Evoke is nearly complete and we wanted to share another chapter with you. In this chapter, we learn more about the people in Serec's life and the world he lives in. Enjoy!
“18.5: As good a time as any for breaking and entering,” I told myself, easing the back window shut. I paused, peering into the darkness. Every little hum and creak in the house was deafening. And it had my nerves firing fiercely, all while the night replayed in my head like a glitched recording. Fat Felo, the woman, and whatever happened when she took my hand. It was a lot to process. But until I reached my room, it only served as a distraction.
I crept forward, legs trembling; eyes hovering in front of me until my bedroom door glided into view. Four long strides could put me there. But the pins shooting up my feet would make it nearly impossible to get past Hachi’s razor-sharp senses. At least the Royal Army was good for something.
Hachi’s door squeaked open and my only option was to ignore the heat flaring up my legs and make a clumsy leap toward the corner wall, where I could brace myself before he appeared in the hallway. I held for a few beats; the cold burn of oxygen clawing down my throat. With every beat, the pain grew. If only I could’ve willed the door shut. But El didn’t see fit to give me that power. Three agonizingly stifled breaths later, the knob gave a second squeak, and the door clicked shut.
I peeked around the corner and sighed, relieved an empty hallway was the only thing staring back. With my back still against the wall, I carefully slid past Hachi’s door and found my own. A slow twist of the door knob and I was in.
I sunk into the carpet, gasping for air. My heartbeat rhythmically gonged in my eardrums as I crawled to my bathroom. Leaning into the wall, I wrestled my clothes off and nearly lost my balance tapping the light switches. The buzzing light, the shower vent, and the deep ringing in my ears were competing for my attention. None obtained it.
Icicles shot up my legs with each step along the frozen blocks of bathroom tile. I paused at the mirror, which clued me in on how much of a beating I’d actually taken. I blinked hard at the battered face looking back at me. Whatever power I used to heal before, had long since abandoned me. All that remained was the dirt and dried blood smearing the right side of my face, a deep red bruise along my left cheekbone, and a busted bottom lip. No way I’m sleeping this off. But a shower won’t hurt.
I turned the handle and waited as water vapor billowed around the ceiling light. My skin tingled as the water made contact. But I was too tired to tell if the sensation was more of a dull sting or a lackluster soothing. Verdallyn’s autumn nights were unexpectedly cold after sunset. A fact I’d only realized while shivering outside on my way home. With most of the dirt and dried blood flowing down the drain, I slipped into a soft pair of clean shorts and shirt, and burrowed under my thick stack of blankets. I hardly remember closing my eyes, before the world fell silent.
I awoke to bright bars of lemon-lime sunlight flooding my bedroom. I rolled over and stared at my blurry ceiling fan; a large blue ‘X’ against a sea of white. Creatively speaking, it wasn’t much to look at. Hachi’s strict rules innervated much of my life, so even this was a bit of a stretch for him. Whether or not I was the only one affected by it, I still had to buy all the materials myself and get his approval on my setup before starting. But it was also a reminder that Hachi could be reasoned with, under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, I strongly doubted that he’d find any part of my situation reasonable.
The hum of my processor drew my eyes toward the swaying trees in the backyard, and I opened the window to let in a breeze. The sweet scent of honey and buttery bread danced in the air and my stomach went ballistic; suddenly aware of the void.
According to my Power Clash Comics timeboard, it was 6.05. The earliest I’d been up in a while. Hachi would be halfway to the Bureau, which gave me time to focus on my appearance after resolving my hunger issue. As I rolled out of bed, memories of the previous night grasped at my attention.
Did I really copy that fat guy’s powers? And what about that woman with the autumn—or blue eyes? What on Orbis was she talking about? Fate is an illusion. What does that even mean? Too many questions to process without adequate brain fuel. So, I decided not to think about any of it until after breakfast.
I opened my door, and the aroma of freshly baked bread and scratch-made otamo sauce hit me like cool water on a scorching afternoon. Macha rolls for breakfast seemed unusual. But the lake forming in my mouth meant my stomach had no qualms about it. The smell grew stronger as I entered the kitchen, where the temperature suddenly shot up. The oven light was on, a dish of cheesy macha rolls bubbling inside.
It wasn’t like Hachi to leave in such a hurry that he forgot to turn off an appliance that could put the whole house in flames. And he’d never let me hear the end of it if the tables were turned. Still, it wasn’t like I could just wait for him to return to point out how he could make mistakes, same as the rest of us.
I reached for the off button, when the door suddenly opened and Hachi stepped in. I froze, mouth agape.
“You’ve been in night clothes all da—” He paused, incredulous eyes scanning me. “What happened to your face!?”
“Nothing, I...umm.” My mind blanked so quickly, I couldn’t even come up with a bad excuse.
“You what?” His tone was stern. Scary stern. “Why is your face covered in bruises?”
“I umm...” Now the sign was clear in my head: Back in twenty, but don’t wait up.
“Were you fighting again?”
My brain was so not ready for the scenario that only the truth seemed logical. A terrible sign. “Yeah, but I...”
“Yeah, but what?! You felt like my rules became invalid once you turned seventeen? Or perhaps you felt like I wouldn’t find out?”
“No,” I said. “I didn’t ‘feel’ anything.”
“Well, you had to be feeling something, because you certainly weren’t thinking.”
Biting back a response made my jaw so tight the muscles in my neck started twitching. Hachi studied me, irritation bubbling in his eyes like the macha rolls in the oven. “What happened?”
My face felt like it was being squeezed, as I forced a deep breath through flared nostrils. “A woman was being attacked.” I shrugged. “I jumped in and helped.”
“You—” His eyes trailed into his classic ‘how stupid can you be’ look. “You ‘jumped in?’” He was nodding his head as he repeated my words; confirming to himself exactly how ridiculous it all sounded out loud.
“Whatever,” I muttered.
Hachi’s head jerked up. But I didn’t wait for his eyes to find mine before retreating to my room.
“You’ve got ten hashes to change and find your way back to the table,” The boom in Hachi’s voice echoed through my chest. “NaRyn will be here any moment.”
“Yes, sir!” I nearly yelled back, before storming into my room and slamming the door behind me.
I glanced at my Power Clash timeboard again; 16.14. Thanks Serec! Way to pay attention.
I thrusted my palms against the bathroom sink; my arms trembling as dry heat swirled around my face. If not for NaRyn I would’ve skipped dinner altogether. But I wasn’t about to hold NaRyn up on her studies. Royal Verdallyn Academy—Aruria’s top university prep school—was borderline sadistic with their curriculum. She was probably drowning in schoolwork, and I’d be just as angry at myself as I was at Hachi if I let our issues weigh her down.
If nothing else, changing afforded me time to cool off a little. I paused at my door. Keep the peace — for NaRyn. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and opened the door.
The moment I stepped out, I was tackled.
“Rec Rec!” NaRyn bubbled. Her slender arms squeezed my torso with an unexpectedly strong grip that might as well have been sandpaper against open skin. I winced as she took her time releasing me.
“Not so tight, Ryn Ryn,” I groaned.
“What do you mea—” Her eyes widened when she finally noticed. “Ohmygosh! What happened to your face?”
“Your cousin,” Hachi interjected, “thought it wise to play peace enforcer for an evening. Now that we—and the rest of Aruria—understand how manly he can be, let’s have dinner.”
Dinner with NaRyn only happened every few decs. So, as usual, Hachi filled the table with enough food for her to take back to her dorm. Steamed plant greens, fresh bread, and Hachi’s signature triple-cheese macha rolls. It all looked as good as it smelled. And the sooner I could focus on eating, the sooner I could tune out Hachi’s usual small talk.
“So,” Hachi started, “how are your studies, NaRyn?”
“I thought I’d be more stressed,” NaRyn said. “Finals are approaching fast, and my interview for King Martinel University is coming up. But for some reason, I’m really excited.”
“You should be. With your work ethic and responsibility, you’ll be a great candidate for KMU.”
Hachi threw a quick glance in my direction. If my mouth wasn’t full of food, I might’ve reminded him that NaRyn was the non-male seated to my right.
“Principal Matta also tells me you’re in the running for the King Elite Youth Scholars top ten?” NaRyn’s smile widened. “If I’m not mistaken, a near-perfect career grade average is a prerequisite.”
“It is,” NaRyn answered. Then she looked over at me. “But, I’m only at a 99.75%.”
“No need for modesty,” Hachi said. “I’m very proud of you. You’ve got your cousin’s average beat by 12.86%.”
I stabbed some steamed greens, and my fork clanked against the plate. “Sorry,” I said without looking up. “I got distracted from all the non-eating at the dinner table.”
“You shouldn’t be so averse to talking,” Hachi replied. “If you employed a bit more of it perhaps you wouldn’t experience so many situation escalating to fisticuffs.”
“There’s a theory.”
“These macha rolls are delicious,” NaRyn said with forced enthusiasm.
“Here’s another theory,” Hachi said. “The D.O.P. hired peace enforcers to quell the city’s squabbles. Not you.”
I forced a smile. “And yet they’re never around when you need them.”
“They’re so cheesy, and I love the spices,” NaRyn continued.
“Exactly what authorization were you given to act on their behalf?” Hachi asked.
My eyes snapped up from my plate to meet his. “How much authorization do I need when crime is at a record high? Or would you rather I just ignore it when I see a woman in danger like any other coward on the street?”
“How about calling for help? They can’t see everything that happens in Callastryne, and you’ve already had a close call with detention. Or have you forgotten how many favors I had to call in to reduce your five-anum confinement to 60 days of house arrest?”
“If only I could. But it’s not like you’ll ever let me live it down!” I yelled.
“Because I need you to understand that I can’t bail you out of every mess you get yourself into! You’re not helping people; you’re looking for trouble. And if you’re even suspected of using your powers, there isn’t a thing I can do to get you out of that kind of trouble.” His intensity matched mine.
The longer I stared into his wild eyes, the hotter my face went, until I could’ve warmed what was left of the macha rolls on my plate. I pressed my teeth tightly together, hoping to temporarily sever the connection between my brain and mouth before I ended up saying something I regretted.
I usually looked forward to NaRyn’s visits. But thanks to Hachi’s small talk escalating into a shouting match, all I wanted was to go back to my quiet non-meddling room.
“Even the plant greens complement the bread well,” NaRyn said with a forced smile. “You want to try some, Serec?”
“No,” I said. “I just want to live my life without spoon-fed opinions on how I can do better.”
“Then do better,” Hachi said flatly.
“Please don’t argue,” NaRyn pleaded. This was the closest thing to a family dinner any of us were going to get. Considering how stressful school life often was for her, she probably needed it more than Hachi or I did.
Hachi laced his fingers and rested his chin against his thumbs. “We’re not arguing. Because this discussion just ended.”
We could at least agree on that much. With the hollow screech of my chair legs over the floor, I pushed away from the dinner table and hurried off to my room.
I plopped into my squoosh bag and shut my eyes. Despite the fact that it was just a cheap piece of novelty furniture, letting myself sink into it always seemed to sink my problems right along with it. My mind tuned everything out so quickly, I almost didn’t hear the knocking on my door.
“Rec Rec? May I come in?”
“Is your uncle with you?” I called back.
I paused for a breath. “It's open.”
With the clank of the knob, the door smoothed over the plush carpet, and NaRyn stepped in with a timid look on her face.
“You want the squoosh bag?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” NaRyn sighed.
I slid onto the floor cross-legged. “Go ahead.”
She sat on the bag. “Uncle Hachi wanted me to remind you to wash your plate.”
"You offered to clean it again, didn’t you?"
“I'm a guest.”
“No, you're family. And I can handle my own mess.”
“I just wanted to buy you some time to cool off.”
I snorted and shook my head. I’d never known anyone sweeter than NaRyn. We were always close growing up. But things between us drastically changed when I lost my parents, and moved to Callastryne with Hachi. I was in a dark place. And she was my light. She’s always been that way. Which made me feel even worse for allowing Hachi to get under my skin during dinner.
“Thanks, Ryn. But you’ve got plenty on your plate already. No pun intended.”
“How'd you get into a fight anyway?”
Before I could answer, Hachi’s voice penetrated the door. “Goodnight, NaRyn.”
“Goodnight Uncle Hachi! Thank you for dinner!”
“I’m glad you could join us. Did you tell Serec to wash his plate?”
I rolled my eyes. “She told me.”
There was a pause before his door clicked shut signaling the ‘all clear.' I hopped to my feet.
“I need some fresh air. Wanna come?”
Aio hung lazily in the sky as we hiked up the steep hill.
“Remember back in intermediate school?” I asked. “When I fought those kids for picking on you?”
“How could I forget when they were twice my size?” NaRyn said with a soft chuckle. “And replace ‘fought’ with pummeled.”
A grin pressed into my mouth even as I had to squint through the walls of chilled wind, whistling against my face. I looked up, noticing the thick clouds dampening Aio’s soothing blue light.
“You know how I feel about unfair fights.”
NaRyn sighed. “Yeah. But you know how Uncle Hachi feels about you fighting at all.”
My grin faded. “He wasn’t there. There isn’t always time to get help. Sometimes you have to be the help.”
NaRyn went quiet; her eyes trailing the sidewalk. “If you get caught using your powers, then what? The punishment is pretty severe.”
I shrugged. “It’s not like anyone can tell when I use it anyway.”
That much was true. Mostly. Despite the utility of adaptive muscle memory, it would’ve taken a trained eye to detect it. My newer ability of mimicking other powers, however, might have been a little harder to hide.
“Serec, I’m serious!”
“Be smooth Ryn, I’ll be careful.”
NaRyn sighed. “Is it any easier for you to control it?”
“Hit or miss. Simple moves are a cinch to copy. Advanced moves are still usually a miss. Weird as it may sound though, I think that might’ve changed recently.”
“I think I copied a healing ability during my fight last night.”
NaRyn studied me for a moment. “Then, what’s up with your face? Or am I looking at the healed version?”
“So funny. Too bad telling jokes doesn’t improve your ranking for the KEYS 100. But I‘ll bet if I could copy something smooth like gravity, I’d have all of Royal Verdallyn Academy eating out of my hands too.”
NaRyn nudged me. “Don’t be so frostie, Rec Rec. I’m more popular than you were because I’m smoother than you. That’s all there is to it.”
“You’re still a nerd.”
The highest point in Callastryne, the cozy half-park, half-landmark known as Olde Hill, sat on the southwest edge of town. Entirely contained within Olde Callastryne, and complete with trees, a track, and a few benches.
For NaRyn and me, it was a great place to think — mostly because it was usually empty. But there was one other thing. An inspiring, peaceful view, overlooking most of New Callastryne from the far edge of Olde Hill, where our favorite koa tree, Brain grew.
Coming up with the name was easy enough for NaRyn and me. It was exceptionally large, with thick, abnormally-curving branches that looked the way a child might doodle a brain. Perched on the edge of the hill, Brain stood watch over all of Callastryne for generations. And every time we sat under Brain, our thoughts just flowed effortlessly.
I sat in the grass and leaned back against Brain. NaRyn followed pulling her knees to her chest.
“It looks so eerie tonight,” NaRyn said.
“When doesn’t a green sky look eerie at night?” Leftover sarcasm polluted my words. I’d have to work on that.
“So, what changed?”
“With the sky?”
“With Uncle Hachi’s rules. You haven’t broken them in anums. And I’ve never seen you guys argue like that. I can only imagine how that would have gone if he knew about the other four times.”
I looked out at the twinkling city lights and wondered if they ever changed color or arrangement while the world was too busy to notice. “He also caught me like two decs ago. The conversation was pretty similar, since he refuses to ever see my side on anything. After my time in the Royal Army and the six decs of house arrest it earned me, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting—ya know? What kind of impact I’m making on the world with the gifts I’ve been given.”
“Like Uncle Amani used to say?” NaRyn asked. I nodded, and she responded with a smile before wistfully returning her attention to the sky. The waning glow reflected softly over her hazel eyes. “How can you be certain you’re doing what your parents would have wanted?”
I shrugged. “It just feels right I guess.” It wasn’t much of an answer. But it was true for me.
“Even if it means ignoring Uncle Hachi’s rules? The public isn’t too fond of people like us, and he’s just trying to protect you.”
Leave it to NaRyn to be the voice of reason. It’s my favorite quality of her’s that I absolutely hate.
“You’re probably right. But keeping in line all this time hasn’t made life easier for anyone but me. I have to try something new. Even if there's a risk. Even if Hachi doesn’t approve.”
“So, is your plan to just jump into the deep end and see what happens?”
I chuckled. “When you put it that way, it sounds pretty half-baked. I guess I just want to do what peace enforcers do, without all the rules and bureaucracy. Despite how Hachi feels about it, I say there can be honor and merit in vigilantism.”
NaRyn raised an eyebrow. Most girls her age weren’t so analytical. Of course, most girls hadn’t been through what she had in her fifteen anums of life. “It may not be the best plan, but I don’t hate it.”
I sighed. “Sounds like that’s the best I’m gonna get as far as support.”
“For now. But seriously, I’m proud that you’re trying to continue in your parents’ legacy.” She frowned. “Sometimes I wonder if that should’ve been the case for me too. But it’s not like we spent that much time figuring that kind of stuff out.”
“You’ve got time. Just keep living. If I can do it, then you definitely can.”
“You’re smarter than me, more personable, more talented, and your crazy-good grade average ranks you in the top twenty of the KEYS 100. Are you seriously asking or do you just like being reminded how amazing you are?”
NaRyn shrugged, her face colored with smug. “Little from column A, little from column B.”
I rolled my eyes. “Anyway, I’m crazy-proud of you, and I know uncle Vyctor and aunt Mara would back me on that if they were still here. Besides, you should be focused on what you want for yourself at this point.”
“Sounds ideal. But what if I’m not sure what I want after Royal Verdallyn? KMU sounds great, but I’ve also been toying with the idea of membering up with the Bureau of National Peace, like mom and dad. I’d be helping people, and the fact that Uncle Hachi’s the Director would help with the application process.”
“I imagine so. Which department are you considering? Intelligence?”
Even though I tried, it was hard to imagine someone like NaRyn as a BNP agent, especially in the Occult Division — a unit that specializes in altercations with Gifted. Physically, she was more than capable; especially with her powers. But she’d always been too mild-mannered and way too anti-violent for something like that.
“Wouldn’t you have to fight against other Gifted?”
“Only if I fail to apprehend them peacefully.”
“Are you expecting every criminal to come along quietly?”
NaRyn scrunched her face and shrugged. “I said I’m toying with the idea, didn’t I?”
There was a hint of frustration in her voice that felt too familiar not to notice. From the outside listening in, it was enough to pinch at my stomach.
“Sorry,” I said. “I’m just…giving you a hard time. Honestly, I’d be more worried if you didn’t at least have some ideas floating around.”
“I’d hate to see that much brain power go to waste.” I gestured toward her head. “You could probably fuel a machine with that thing.”
She nudged me. “Quiet you,” she said with a chuckle. “But thanks, Rec Rec.”
I wrapped an arm around her shoulder and squeezed. “Welcome, Ryn Ryn.”
“Ready to head back?” I asked.
“Actually, can we sit here a little while longer?”
“Sure,” I said, and leaned onto Brain’s trunk. “But don’t you need to get ready for class?”
NaRyn snorted. “I need as much peace from school life as humanly possible. This anum has been a huge dose of stressful, and—per usual—that stupid attention hog, Mina, goes out of her way to outdo me in everything.”
“Isn’t that what prep school is all about? Drama, rivals, and a bunch of other crap that only matters until you graduate. And then, before you know it, school’s done, and you’ll never see her again.”
“I can only hope,” NaRyn scoffed, then paused. “I wonder how she did it.”
“Blissful Martinel. She also ranked thirteenth in the KEYS 100 during her eleventh anum. But by the end of her final anum, she was number one.”
I had a few theories as to whether or not Aruria’s beloved princess earned the top ranking, on merit alone. But the last thing NaRyn needed was someone to deflate her dreams when there was so much ahead of her.
“Two anums is a long time,” I said. “If she can do it, I’m sure you can too.”
“If nothing else, fighting seems to be improving your encouragement skills.”
“See? That’s the kind of stuff Hachi needs to hear.”
We shared a chuckle and looked out at the twinkling city lights. A smooth breeze roused the grass and leaves around us, carrying a crisp scent that relaxed me more than anything. At least, until my timechain beeped. I fished it out of my pocket and frowned as soon as Hachi’s face appeared on the tiny screen. I sighed inwardly as he began with, “You forgot to clean your plate. But that’s not why I called. Come to my study when you get home. There’s a matter we need to discuss.”