“Faith,” Walter whispered to himself as he waited for the doctor, sitting atop an examination bench. It was such a lovely name, made lovelier by the other things Kriskin relayed to him.
“She thinks you’re cute,” she had told him. “But that’s just my guess. I don’t know.”
That was when the nurse called him in, and now he was here. They’d already checked his height, weight, and blood pressure, and soon the doctor would be here. Lost in thought, he didn’t notice when she walked in. An older woman in a white coat, with curly auburn hair and thick-rimmed glasses. “Good morning, Mr. Helrath,” she welcomed, “I’m Dr. Saunders. Let’s do this quickly, shall we?”
Starting with the stethoscope, she asked him to lift his shirt. “What happened here?” she asked as his abdominal wound came into view.
“I, uh, got stabbed. It’s just a flesh wound.”
The doctor prodded it once and said, “Looks like you’re taking care of it. Breathe in, pelase.” Never skipping a beat, she checked his respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Next were his eyes, nose, mouth, ears and throat. “One hundred and three degrees,” she muttered out loud as she checked his temperature. “You don’t have any other signs of a fever. Is this a normal body temperature for you?”
Walter blinked at her. “You’re the only doctor to ever ask me that.”
“I’ll take that as a yes. Nothing really surprises me anymore. Just the other week, I examined a young man with no pulse. Haven’t seen him since, now that I think about it. Anyway. Have you ever actually had a cold or flu before?”
Walter shook his head. “No, not that I can remember.”
“Just as I thought. It would seem that your body temperature fights off disease much better than normal folks.”
“Hm.” Walter considered that for a second. “I never thought of it that way.”
“Alright then. Mr. Helrath, you’re good to go.”
“Really? You mean you’re not gonna check my…you know?”
She laughed again. “And burn my finger? I think you’ll be just fine. Oh, but let me know if you do have a problem, because that would be very serious.”
“So how did it go?” Kriskin asked Walter returned to the waiting room.
He grinned. “Pretty well. I learned some things about myself.”
“Well don’t stop there,” suggested another voice. It was Damian; Walter didn’t notice him sitting there with his new crutch and ankle brace. “Let’s go learn some more! Kriskin?”
They all three warped one by one to a large gymnasium. Walter couldn’t say where they were, as there were no windows, just walls lined with safety mats.
“I’ve got an idea for your assessment,” Damian continued as he limped over to the trampolines. He carried a duffel bag of supplies. “Bring that mat over, the blue one by the vault ramp.”
Kriskin helped Walter grab it. It was a large cylindrical thing, and together they dragged it over to the grid of trampolines.
“Prop it up,” Damian directed, “we’re gonna start with something simple. Do you think you can do it again? Blow it up, I mean.”
“I don’t really want to,” Walter confessed.
“Fair enough. Just hit it, as hard as you can.”
Walter sighed, figuring he should just go with it to get done sooner. He made a stance and jabbed at the mat. His effort was enough that it toppled over.
“Okay, good. Set it up again, then hit it again. But this time, get mad.”
“Get angry! I don’t care what you have to do—pretend it’s your ex-wife or boss or something.”
“Can I pretend it’s you?”
Damian smiled. “Whatever works.”
Walter grumbled, making another stance. Kriskin had already set it up for him, so he hit it again, this time imagining James’ face painted on the side. This time, the mat slid a few meters before collapsing. “Nothing,” he observed.
“No, no wait.” Damian hobbled over to take a closer look, putting his hand on the point of impact. “Yeah, see? It’s warmer here, like it was holding a hot meal.”
Walter rubbed his knuckles. “…Really?”
“Yeah, really!” Damian was getting excited. “I can’t say for sure, since it’s you and all, but I think you have to be angry for it to happen. Kriskin, set it up again, let’s test this.”
Practicing caution, she propped if up from afar by picking it up with a stretched ring, closing it around the middle of the mat.
“Okay, I have an idea. Kriskin and I are the only ones around, so no judging. Just…just um, have a temper tantrum, you know? Go wild on it, like a little kid.”
Walter and Kriskin both looked at him like he was crazy.
“I mean it! Scream and cry like your mom won’t get you that toy you’ve always wanted. You’ve thrown a tantrum before, right?”
Kriskin chuckled, “Like your son?”
He seemed annoyed. “Shaddup.”
“Alright,” Walter complied, twisting his body both ways to stretch a bit. “I’ll try the screaming thing.” Getting close to the mat, he reeled back and took a deep breath. “Yaaahh!” he cried, then thrust his fist into the vinyl and foam—no effect. The mat hardly moved at all.
Damian threw out his hands. “What was that?! Why did you stop?”
“Uh, I don’t know,” Walter stammered, “I….”
“Walter,” Kriskin piped in. “Are you…scared?”
He scratched the back of his head.
“No, no, Walter no!” Damian moaned, running his hands down his face. “You’re killin’ me! You’re afraid of hitting a defenseless, inanimate object?”
“I don’t think that’s it,” Kriskin informed him, placing a hand on her brother’s shoulder. “I think…it has more to do with what happens to him after the blast you want, not the mat.”
“Well that’s what the trampoline is for!” He explained. “I thought that much was obvious. Come on, let’s try it again.”
“Damian…” Kriskin turned him around to talk with him in private. Walter could only wonder what she was saying about him. She was wrong; it wasn’t himself that he worried about. He glared at the mat for a second, then tipped it over with his foot.
Then he could hear Damian give out the heaviest sigh he’d heard all day. “Fine, fine. Not much of an assessment, but it is only our first day. Come over here, Walt. I’ve got something for you.” Feeling a little sheepish, Walter bounced over and peered into the duffel bag as Damian rummaged through it. “Here you go,” he said, handing him a two pairs of what looked like black wrist bands over-stuffed with cotton. Yet, as he grabbed a hold of them, they were much heavier than he expected. “Training weights. I want you to wear those around your wrists and ankles wherever you go. Take them off only when you swim or bathe go to bed. They’re going to help you build some mass, and they might keep you grounded, should anything happen. Understand?”
Walter tested their weight a bit, bouncing one in the palm of his hand. “And why should I?”
Damian smirked. “Because if you don’t, how do you expect to be paid?”
“What did you tell him?” Walter waited to ask once they started eating.
When they left the gymnasium, he realized it was an establishment separate from the tower. It was a business placed owned by a local. Damian had, apparently, rented out the whole building for his little experiment. In the lobby, a whole group of youngsters in leotards were waiting for their lessons to begin. Walter couldn’t help but smile when one particularly small girl stuck her tongue out at him for wasting her time.
From there, they walked through the island village’s humble business district. It wasn’t a long walk, though it felt that way as the new training weights already started to take effect. They decided to stop at a burger joint that Kriskin claimed as her favorite.
“Hm?” Kriskin had to swallow her morsel before she could answer. “Oh, I asked for it to be on toast, these sandwiches are much better that way.”
“No, I mean to Damian. What did you say to get him to leave me alone?”
“Oh,” she realized, smiling at her misunderstanding. “I just told him you were tired from all the jet lag. And, from almost drowning, earlier.”
Walter nodded. “Is that the truth?”
She seemed skeptical of him at first, then smiled as he smiled. “You tell me.”
His grin faded as he considered it. “I just…don’t like my talent.” He put up his hands to make finger quotes around the word. “All it’s good for is… destroying stuff. I can’t think of any way to be helpful with it.”
Kriskin put down her sandwich and leaned on her elbow. “Mm, I think you’ll figure something out. I first discovered my talent when I was just a kid, and all I used it for was to get into trouble.” She chuckled, “It drove my parents crazy. But, now I know how to use it properly, and to help people.”
“How often do people ask you for a shortcut?”
“Ugh,” she groaned, throwing her head back, “all the time! After a while, I just ignore them. James is on that list right now.”
Walter laughed. “And I guess you’re not allowed to teleport me anymore, huh?”
“Why do you think we walked here? Oh, that reminds me. I have business to attend to with Dust.” She stood up from the table. “Are you okay with being on your own for a while?”
“Sure. I was thinking about taking a look around. Um…which way is the house from here?”
“To the west,” she pointed, “on top of Heel Hill. Just call me if you need anything, okay?” Waving goodbye, she vanished through the loop, and the ring left behind dropped onto the table. Walter reached over to pick it up, looked at it for a second, and then put it in his pocket. He figured he could give it back to her when he saw her again.
She’d also left behind her sandwich, a few mouthfuls left over. Walter didn’t think twice about finishing it off for her. Nice and full, he picked up his trash, dumped in the nearest can, and headed up the hill. Nodding hello as he passed by the locals, he stopped every so often to take a look back and enjoy the view. What stuck out to him was something he hadn’t noticed this morning. To the south, there was another mass of land separated from the rest of the island. It must be The Thumb, a titanic oval-shaped rock, black on the top and fading to white toward the bottom where the waves wore it away. With the sun overhead, it was kind of hard to look at with so many glinting reflections in his eyes. Looking around, he noticed the rocks and trees were illuminated by these shimmers. No wonder there weren’t any houses facing this way.
As he got higher and higher up the hillside, the houses grew further and further apart. There were three houses and a garage at the top, arranged in a triangular pattern. They all shared one long driveway, like some extravagantly wealthy family lived here. The house he’d been put in was furthest from the road and closest to the beach. To the right of that was more of a mansion—twice as large as the one he was staying in. Then, closest to him was the smallest of the three buildings, a humble cottage with an added aviary branching off to the side. There must have been at least a dozen birds of prey here, be they hawks or falcons or owls; Walter didn’t know how to tell some of them apart.
He stopped walking for a second when he realized someone was there, interacting with one of the smaller birds. It was a woman with long blonde hair, wearing a tan uniform and heavy duty boots. She spotted him as soon as he approached, and waved. “You must be Walter,” she called, her voice flat and aloof.
“Yeah, that’s me,” he answered, trying to put his hands in his pockets—stopped by the thickness of his weights. “Uh, nice to meet you…?”
“Drea,” she answered.
“Drea.” He watched her as she scratched the hawk under its neck, then held it up high. Then she thrust her gloved hand toward the pool that lay equidistant between the three houses, and the bird took flight. Flapping its wings a few times, it soared high above them, gliding in wide circles.
“How do you like the island so far?” She asked him while they watched.
“It’s nice,” he answered, again trying to pocket his hands. “Very beautiful.”
Drea only had to whistle once, and the little hawk dove straight for her. Its landing was a little rough, becoming a fluttering ball of feathers and claws. “Klutz,” said its handler. “He’s not used to his new feathers yet. Wasn’t Kriskin with you?”
“Uh, she was,” Walter replied. “She told me she had to meet with Dust.”
The woman turned to stare at him with one deep brown eye as she returned the bird to his enclosure. The other hid behind her hair, Walter noticed. He couldn’t help but feel intimidated by her look. Her single eye then darted downward. “Oh,” she cooed, tilting her head back with knowing. “You’re the one they’ve been looking for. It’s about time.”
Walter covered his mark with one hand.
“Hmm,” she snorted, grinning for the first time since they started talking. Under her hook nose, her upper lip appeared darker than her lower one, giving her a distinct, classy look. “I should stop bothering you. Welcome to Navei, Walter.” With that, she took off her falconer’s glove, hung it up by the cage, and walked into the cottage.
Left by himself, Walter could only go, “hm,” and decided to go inside.