Chapter 6: Winter's Edge
I couldn’t help but see the screaming tears Abby quietly fought to hold back. She’d blame herself if I left. And she’d probably never forgive herself for it either…
…because she knew I’d die.
I wasn’t ready to die.
“Okay.” I nodded. “I’ll stay.”
A sad smile crossed her face as she nodded back to me. She turned and disappeared down the hall as if she didn’t want me to see her this way, or she was ashamed of what she’d done.
I’d always been able to read people well, a skill I acquired early on to keep my secret safe, but I hadn’t seen through Abby’s ruse before. I wasn’t upset that she and the others had suckered me. I was upset that I hadn’t seen it coming, and that scared me. Either she was an exceptionally-skilled liar, or she was an amazing actor. Acting I could live with. Lying I couldn’t. Which was ironic since I’d lived most of my life lying to protect my secret.
Asa came from the training room with a raised eyebrow. “So are you staying, or going to get yourself killed?”
“Staying,” I said, reluctantly.
“Well, you do have some sense about you.” She gave an approving nod. “Finally living up to our increased intelligence.”
“Gee, are there any more powers we have that I don’t know about?”
Her lower lip rose in consideration. “No, I believe that’s it. I didn’t mention the increased intelligence earlier because I we’re not certain it’s entirely accurate.”
Everyone here being overly intelligent made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I might not see it coming if Braden decided to get revenge…or something worse.
A pink-haired girl with eyebrow and nose piercings, probably in her mid-twenties, came from behind me and slapped my butt. “So the new guy’s finally lucid.”
I jumped a little, not expecting such a...warm welcome.
She spun around to face me and stuck a hand out. “Kathrina Meltzer. But my friends call me Kat.” She had a faint German accent that said she’d been in America for quite a while or she picked up languages quickly.
“Ian Sharp.” I shook her hand with some hesitation. “Good to meet you, Kat.”
“I said my friends call me Kat.” Her voice had a hard edge. “It’s Katharina to you.”
“Sorry, I—” My words caught in my throat. “I didn’t—”
Kat burst into laughter. “Did you see the look on his face? I crack myself up sometimes.”
Asa let out a sigh. “You must excuse Kat’s crude sense of humor. She’s a bit rough around the edges, but what she lacks in manners, she all but makes up for in helpfulness.” Her backhanded compliment came out dry.
“Sure, that’s the only reason they keep me around. I’m ‘helpful.’“ Kat made quotation marks in the air with her fingers. “It’s ’cause I feed their fat faces.”
My eyes went fuzzy as my legs gave way.
Kat caught me and Asa stepped forward to grab my arm.
“It appears the testing has taken it out of you.” Asa hoisted me back to my full height. She was solid as a rock. “We should’ve gotten more food in you. IVs aren’t terribly good at that.” She turned to Kat. “Take Mr. Sharp for some lunch. He’ll need to replace some nutrients before training.”
“Huh?” I frowned at her.
“Using your powers expends nutrients just like any physical activity.” Asa let go of me so that Kat took on my full weight. She was just as solid as Asa. “You must’ve used up any stores you had when you ran to Denver. You’ll learn to eat a hefty diet here. We must always be ready. The scenario you just experienced may not be far from reality one day.”
“Once you’re finished with lunch, talk to Murph. You can help him in the tavern tomorrow. You’ll go stir-crazy down here without something to do.” Asa nodded respectfully. “Good to meet you Mr. Sharp.” She turned and headed down the hall.
“You can call me Ian.”
She continued down the hall, not looking back. “Very well, Mr. Sharp.”
I leaned closer to Kat, watching Asa go. “She’s not gonna call me Ian is she?”
“Not a chance, newb.”
I dropped my arm from her shoulder to her waist as she adjusted her grip on me, helping me down the hall.
“Watch where you put that hand. I might like it.” Kat bounced her eyebrows at me along with a wiry smile, snickering. It was hard to tell whether her comments were serious or not.
“How long have you lived here?”
“About ten years,” she said. “Mathis found me when I was seventeen, just after I’d left Germany.”
“That’s pretty young to cross an ocean.”
She sighed. “Long story. The short version is, my American boyfriend snatched me away in the middle of the night and brought me to the U.S.”
“Did you want him to bring you here?”
“Well, yeah. You don’t think I couldn’t have resisted if I didn’t wanna go? He wasn’t James Bond or anything.”
Now I just felt stupid. “So he doesn’t live here, doesn’t have powers?”
“Already trying to figure out if I have a boyfriend? Wow, you don’t waste any time.”
“What? No.” I shook my head dismissively. “I was just wondering if you left him behind when Mathis found you.”
“Duh. I’ll take safety and controlling my powers over a boyfriend and Hunters chasing me any day. It’s not like he would’ve lasted long around me anyway. If I didn’t kill him, Hunters would have.”
She seemed to be genuine this time, but what did that mean…if she didn’t kill him? Just what was her power?
“It’s okay,” she said. “Wouldn’t have worked out anyway.”
A memory of Mandy at the diner popped into my head. Something in me was glad I hadn’t gotten attached to her, for both our sakes. As I’d always suspected, being my friend was dangerous. Except in this place.
I sat with that thought for a moment. Was I a threat here? I’d broken Braden’s arm, but that was part of a setup, a one-time deal. My powers hadn’t hurt anyone very bad. Could I finally stop worrying about hurting someone with my powers? The thought seemed too good to be true. Then I remembered Abby had no powers. The thought really was too good to be true.
“Asa said only a few people know where the entrance to the city is. Are you one of them?”
She glared at me. “They’ll never tell me, and I don’t wanna know.”
“Because I don’t wanna get caught by Hunters and give up our location,” she said. “And besides, you can’t ever leave if you know where the entrance is. Too risky. They’ll do anything to get our location.”
I grimaced. “So no one has left who knew where the entrance is?”
“A couple of guys who knew left the city before that rule was implemented.” Kat’s eyes darkened. “Joseph collapsed that tunnel entrance after one of the guys left. We use an alternate entrance now. The other guy was exiled after a murder.”
“You guys actually had a murder here?” Maybe this place wasn’t as safe as I thought.
“Yeah,” she said. “They figured out who it was and exiled him during a supply run. I overheard Joseph tell Mathis what happened. Joseph took the guy out on the highway alone—made him drive the car. The guy had no idea Joseph knew he was the murderer. Joseph pulsed his power repeatedly without the guy knowing.”
“To pull Hunters,” she said. “Joseph can pull static electricity from the air and build a heavy charge, usually without anyone knowing…except Watchers. Hunter Watchers in this case.”
I tensed. “He handed him over to the Hunters?”
“Joseph shot him up with a drug that blocked the guy’s powers,” she said, “then literally kicked him out of the car.”
“He just let the Hunters kill him?”
“That’s what I heard,” she said. “I don’t think many people know about it.”
If only a few people knew about it, why were they so careless as to let her overhear? “So why are you telling me?”
“I’m just letting you know what we do to people who try to harm us.” She looked directly into my eyes, her brow low and menacing. “People here think you might be a Hunter spy.”
“What?” I let go of her for a moment, then latched back on as my legs wobbled. “Why would I be a spy?”
“Come on, Ian.” Kat gave me a patronizing glare. “You ran through Denver sending off the strongest pulse Mathis has ever felt, then conveniently lost consciousness right where he and Abby could intercept you quickly so Hunters wouldn’t get you first.” She raised an eyebrow.
Well, when she put it like that…
Her eyebrow dropped. “If Hunters ever manage to get someone inside here who can see through walls, we’re finished.”
“See through walls?”
“Yeah, like see different wavelengths of light and how they bounce off of objects or get absorbed into them. Looks like a negative picture.”
“I know what ‘see through walls’ means. I was asking why it’s a threat.”
“We use blacked-out vans so no one sees the location of the entry gate or the code to open it. We have other ways to get in and out of the city, but they’re sealed off for now until we have to blow the main tunnel for some reason.”
“Can anyone in the city see through walls?”
“Not unless you can.” She gave me that suspicious look again.
“No.” I shook my head. “Apparently, I explode.”
“Huh.” She cocked her head. “That sounds like a whole lot of useless.”
I shrugged. “Like I said, not a spy.”
Kat adjusted her hold on me. “You may not be a spy, but you’re the worst purse puppy ever. I’m not carrying you around tomorrow.”
I rolled my eyes. “So how’d Mathis find you?”
“I went on a drunken bender one night,” she said. “Drank a bunch of men under the table and blacked out. Next thing I knew, I was here in Winter’s Edge with a mad hangover and no idea what happened the night before.”
We turned a corner and my legs wavered just a little. “Yeah, some people don’t remember what happens if they drink too much.”
“Our kind does…eventually. But I wish I didn’t.” A self-deprecating look came over her. “I was streaking through downtown Denver all night, and every time the cops caught up with me, I’d disappear.”
I did my best to stifle a snicker, but it slipped out anyway. “What do you mean ’disappear?’“
Kat shrugged. “That’s what happens when I get angry or scared. I just...disappear.”
“How is that even possible?”
“Asa says my molecules vibrate at a different resonance when I go invisible.”
“Wait, I’ve heard this theory before.” My eyes narrowed. “That’d mean you’re entering another dimension.”
She looked at me insistently with raised eyebrows, as if she did exactly that.
“No way,” I said.
She nodded. “This world turns to shades of blue like it’s not real anymore.” Her voice became more solemn. “There’s crazy stuff over there.”
“You don’t wanna know.” She hesitated in silence for a moment, then her whole demeanor shifted as if she hadn’t just said something ominous and world-changing. “Who knows if Asa’s right. No one really knows how our powers work.”
I couldn’t argue with that. Then again, I didn’t really know anything about our abilities and wasn’t even sure what mine was exactly. “That’s a pretty cool power.”
“It comes in handy since I’m a peeping-tom.”
I shot her a not-quite-sure-what-to-think expression.
“The Watchers have a tough time keeping track of me,” she said.
“I only put off a pulse the moment I use my power.” She smiled slyly. “Once I’m out of this realm, they can’t track me.”
“What’s to keep you from going interdimensional to get the gate code and location of the entrance?”
“Weren’t you listening?” She moved her free hand in front of me with each word as if I were stupid. “I—don’t—want—to—know.”
I pursed my lips, frowning.
“My power’s useful in a fight or an escape, but for everything else we do, it’s pretty useless.” There was a weight in her words, in the denigrating tone…like she carried the same weight I did, knowing she wasn’t normal and never would be. “I’m not allowed to use my power at all in Winter’s Edge.” She showed a sly smile. “But I do anyway.”
“Asa said it might shorten our lifespan. I just assumed we weren’t supposed to use them unless absolutely necessary.”
“Yeah, but Asa doesn’t want me using my power at all. She has this crazy theory that every time I go invisible, I could be compromising the covalent bond that holds my atoms together. She thinks that if my atoms split, it’ll cause a small nuclear explosion…” Kat shrugged. “…or a big one.”
“Whoa! Then why do you even use your powers at all?”
“Because it’s just Asa’s stupid theory. Have you ever seen any atoms just decide to split on their own and cause nuclear blasts?” She had a point. “Until I see little nuclear babies running around exploding, I’m gonna keep using my power.”
I liked her carefree attitude, but her disregard for the gravity of the situation made me question her sanity. Then again, maybe telling herself those things was the only way she stayed sane…assuming she was sane. That had yet to be seen.
“Besides, it’s entertaining to watch the fear in Asa’s eyes every time I vanish.” She let out a mischievous giggle. “She gets so angry.”
Asa entered the passage just ahead of us, coming back for something, I guessed. “Did you say something, Kat?”
Kat’s eyes flashed wide for a split second and she released me to walk on my own. “I was just telling Ian about your awesome magnetic powers. Like how you can put the metal toilet seat up without touching it when it’s got pee on it.”
Asa rolled her eyes.
We walked around Asa as we reached her. The hall opened into a football-stadium-sized area—the place I’d run through to escape her and Abby when I’d woken up the first time. Now that my vision wasn’t severely blurry, the place looked like a fairytale.
A majestic, circular wall of stone surrounded us under what must have been at least an eighty-foot ceiling with an elaborately-painted cloudy sky. Light seeped up the outer edges of the domed ceiling, illuminating the masterpiece. An unnaturally quiet waterfall streamed down a cliff face, light fog rising at its base as it poured into the meandering river below. Framing it was a lush, grassy park, complete with a wooden gazebo, shady oaks, and colorful flowers. An aqueduct crossed perpendicularly over the river. It wasn’t a common centerpiece, but impressive nonetheless with its petrified, tree-trunk stilts that held the intricately-carved stone canal.
A mildly-visible bar of sunlight peeked through a hole in the ceiling to light an area of the ground with large Roman numerals made of marble—a sundial. A beautiful, black-haired girl, wearing sunglasses and hardly anything else, lay in the beam of light on one of the Roman numerals, sunbathing. Patrons glared in her direction as they strolled through the city over both wooden and stone bridges which provided them a way to the other side of the river.
Massive passageways stood staggered around the outside of the park, intricate etchings lining their edges. The Roman numerals lined about a quarter of the outside edge of the park that took up most of the area.
I’d been pulled into a war between people with powers and a shadow government, and somehow ended up in this underground paradise. This place where I could be the real me. This place where people thought I might be a Hunter spy. This place where someone had been murdered.
I just hoped I’d been captured by the right side.
An effervescent, angelic voice subtly emerged from all sides of the circular ceiling, pulling me out of my thoughts and weakening my legs.
Asa caught me just before I dropped to the stone floor. “Welcome to Winter’s Edge, Mr. Sharp.”