There it is. The source of all my knowledge, the place responsible for who I am today.
“You are strong.”
The words ring in my head as we come closer.
“You are a mountain that can’t be moved.”
I move faster.
“You are a force to be reckoned with.”
I remember the ache of my skin, the screaming of my bones at that very moment. I’d been so low, and the words were to bring me back up.
“So prove it.”
I stop, the girls coming to a halt behind me. There it stands, the leopard, soaking wet and glowing orange. Its head is low, teeth bared.
I sit on my hind legs. Nod.
The leopard lifts itself and stands tall. The girls stay silent as it begins to change. Black clothes appear and her skin almost has a sickly, purple look to it. The orange glow shifts to purple and she moves her hands to her hips, her long, black hair dripping at her ankles, and she smiles a wicked grin with her red, cracked lips.
“Come,” she says, the words wrapping around us. I stand and trot after her as she turns and disappears into the house behind her. The girls follow suit, without a word. Jackie begins to protest, but Dametria silences her with a flick of her hand.
We pass through the threshold, another chill washing down my spine.
Memories flood back to me.
“On your feet, Damian!”
“You only can’t if you think you can’t. Defy the weakness you feel, prince.”
I took a ragged breath in, my body twitching with pain. My muscles spasmed and my arms shook as I lifted my torso from the ground, my own blood pooling around me, cutting ravines through the stones below.
I found my feet and lifted my hands, the glowing that surrounded them flickering like the dancing light of a dying candle. I had been weakened.
“Drea-de, it’s your turn.”
A body crashed into me, knocking me to the ground. This boy had been casted out from Initi and was sought out for his strength. He had been a hunter, but he was very arrogant, and it got on my nerves more than I’d like to admit. He abandoned his tribe because of her—the woman who trained us and pretended like she cared about us equally.
I slammed an elbow into his cheek and threw him off of me, a burst of light coming forth from my hands and colliding with his sternum. He fell to the ground, enraged, and I pinned him down with wisps of light, earning several fowl words that escaped from his mouth. He struggled against them as I wiped my lip with the back of my hand, triumph in my eyes. The woman giggled with glee as I unclenched my fists and took a breath, finishing the fight. All I wanted to do was go home, possibly see Dametria smile, and go to sleep.
“Kill him,” she said to me. I turned back toward her, keeping my mind partly on Drea-de and what I’d already done to him. Just one distraction could put a hole in my magic and I could lose. And I get a penalty from her if I lose in her presence.
A painful one.
“Why?” I questioned, my hand flexing as I keep my mind on the wisps of light behind me, holding my opponent down.
“Because if you don’t, you’ll never receive your greatest desire,” she chuckled, shifting her weight in her tall chair made of stone.
“Do you know what that is?” I asked, a sense of understanding washing over me, rage bubbling up beneath it and pushing through. I could feel the aspiration of something greater tingling in my fingertips as it weaved itself through my veins, boiling the blood inside.
Her eyes flashed purple, and that was the first I felt of the beast inside me. “To complete your quest, and destroy everything and anything that gets in your way.”
Purple flashed through her eyes once more, and I felt she was right, the animal prowling inside me. I knew she was right. I could feel it in the marrow of my bones. My quest... to avenge the One-Hundreds... I would do anything to reach its end. But something unsettled my stomach. There was something wrong here, and I knew it... but I couldn’t place it. And I knew it had to do with the sudden hatred, this beast that had suddenly developed in the cavity of my chest.
I towered over Drea-de as his eyes filled with fear.
“You won’t kill me,” he quipped, tugging at the green light that pinned him down. I didn’t want to kill him. Why would I? Was he standing in the way of what I was wanting? The quest I was destined to reach the end of? I didn’t see the point his death had in all this. The bigger picture could find completion without wiping him off the face of the Earth.
I glanced back at the woman, who narrowed her eyes at me. I didn’t want to do it.
And she couldn’t make me.
I shook my head and took a step back, fighting the animal inside as Drea-de found his feet.
“What are you doing, Damian-sai?” the woman growled, gripping the arms of her chair tightly. “Have you been replaced with the makeup of a coward?”
“Cowardliness isn’t from those who turn their cheek,” I said softly, watching as Drea-de lifted his hands. “It is from those who use ignorance as a crutch.”
The woman rose from her chair, my eyes still trained on Drea-de, who stared at me, confused. I heard her near and come close to my shoulder, her eyes intense as they bored into my skull. My peripheral vision gave away her clenched fists and jaw, and I could feel the temperature drop in the air surrounding us.
“Damian,” she sighed, her voice teetering on the sound of insanity.
Her hand slammed against my sternum, nearly knocking me to the floor. I began to glow with the color purple, choking on the air attempting to enter my lungs.
“You are strong.” Her hand pressed me farther back in the room, her eyes alight with a thousand-degree flame burning just below her surface. “You are a mountain that can’t be moved.”
Pain blossomed through my chest, making me cry out. I nearly crumbled to my knees, but still, she pressed on.
“You are a force to be reckoned with.”
She shoved me the rest of the way, my back crashing into the stone wall opposite of Drea-de. I landed on my face, the purple glow still surrounding me.
Slowly, it turned green, my pores sucking in the purple glow as if it was evaporated water and I was a cloud. A harsh tingling wreaked havoc through my veins and I cried out. My fists clenched; skin ruptured in my palms as nails dug deeper into its soft structure. I felt my body cry out as it contorted involuntarily—and I felt my mind become overpowered.
“So prove it.”
This was the moment I became who I was supposed to be, as I filled with hatred, with ambition, and with pride. The animal inside, the intangible beast she had placed in me, its cage had been unlocked, and it took over.
And I was addicted to it instantly.
My eyes darted up to the woman, a new hunger for blood filling my stomach. My feet found themselves and I stood, narrowing my eyes at Drea-de, whose eyes were filled with uncertainty, with pride, and, most importantly, with fear.
I smiled as power leapt from my fingertips.
He was my first kill.