Star Crossed

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17] Weapon of Degradation

The week passes so blindingly fast that it’s like I’ve blinked myself from Monday’s training session to waking up Saturday morning; the morning of the DFS competition. I can already feel adrenaline running through my veins at the rush of excitement that fills me with the thought of finally starting the competition.

Our team has worked for so long and so hard and now the day had finally come. After Monday we had trained as hard as hell, so hard that none of us had time really to focus on anything else. Even during lunch times all we talked about were strategies and ways to improve.

Flick had been given one last training session with the team on Tuesday, and I was glad when it was over. Basically because it was a pain watching someone so amateur fight with experienced fighters. It was quite shocking how one bad team member could slow everyone down. That’s why after Tuesday our last three training sessions had been all of us smashing them as best as we could, making up for wasted time that Flick had consumed for two whole training sessions.

I also remember Wednesday night, when Flick had walked home with Alex and John. It only slightly bothered me because I knew the Gems were going to talk to her about ‘citizenship’ or whatever. So, I had stayed home and rang Alex later that night to ask how things had gone. He started to tell me in a chirpy tone more things about the Gems, how the females of the race were extremely important to the males and had to be protected at all costs. He had gone on to make an emphasis on how they must be protected because they were prone to losing it a bit and ‘making scenes’ which could get their race into trouble with other races. The females were apparently hard to handle women who had too much to say, most of the time. As you can imagine that conversation went downhill pretty quickly. In the end after throwing a few insults his way I hung up on him and that was the end of that.

I yawn as I stretch my stiff limbs and then proceed to roll out of bed. I jump up and skip towards the bathroom for my shower. I was in an incredibly good mood because I was so excited for today. The DFS would start midday, my team would arrive fifteen minutes before hand with everyone else. As for now, I’d make my way to Alex’s house like the rest of the team after cleaning up and eating breakfast. Then we’d all get dressed into our gear and talk over our strategies again.

As of now the DFS would last a total of five weeks, each new week knocking off half off the teams. From twenty to ten today, then next week it would be from ten to five, and so on and so on. I was confident our team would make it to the finals like last year. This was our third year of competing, and this was the year we were going to win!

The shower I have is a quick one with the water on full pelt to wake me up quicker. I blow dry my hair and make it as presentable as possible before hurrying to my room and chucking on some comfy old clothes I can quickly take off in order to put on my gear once I arrive at Alex’s house. I choose old baggy black trousers and a loose orange T-shirt. Once I am down stairs I find my parents already sitting around the table and they have cooked a massive breakfast.

“We cooked eggs and bacon!” My mum says, “Tuck in, you’ll need your strength.”

My stomach grumbles in reply and I take a seat at the table.

“I sure do,” I agree. I fill my plate up with some scrambled eggs, toast and bacon before I start stuffing my face.

“Slow down!” my dad exclaims, laughing, “Excitement is just radiating out of you,” I grin and continue to eat. My dad hardly ever used his mild telepathic abilities at home and only mentioned what he read off us when we were having more ‘extreme’ emotions and thoughts.

“I can’t wait to get going!” I say with my mouth full. My mum scolds me and I smile back while I chew. In under a few minutes I’m done. I run upstairs to grab my phone and then run back down to the front door.

“Good bye!” I farewell as I leave. My parents wave and I shut the front door and start jogging my way to Alex’s house. The last thing I want to do is walk. When I’m half way there my phone rings. I take the phone out of my tracksuit’s pocket and see that it is Alex!

“Good morning!” I answer brightly.

“Are you on your way?” he asks.

“Of course I am, do you really think I’d be sleeping in on the first day of the DFS?” I laugh as I try to imagine myself doing just that and I know it would never ever happen in a million years.

“Ha, ha! No! I don’t think you’d be doing that, Jazz. I just felt like hearing your voice.”

“Uh, huh,” I reply, “Alex, you do realize we are going to have the whole day fighting together, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but hurry up and get here. I need company to deal with all the attention I’m getting from my parents and the Gems. They sent some media guy over to take photos and videos to show me off to the Gems when he heads back.”

“Sounds like you are being fussed over as usual. Isn’t anyone there yet?” I wonder.

“Nope, well, Flick is –”

“Flick!” I snap, my good mood meter drops down a few points. I totally forgot she was tagging along with us this year to the actual DFS when the last two years she just stayed at home. God! What a pain.

“Jazz, be nice! You can tolerate her. It’s not like she’ll be fighting with us.”

“Yeah, but she’ll be there. Existing. In my line of sight. Souring my mood.”

“Isn’t your mood always sour?” Alex jokes.

“Oh! I didn’t realise! What a lovely boyfriend you are for pointing that out,” Alex takes a while to reply.

“Wow... I take that back. You aren’t in a sour mood if you just admitted I’m you boyfriend,” I round the last corner to his house.

“I wasn’t admitting it! I was trying to make a point that you were not, and if you were then you aren’t a very nice one!”

“But you do realise I was joking about your mood being always sour, right?”

“Yes, obviously! But as I said, I was just trying to make a point – oh, what the hell, I can’t be bothered explaining to you. Argh! You are so annoying Alex. I’ll see you in a second.”

I hang up just as I’ve reached his front gates. As I walk through, half way up the drive way the front door opens and Alex walks out to greet me. My eyes hungrily take in his black leather pants and bare chest. Wow, he was so scrumptious I could eat him whole! Not that I’d ever tell him that. He shuts the door then leans back on it, with his arms crossed over his chest as he takes me in walking up to him. Just as my eyes are roaming up and down his body I look up to his eyes and see he is also assessing me.

“We need to get you out of those and into your gear,” Alex welcomes me while smirking.

“You better not be insulting my clothes,” I say, narrowing my eyes playfully. I knew what I had on was super daggy, but that was the point. I wasn’t going to get dressed up just to take it all off and get dressed again.

“Jazzy, aren’t you going to give your Prince a kiss?” Alex asks suddenly, his eyes full of mischief as he takes a step towards me. I take a step back and open my mouth to reply when the door suddenly opens behind Alex and he spins around to see who it is.

“Hi,” Flick welcomes, looking from me to Alex and I see her eyes widen as they take in his bare chest just as I did.

“Hi,” I reply coldly. I take a step forward so I’m next to Alex and I grab his hand. He looks to me, surprised.

“You better start draining now,” I say reasonably, “So you become Supercharged, as Leon calls it.”

“Jazz, I think I’m going to have to do a little more than just hold your hand to get Supercharged,” Alex spins around towards me while I notice Flick’s cheeks flush. Alex quickly slips his hands under my loose top so they rest on my hips, “Alex –” I’m cut off as Alex swings me up into the air and chucks me over his shoulder.

“Let’s get this girl dressed up properly!” Alex says to Flick, grinning. Flick laughs nervously and replies with a faint “Yeah.”

“What the hell, Alex?” I snap, “I actually have no idea what motivates you to do random stuff to me like throwing me over your shoulder!” I try to sound pissed off but I’m in such a good mood my reply comes out halfheartedly.

“I felt like it!” he replies, stalking into the house confidently with me hanging over his shoulder, my hands resting on his smooth muscled back and his own hand resting on my ass as he holds my legs firmly so I don’t fall off.

“Did you know that I know how to walk?” I snap, and I notice he is taking me towards the dining room.

“Whatever,” is Alex’s reply. I look up to Flick who is trailing behind us. I try to give her a smile and she returns it with a small one. She isn’t dressed yet, so I’m assuming she just got here.

“Leon, Jasmine’s here!” Alex calls out as he enters the dining room.

“What are you doing?” Leon asks.

“Oh, my! Alex, stop being so silly,” I hear Elizabeth scold. Alex comes to a stop and slides me down slowly, very slowly, down his front until I’m standing on my feet in front of him. He’s got an arm wrapped around my waist holding me pressed close to his lean body and since his face is a breath away from mine he takes the opportunity to kiss my cheek. Then he lets me go. I spring away from him with the grace of a cat. I wipe my cheek with my hand, pretending to be disgusted.

“You have many tricks up your sleeve don’t you?” I ask rhetorically, “You won’t get away with it next time!” Thankfully my retort comes out strong even though inside I’m glowing with lovely feelings at the contact with him. I turn to see Elizabeth, Leon and another man standing in the room. He is holding a camera. He is staring at me with wide eyes.

“Hi,” I say to the unknown man, and he actually takes a half step backwards in fear. I smile at the typical response of a Gem who hasn’t met me before. I then turn to look at Elizabeth who is glaring her best at Alex for his behavior.

“I know,” I say to her, “He doesn’t have very good manners for a Prince.”

Leon rolls his eyes and pats the shorter man standing next to him on the shoulder.

“This is Jasmine,” Leon says to him, “She won’t bite, at least I hope not.”

He laughs and the other man tries to laugh in return but it fails miserably.

“Dude,” I say, staring at the man who is grinning helplessly. It was pretty hard not to find his reaction to my presence at least slightly hilarious, “I am not going to pounce forward and burn you into a pile of ash. Relax. What’s your name?”

“Uh-um...It’s – um, uh...” he is stuttering to the point of no return so Alex answers for him.

“Ollie,” Alex is grinning as well, “As your prince I command you to calm down! Jasmine is harmless, really. As long as you don’t get her angry, that is,” I roll my eyes and look to Alex.

“You seem to be using the whole ‘I’m a Prince’ card quite easily these days. It’s going to be hell just seeing you actually giving orders to people when you go to their world.”

“What can I say?” Alex says, “I’m a natural born leader, it’s fun to give orders.”

“Y-you are very much like Alexander in many ways,” Ollie tentatively says, his eyes cautiously flickering to me and back to Alex. Alex looks slightly taken aback by the comment and his back stiffens.

“You do have many similarities,” Elizabeth adds in, “Your father Alexander is very quick and intelligent, just like you. You have the same mind-set. Very determined.”

“Whatever,” Alex replies, shrugging, clearly not too comfortable with being compared with the King.

“Hey, Ollie,” I say, an idea forming in my mind, “How many pictures have you taken?”

“Not many,” he says, his confidence slowly coming forth.

“Well after I get dressed do you want to take one of Alex and I?” I ask, and now he looks uncomfortable, “I’m sure it will give the Royal Gems something to talk about, seeing their future prince with the girl he is bonded to.”

I play my words carefully, trying to avoid the whole ‘I’m Miranda’s daughter’ part.

“I think it’d be better to wait for the whole team to arrive,” Ollie replies, just as carefully and it confirms one of my suspicions. Somehow, I had a very strong feeling I wouldn’t be appearing in too many photos today, if at all. It only made sense that if I was a hated figure with the Gems, they would try and make me as un-noticeable as possible.

“Hey, girl!” John calls out from behind me and Alex. He walks into the room in his own black leather pants looking just as smoking hot, “What are you wearing?” John scoffs as he looks me up and down. I was about to reply with a cheerful hello but instead narrow my eyes at him, “The others will be arriving any second,” John adds, addressing everyone in the room, “Let’s get Jasmine into her gear and out of those daggy clothes.”

“Do you want to die?” I ask slowly, raising an eyebrow at him.

“If you must know I am purposefully provoking you,” John replies needlessly while grinning. His eyes dart to Alex and I notice that the brothers share a knowing look.

“Yeah, you usually provoke me,” I add, suspiciously, “Spill it! What are you two planning?”

“Well,” John starts, “Alex and I thought today is a good day to get you angry. We mean, really angry.”

“Oh, really?” I reply, crossing my arms over my chest.

“Basically, it’s because – ” Alex starts but I cut him off quickly.

“Think carefully about the next words that leave your mouth,” I snap slowly, adding a bit of emphasis on the word ‘carefully’.

“Well, we are looking on the positives that result from your ability to get irritated easily in most situations. Because even though when you get angry it’s soo scary,” Alex says this in a mocking way, as if me getting pissed is not scary to him and never will be, “We also know you tend to unleash your full stubborn determination to prove yourself right to win, whatever the argument might be. So, if we get you angry then we’ll have more chance of winning. Not to mention, your magic will build more and that’s just some extra fire power for John and I,” Alex rushes the last reason why and I immediately see that it is really the sole reason why they are now both purposefully trying to upset me.

“Why can’t you just admit that you want more magic than usual?” I ask with wide eyes, “You don’t have to make a cover story up to get your way. It’s the DFS! Take as much magic as you want.”

“Um,” Alex coughs and hesitantly adds the next part, “We need more power than usual. To the point that you can Supercharge both John and I.”

“Oh! You want an overdose of my magic,” I say, finally understanding where they are going with this, “How the hell do you think in a few hours you are going to both get Supercharged?”

“That’s where the whole getting you angry part comes in,” Alex says sheepishly, putting a hand in his hair and scratching nervously. Definitely not an Alex gesture. They still hadn’t told me the full picture yet.

“Go on, tell me. What’s your plan after you get me angry?” I ask, sighing.

“Well, John and I, we spoke to the Gems Wednesday night remember? They sort of gave us this new gadget thing, that – uh, well I think we better show you how it works.”

“Ah, okay...?” I respond, unsure.

“I’m coming,” Leon says, “To make sure you don’t hurt her with it,” Leon says this seriously and now I am truly intrigued.

“This is going to be interesting,” I growl and take a quick peep to see what Elizabeth’s doing and for a moment I almost see worry flicker in her eyes. When she meets my gaze, however, they glaze over with hate instantly. Ollie himself is fiddling with his camera.

“Let’s go then, to the strange and hurtful gadget that will Supercharge you both,” I say sarcastically, “Oh, I can already tell this is going to be lovely.”

We start to walk together out into the hall and Leon comes to stand next to me.

“Jasmine, if you don’t like it they don’t have to use it, it’s just an idea.”

“This is honestly starting to sound really suspicious if you must know,” I murmur quietly.

“Basically, it’s a weapon,” Leon explains, “It enhances the men’s draining abilities. A female Gem holds it, then a male Gem holds the other end and the male can practically drain nearly all a female Gem’s magic instantly.”

“Sounds degrading,” I say brightly, “Typical male invention to disempower women, literally.” Leon looks a little guilty for a moment but then regains his composure.

“No, it’s not,” he says, “It’s used for – ” he is cut off because as we pass the front door to head towards the stairs, it bursts open and in flows Sophie, and the twins.

“Hi!” Sophie waves and runs over to us. We come to a stop to greet the rest of the team.

“Perfect timing,” I welcome, giving her a hug.

“Are you excited?” Sophie asks, grinning. She says a quick hello to Alex, John and Leon.

“Of course I am,” I reply, “Although I’d say the twins are the most excited,” I add while noticing Mitchel and Blake’s grins and sparkling eyes of anticipation.

“Are you going to get changed now?” Sophie adds, covertly looking at my state of dress.

“Yes, actually,” I look to Alex and John to see them snicker at Sophie’s comment.

“Well, let’s get going!” Sophie replies, and we all follow Alex up the stairs. I walk next to Sophie.

“Alex and John have a new gadget,” I explain to Sophie, “It’s going to ‘drain me dry’,” I add in dramatically.

Leon laughs at this.

“Actually I highly doubt it will,” he explains his laughter, “You are an exception. The Depleting Rods never could drain Miranda effectively. So it will be the same for you.” I smile.

“I suppose that is meant to make the Depleting Rod sound more humane,” I add, though in truth I wasn’t too fearful of it, “And I thought you said it was bad for Alex to be Supercharged because it might make him addicted to my magic.”

Leon stiffens slightly at my comment and Alex turns around to face me just as we enter one of the living rooms upstairs which has all our magic-gear laid out on a large rounded coffee table.

“I’m pretty sure I’m already addicted,” Alex says proudly.

“That’s what I said to Leon,” I back Alex up on that statement while walking past everyone to find my costume amid all of the others.

“It’s complicated to explain,” Leon responds hesitantly, “But Alex is certainly not addicted to your magic.”

“Everything about the Gems is ‘complicated’ Leon,” I sigh as I inspect my own clothes, “I’m going to get changed before we try out this Depleting Rod. It better make us win if this thing ‘hurts’ me, which I highly doubt it will.”

I pick up my gear and Sophie and Flick follow suit. The twins hang back with the other guys.

“There is one problem though,” I say, “I’m not angry, you have failed in your mission of pissing me off. Funny really, your plan probably would have worked better if you didn’t actually tell me you were trying to get me angry.”

Alex looks to John then Leon with raised eyebrows.

“She has a point.”

“It will still work,” Leon said, “You better get dressed.” I shrug and look to Sophie and Flick.

“Let’s go to the bathroom,” Sophie says.

“But there is plenty of room in here for us all to change!” Mitchel tries to say as diplomatically as possible.

“Nice try,” I growl, rolling my eyes, “Come on girls.”

John is grinning at Mitchel as the three of us leave to get changed in privacy. Once Sophie, Flick and I are in the bathroom I look to Flick and notice her confidence has withered away for today. I thought Leon had built her up into a more courageous girl but maybe something was getting her down.

“Are you nervous?” I ask Flick as we start to change. She looks at me with quiet disdain, which puzzles me slightly. She used to look at me with awe and fear. Now it’s as if she quietly hates my guts.

“No, I’m not nervous,” she responds as she slips off her pants, “I’m excited.”

“Oh,” I reply, and look to Sophie to see her shrug. An idea occurs to me as I’m slipping on my own black leather pants, “What did the Gems say to you, Flick?” I ask, and she visibly looks uncomfortable as her eyes dart to the floor where her leather bra is.

“What?” she asks hesitantly.

“Wednesday night, when you came here,” I point out obviously. Her face flushes and she runs a hand through her hair distractedly.

“Uh, um... they just talked about citizenship and I filled out some, um, forms.”

“Sounds interesting,” I say, sounding bored. But I knew she was hiding something from me.

“Do you like the Gems?” Sophie asks.

“Yes,” Flick replies shortly, obviously not inclined to go into depth. We get changed quickly and by the time we are done and we are about to open the bathroom door to head back to the living room, the door opens on its own accord. Mitchel has swung the door open with a very sly look on his face. He is now also in his gear, the black leather pants snugly fit. I’m about to give him a massive lecture but Sophie does it for me.

“You sneak!” she hisses, “You didn’t even call out to see if we were finished!” he shrugs.

“But you are,” he says, “I have super hearing, babe. I heard when you finished slipping on that leather bra against your skin.”

Sophie blushes bright red and I stalk out into the hall, purposefully bumping my shoulder into Mitchel’s.

“At least he didn’t call you Sofa this time. Let’s get going,” I say smugly, and they all follow me back to the living room. When I enter, Leon passes a black rod to Alex before turning to face me.

“Come over here, Jazz,” Leon asks, motioning for me to go to Alex. Everyone else takes some seats while Alex John and Leon remain standing. Alex’s eyes look their fill at my exposed stomach and pushed up breasts.

“Wow, men,” I exclaim, raising my eyebrows as he continues to devour me with those eyes, ” I may as well say that you aren’t getting as good a view as Mitchel did when he opened the bathroom door on the three of us with no tops on. He saw everything,” I lie and Alex immediately shoots a threatening glare to Mitchel who is gaping.

“You did what?” Alex growls, “Sophie I can understand but all three of them?” I burst out laughing and so does Sophie, while even Flick giggles.

“She is fibbing Alex!” Mitchel defends himself, finally. Alex turns back around to direct his glare at me.

“Looks like I’m the one that succeeded in getting you angry,” I exclaim while grinning from ear to ear. Then, I add in seriously, “Do you really think Mitchel would have made it back to this room with his eyes still in his head if he did succeed in seeing us in that state? I thought you knew me better than that, Alex,” I tease. After a moment of gathering his thoughts he rolls his eyes and holds out the stick towards me.

“Let’s see if this thing works,” Alex says, changing the subject.

“I just grab it,” I say, looking to Leon for confirmation. He nods.

“Touch it gently, though. You may get a bit of a shock.”

Everyone falls silent as I slowly reach out my hand to the medium sized rod about the size of an average ruler. I stop just as my fingers are about to touch it. I look up to Alex.

“Last time you were Supercharged you apparently threw the dining table through the window with your mind powers. Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I was angry back then,” Alex says, shrugging, “It won’t happen this time.”

“I would have loved to see you that angry. It would have been something to remember,” I smile.

“Grab it already!” John urges and I remember everyone is expectantly looking on to see what will happen.

“Fine!” I snap, and then I place the tip of my finger on the end of the rod.

Instantly, blinding pain shoots up my arm and I feel a ton of magic rush out of me. I feel as if some one has just hacked off a part of me from the inside. I jerk my hand back after touching the rod for a half of a second. I instinctively jump backwards and accidentally bump into Leon.

“Fuck, that hurt... ow,” I hiss as I spin to glare at Leon.

“How do you feel?” he asks.

“Well... the pain was only there while I touched it,” I explain.

“Alex?” Leon asks, and I spin to see Alex’s eyes alight with energy.

“It worked,” Alex said, “I took a lot more than I have ever taken before, in such a short time, but I’m not Supercharged yet.”

“There is no way I’m touching that again, forget it,” For good measure, I the glare at it like I want to burn it into non-existence. Alex looks slightly guilty.

“Jasmine,” Leon says, gently, “The reason there was that amount of pain was because you have a lot of magic to spare and Alex was probably allowing the Depleting Rod to drain as much as possible. Hold back on it Alex, and it shouldn’t hurt this time. Try it once more, Jazz, I promise this time it will be different if Alex holds back a little more. Plus, the first time always hurts the most,” Leon manages to look hopeful that I will agree to give it another go.

“Can you hold back on it?” I ask Alex, hesitantly. Alex nods.

“Yes, I’ll try,” Alex promises. I take a step forward and reach out my hand one more time, taking a deep breath.

“You better do more than try, Alex. I’m doing this to help us win,” Alex nods again and I reach out and touch it for the second time. Now, all I feel is a slight buzz along my arm and very slight pain. I grab the rod firmly and hold it for awhile. Alex closes his eyes in concentration. After thirty seconds Leon steps toward us.

“That’s enough,” he says firmly, and I release the rod. I feel more empty. Well... I was still positively full with magic but it didn’t feel like it was overflowing as usual.

“I feel good,” I say, smiling, “You did well, Alex,” I add happily. I’m glad he held back enough not to hurt me again.

However, when Alex opens his eyes they are a deep, deep black.

“I feel great,” Alex exclaims, his eyes once again looking me up and down. This time a bit too possessively. I narrow my eyes at him and then John jumps forward.

“My turn,” John says greedily. He snatches the rod from Alex and Alex shoots John a look that is extremely threatening. His eyes shed a clear warning not to get too overexcited about getting Supercharged off me.

“Before I touch it you have to hold back a bit on your own draining power,” I remind him slowly, and John nods.

“Okay, I am. Go ahead and grab it,” ...and... the same thing happens as the first time Alex held it.

Pain shoots up my arm.

“You idiot!” I snap, “You weren’t holding back at all! One more time!” I glare at Leon who gives a few words of advice to John. I grab it a second time and it’s fine. He drains me for half a minute just like Alex and then I let go.

“Done,” I say, “And I still feel normal, though infinitely calmer, I must add.”

Leon grins and pats me on the shoulder.

“Good,” Leon says, “I’m glad you weren’t hurt too much.”

I look wearily to Alex and John who have a different aura about them. Power was just oozing out of there pores.

“Wow,” Sophie mutters and I see her eyes are wide as she stares over at Alex and John. I go and sit next to her.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Their auras are not dark anymore,” she says, “They’re bright red. Crimson, to be exact.” I frown.

“Is that a bad colour?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” Sophie says, looking to me, “I’ve never seen it before.”

Alex and John also take seats on some of the couches. Leon comes to stand a little closer to us all.

“I guarantee today you will all breeze through the first round,” he says cheerfully, “Ollie will be sure to take lots of pictures...” As Leon proceeds to give us all a pep talk I look towards Alex and John, wondering how their performance would be affected by their Supercharged state. Alex’s eyes meet mine and his look is so intense I almost feel an urge to look away.

Instead, I resist the urge and narrow my eyes instead at his extremely possessive look, “... it’s time for us to talk over all your strategies before the limo arrives and we head off to the venue,” Leon suggests.

“How much time do we have?” I ask Leon, “And please tell Alex to stop glaring at me with that look.”

Leon looks to Alex and finally notices the possessive stare Alex is training on me. Alex slowly smirks.

“I could eat you whole, Jazz,” Alex drawls, his voice dropping to a deep octave which puts me on my guard.

“Please, do not eat me whole, Alex,” I reply, “We need to win the DFS, and you won’t be able to win without me.”

“Later...” Alex says, a whole layer of meaning packed into that one word. I’m not sure exactly what he is referring to... or rather I am trying to deny the reasons popping up in my head.

“We leave in two and a half hours,” Leon adds in, quickly, “And Alex is just experiencing a few side effects from using the Depleting Rod for the first time... it should pass sooner or later.”

Alex laughs, amused.

“What side affects?” I ask.

“All his male qualities that are particular to Royal Gems are heightened,” Leon says sheepishly.

“Oh, great,” I retort, sarcastically.

“It will pass,” Leon reaffirms, looking from me to Alex.

“I hope.”

“I think we better start talking strategies,” Alex finally says.

“Great idea,” I say, sinking deeper into the couch beside Sophie, “It should get your mind off eating me.”

Alex grins and Sophie laughs.

“Ok, guys and girls,” Leon says, “It really is time to focus now.”

“Yes!” I reply, “Strategies!”

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