even “remotely interested-“ In my surprise and horror, the line between thought and spoken word has dissolved, and I don’t even recognize the fact that I’m speaking in both. He recoils like I’ve slapped him, and the walls around his emotions fall for a moment, spreading his pain across his face. Then he leaps to the ground and pauses before sprinting away.
I lean back against the trunk, cover my face with my hands, and weep.
I stumble down the stairs to the Nest, my hair sticking to my forehead with grease and my clothes covered in dirt. I’d left it hardly a week ago, and already the place was a wreck. Blaze was asleep at the table, Merla had crashed on the couch surrounded by candy wrappers, and Arrow’s weapons were strewn across the room, collecting dust. I snuck past them and into the one bathroom, locking the door behind me. I peeled off my clothes and hurried into the shower.
When I came out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around my body for a little bit of decency, Pixie and Lyra were standing outside of the door with a stack of clothes to change into and a backpack full of food. I hastily looked away from their wounded eyes and pulled the clothes to my chest, retreating back into the safety of the restroom. When I exited once more, Lyra held the backpack out to me silently and then disappeared into the girls’ room, her eyes already welling with tears. Pixie grabbed my elbow and yanked me upstairs and into the city lights.
“Please, Quin, you can’t just run away from us.” She said, refusing to look at me, instead focusing her eyes on the cars whizzing past. “We know you’re scared by Merla’s powers. And we- no, I know that both Blaze and Marshall have hurt you recently. But-“ She chokes up and can’t continue around the lump in her throat. I sigh and put a hand on her shaking shoulder.
“Pixie…” I sigh. Pixie isn’t a strong enough way to share the enormity of the situation. “Ariel.” She spins on her heel and glares at me, shocked. We never call each other by our real names, save Marshall and me, who go by them. “I can’t go back. Don’t you see? I can’t trust my powers around her. I can’t trust myself. I’m leaving. I’ll track beasts on my own, kill every Screamer and Walker that has the misfortune of walking across my path. You guys don’t need me. As soon as Blaze gets over his damn self, you’ll have him to lead you. Why the hell would you want me when you can have him?” My voice is bitter and rough. I try not to accentuate my words with a deep feeling of discontent, but just a bit of my anger and confusion wafts over to her, and she flinches.
Then she slaps me.
I gasp and stumble backwards. First Marshall’s unusual display of affection, and now her unusual display of irritation… The people I thought I knew so well were changing, too quickly for my liking. Her violet eyes glow with fury, and I have to throw up walls around my mind to block myself from the annoyance she’s broadcasting. She clenches her fists, and I understand- she’s trying not to hit me again.
“God, you’re so dense!” She shouts, and the very few citizens walking past shoot us strange looks. I smile half-heartedly at them. “Can’t you see how much we need you? Giz broke his metal dog. Merla cries half the day. Blaze does nothing but mope! Marshall tried for the first few days… but after he went looking for you, he gave up and sits on the couch all day drowning his sorrows in soda. If he was old enough to buy alcohol, I’m sure he’d drown them in that! We need you, Quinny. We love you.” She gives me a disgusted look. “You used to know that. Now we suddenly have to constantly remind you of that. Don’t think we haven’t noticed you acting like… like… like a victim! Oh, boo hoo, Blaze, hold me! Blaze, let me cry on your shoulder! Blaze, I hate my life! Blaze, they hate me! Blaze, kiss me, I’m depressed! Stop it, Harlequin! What happened to the strong girl we all knew and loved, hm? What happened to her? It’s like… ever since you started being with Blaze all you do is mope and act a fool. Or maybe it was after that, I dunno. But what I do know is that it isn’t fair for the rest of us. Marrow and Tig did laundry yesterday. And while that may seem like a god thing, it isn’t. They bleached all of our darks and now the white clothes are green. Lyra pitched a fit. We don’t function without our leader, we don’t function without you!” She takes a shaky breath and turns her face away. “I don’t. I miss you, Quin. You’re like the big sister I always wanted- strong and responsible and smart…” I feel tears welling in my eyes. Two years after she joined us, her sister died from a drug overdose. She was torn apart by that- and her pain was broadcasted directly to me, through my particular Surge. Even though I hadn’t ever known her sister, her death still wore me down. “Quin, please. Come back.”
I take a deep, faltering breath. My skin is tight against my cheekbones from the inconsistent food supply over just this week, and there are dark circles under my eyes from a lack of sleep. Surgers need more food and sleep than ordinary mortals, to keep up their energy. Already my ribs are more prominent. Another week like the past one, and I may be able to suck in my stomach like that guy from Ripley’s Believe It or Not who can touch his back with his belly- no matter how gruesome that sounds. I haven’t lived so roughly for a long, long time- there’d always been just enough money coming in from Era to sustain us, and just enough monsters to keep us entertained while we were still new Surgers. I missed my family, and I missed my bed.
But at the same time, I got something else I hadn’t properly had in years- solitude. I don’t know what all people say about being alone, but for a seventeen-year-old living with nine other eight- to eighteen-year-olds, solitude is a rare and beloved thing. Being alone, without having to babysit the younger kids on the team to keep them from doing something stupid, was something I haven’t had since I was at least twelve, when I started Surging. Sure, my cheeks were thinner and my stomach flatter, but is that really such a bad thing? And I don’t mean because of society’s view of beauty- being smaller and lighter was an advantage when you were hunting a Sucker or a particularly dangerous monster like that. And being hungry sharpened my senses, including my most important one- the sixth sense. My mind was more powerful when I was starving then it ever was, even when I first started Surging and my powers were unpredictable and dangerous. My muscles were stronger from jumping around in trees all day. My feet and hands were surer while clutching smaller ledges and branches. Living in Central Park had been good for me.
Of course, I missed knowing there were people sleeping next to me ready to protect me while I slept. Who wouldn’t? Could I give up freedom for security? I loved my team- they’re family, more than my real one ever was. But do I love them enough to give up so much I’d never known they were taking away?
I close my eyes and sigh, then turn and walk back down into the Nest.