Gideon Atwell was a murderer. Even though he was only just fourteen years old, his hands were stained with the blood of having killed a person...an Exemplar above all things. That didn’t even include the eerie memories he had from long before, when he had found himself in a city of fire with his hands reeking of murderous intent. The memory of blood staining his skin was enough to inform Gideon that it had all been his fault, even when Zephyr reassured him otherwise. After all, a lot of people had died that day, and he was claimed as the sole survivor. Either way, it didn’t really matter. He decided long ago that he had been cursed by the devil, so what difference did it make if it was one life or hundreds.
Sitting in his room, Gideon bunched the sheets on his bed tight into his fist as he contemplated his useless existence. He didn’t want to be this way, and it was just easier for him to be alone. After all, he had already lost his best friend from what had happened, or rather, from what he had done, and he didn’t blame Kai for shunning him either.
“Gideon!” called his mother from downstairs, “Are you up, sweetheart? You’ll be late for your first day of school!”
Gideon shifted within his bed, willing himself to disappear. School. He couldn’t believe another year was already starting, but he wished it wouldn’t. Nothing but torment and agony waited for him there, and he thought desperately of the bullying he’d have to endure, once again. Why couldn’t the Universe just destroy him already? Nothing good ever came from him being alive.
“Gideon!” called out his mother again.
“Yeah, I’m up, mom!” yelled Gideon.
There was no helping it, and reluctantly, Gideon got up to shower and get dressed, before he made his way downstairs, sulking.
“There he is!” said Gideon’s father, pausing a news article he was reading through on his Infonet tablet, “How’s my son on his first day as a senior lyceum student!?”
Gideon grumbled and his mother encouraged her husband not to push their son so early in the morning.
“Oh come on,” replied his father, “He’s just a normal fourteen year old boy going through growing pains.”
“Do I have to go?” complained Gideon, “Can’t I get, like, homeschooled?”
Gideon’s parents looked at their son sadly, knowing well that school had often been a tough place for their son to fit into.
“Forget it,” muttered Gideon, grabbing his backpack to leave.
“We know it’s been tough for you, Gideon,” admitted his mother painfully, “But you have only one more year.”
“Yeah, and who knows?” encouraged his father kindly, “Maybe you’ll meet a pretty girl and that’ll make all the difference.”
“Dad, no offense, but no girl wants a loser like me,” stated Gideon before storming off, “Or for that matter, a killer.”
On the way to school, Gideon thought of many things, with the urge to run away from his terrible life being the first of many. He didn’t understand why someone like him had even been born. It made absolutely no sense! People like him should be put to death for their heinous crimes, yet he was spared for being a child. Or rather, for being a child with “issues.” Years of therapy were devoted to helping Gideon make a new life for himself, where the effects of his traumatic past would be left behind. But that wasn’t even the worst of it. In addition to what he had done, he was also Evoless in an evo-lved society. He was at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. Everything else was better, more evo-lved. In a way, he didn’t blame people for how he was treated. After all, no one was born this way without demanding to be shunned or looked down upon. It was just the way the world worked.
Lost in the myriad of thoughts he had, Gideon had managed to find his way to school all the same. Cautiously, and to avoid his classmates for as long as possible, he snuck in through the teacher’s back entrance to school, where one of the only teachers to ever stand up for him, nodded in his direction, acknowledging Gideon. In reply, Gideon managed a slight wave before making his way to his new homeroom.
All around him, students talked excitedly, comparing their class schedules and making plans to meet for lunch or for extracurricular activities. Gideon paid them no mind, as he focused on his one and only destination, but he could hear some of his peers muttering as he walked by.
“Oh my gosh, he’s still alive? How is that even possible?” jeered one student.
“I know, right?” agreed her friend nastily.
Aggravated by the comments, Gideon threw back his homeroom door and sat down at his assigned desk, without looking at anyone else. What did they know, anyways?
As Gideon waited dreadfully for the start of homeroom, he was suddenly whacked in the back of the head by what felt like the edge of a backpack. Startled, Gideon jumped from his seat, and his childhood friend passed by.
“K-Kai!” yelled Gideon anxiously, wishing he had known that his friend would be in the same class as him.
Kai glanced at Gideon meanly, a scowl darting across his face, before he pushed onward to his own seat. When Kai sat down, he ran one of his hands through his spiky, ash-blonde hair before being greeted by two of his friends. For awhile, Gideon stood rooted to the spot, wishing, once again, that he could find the courage to speak to Kai in an effort to sort things out between them. As usual, however, Gideon turned away, knowing that Kai would only dismiss him immediately without giving Gideon a chance to speak.
“Ah, man!” complained a burly kid as he walked in, “I can’t believe we’re stuck with Atwell!”
Gideon recognized the giant as Guy Roth, a bully who had picked on Gideon since he had started at lyceum. This wasn’t shaping up to be a great year already, and to make matters worse, Guy walked over to Gideon menacingly before flipping over his desk.
“Looks like you should clean that up,” jeered Guy meanly.
The rest of the class laughed openly and although frustrated, Gideon did as Guy said and dropped to the ground to pick up the contents of his turned-over desk. He then glanced up at Guy apprehensively while the bully sneered back at Gideon nastily.
“Are you alright?” asked a young girl unexpectedly, from beside Gideon.
Not realizing that someone had come over to help him, Gideon jumped!
“Y-yes!” replied Gideon nervously.
His eyes then fell on a very pretty girl, whose long honey-blonde hair swept forward from the ponytail she had it in. Immediately, Gideon began to sweat. He recognized the girl as Dani Payton, who was famous at his lyceum for not only her outrageously good looks but her killer intelligence as well. With him being so close to her, he noticed the smell of her perfume. It was nice...like lilacs and it reminded him of Spring. But it was no good. Gideon could feel his heart beating a million miles per minute and he continued to stare at the girl who was helping him, admiring her for the fine features of her face while the rest of the world fell away from him.
From across the room, some people sniggered, and Guy openly mocked Dani for helping him.
“Really Payton!?” jeered Guy, laughing “You’re going to help this loser!? That’s hilarious! You know he’s just an Evoless, useless jerk who should go ahead and die rather than continue living as someone who has no hope in this world, right?”
Gideon looked down, as he continued to pick up the contents from his desk that had fallen on the floor while he secretly wished that for Dani’s sake, she wouldn’t go out of her way to help him. A nasty feeling stirred in his stomach as he thought of the position Dani was putting herself in just to extend a hand his way.
“It’s okay,” reassured Dani to Gideon kindly, “Just ignore him. He doesn’t know your worth.”
Gideon stopped and looked up at Dani, surprised and encouraged by her words. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to him before! Guy, on the other hand, found the compliment hysterical and doubled over in laughter. However, Guy stopped immediately when Kai stood up and approached them.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Payton,” advised Kai meanly as he towered over her and Gideon, “If I were you, and I knew what was good for me, I’d stay the hell away from that freak.”
Gideon’s heart stopped and he glanced at Kai, his brow furrowed with worry, while Guy watched Kai apprehensively. Dani, however, didn’t seem phased in the least and she glared at Kai with severe distaste. Without uttering a word, Dani stood up to face Kai and crossed her arms while Kai stared back at her. His hazel eyes caught hers almost as if they were begging her to heed his warning.
“I’ll go ahead and do what I damn well please,” retorted Dani, standing up to Kai, “You got that?”
Kai’s face changed from concern to surprise. He usually didn’t have any trouble with people listening to him. Most people, after all, were afraid of him, and often did as he said immediately, but the way Dani stared back at him suggested that she wasn’t scared of him in the least. Although Kai was looking out for Dani, her rebellious side annoyed him and for her sake, he had hoped she would listen to him from the get-go - even if it meant out of fear.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Payton,” spat Kai, irritated that she didn’t heed his warning “You might think that what you’re doing is for his good, but don’t come crying to me when you’ve seen what he’s really like.”
Dani’s gaze narrowed as she accepted Kai’s threat, and Kai turned away from her, annoyed. Gideon, on the other hand, felt his stomach turn, and he gripped his fists tightly. He wasn’t exactly surprised by Kai’s warning to Dani, but it still pained him all the same. Without realizing it himself, Gideon stood up and apologized to Dani immediately.
“What’s that about?” asked Dani confused.
“Uhh,” muttered Gideon as he looked down again.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” pointed out Dani.
“Sorry,” apologized Gideon again.
“Okay,” announced their homeroom teacher as he entered the class while the bell rang overhead, “Please take your seats! My name is Mr. Goldberg, for those of you who don’t know me already, and I will be your homeroom teacher starting this semester. I will be taking attendance now, so please raise your hand when your name is called.”
Dani walked away from Gideon, sitting a row over and several seats forward in the class. As she sat down, Kai looked over at Dani disgruntled while Gideon fidgeted from his recent encounter with her, confused that she had gone out of her way to help him. Meanwhile, Mr. Goldberg droned on monotonously, as he called out name after name, before calling his class’s attention to a series of other announcements regarding the start of term.
“One last thing,” mentioned Mr. Goldberg after having exhausted everyone’s patience with the laundry-list of boring announcements, “You are all in your third year of lyceum, so it’s time for you all to think seriously about where you will be going next. In other words, your future.”
A lot of the class smiled, and a few students flashed their Evo’s excitedly.
“Yes, yes,” complimented Mr. Goldberg dully, “You all have amazing Evo’s, and I’m sure that you will all develop your special abilities to better serve our world, especially for any of you applying to one of the League of Exemplar academies.”
Mr. Goldberg stopped to clear his throat, and the rest of the class shifted as they considered what he had said. The Exemplars were the height of their society, tasked with protecting the citizens of their evo-lved superhuman race from villainous cretin known as Rogues. Only the most morally-correct individuals could exceed in becoming an Exemplar, since, in addition to protecting people, Exemplars were also employed with serving as role models to an advanced world on the ideals of harmonious living. For the majority of the class, aiming for such a position was too far-fetched and they happily settled on more attainable prospects.
“Of course,” continued Mr. Goldberg, “Many of you will settle for something much less glorious. Still, I would encourage that you consider other options. Even if the majority of you do not possess the credentials or drive that suit the fame and glory of our Exemplar citizens, there are still other heroic routes you can take in other fields, isn’t that right, Ms. Payton?”
Dani nodded, and the teacher smiled approvingly as he made an example of his best, model student. Following that, Mr. Goldberg addressed the class about the school year schedule and rules before dismissing them for their first lesson. On the way over to their physical education class, Gideon overheard several of his classmates talk about Dani. Curious about what they were saying, he walked a little faster to catch up with them.
“Have any of you noticed how much Mr. Goldberg dotes on Payton?” asked one of the girls, “It’s so weird!”
“Yeah, I mean, have any of you even seen her Evo?” chimed in another.
The rest of the class looked at each other, expecting someone to have an answer, and when no one did, they all looked back at Dani inquisitively, but she remained quiet as she walked to class on her own.
“How much do you want to bet that she’s an Evoless weirdo too!” concluded a third girl from their homeroom class, “Just think! We’ve got two of them in our class!”
Dani continued to receive frequent glances as everyone talked about her in a hushed way, wondering the same thing. What was her Evo? She had never shown it to anyone before, unlike the majority of the student population, who would regularly show off what they could do. Was she really Evoless?
Gideon found himself thinking about it the most, and he glanced at Dani hopefully. Was that why she was so kind to him? Did she also know how he felt? Was he not alone after all? Something made him feel reassured about this, but also worried. He didn’t mind if anyone else bullied him, but he may have a problem with it if that treatment was extended to a girl.