“Well, well, well, look what we have here,” a muscular teenager said. He was a very cliché mobster. He was wearing a white tank top yellowed with sweat, baggy black pants, and was adorned with heaps of golden jewelry. The other gangsters loomed threatening behind him.
Xena wanted to laugh. Most criminals were Gifted with superpowers, but these obviously weren’t, unlike Xena herself. Xena was bestowed with the Gift of shadow manipulation. The criminals had no chance of defeating her and reporting her to the police in order to receive the one-thousand-dollar bounty for capturing and turning in a Gifted. Better yet, they were in a dark alleyway, Xena’s home turf. There were plenty of shadows for her to manipulate.
“You boys shouldn’t be out here in the middle of the night” Xena chided, unconcerned. “It can be very dangerous out here.”
“Yes, I agree,” the leader replied. “Especially if you go into the territory of a gang.”
“Surely you won’t hurt me. I’m only passing by,” Xena gasped, feigning alarm.
“You don’t seem like you’re only passing by. You’re one of those nasty Gifted, aren’t you?”
“You should be more cautious when accusing one of being Gifted,” Xena said. “I assure you, you don’t want to get me angry.”
“What will you do? Punch me in the face?” he sneered.
“Shooting you in the face would be more accurate.”
With a flourish of her hands, Xena created a pistol out of shadows. It was hard to describe how she did it; manipulating shadows was as natural to her as breathing would be to others. She simply gathered the shadows around her and gave them a solid form.
The gun was black and transparent. You could feel the gun in your hand, but it had no weight. It was like holding a feather.
Xena raised the gun, pointing it directly at his head. “Back away, unless you have a death wish.”
“Illusion manipulation? Illusions can’t hurt anyone, and it seems like you’re a really weak one as well. The gun isn’t even opaque.”
Xena sighed. “Actually, it’s shadow manipulation. And I assure you, shadows can be quite deadly,” she corrected.
In reply, Xena pointed the gun at his foot and squeezed the trigger.
Although the gun kicked back, there was no sound. The only sign that a bullet actually shot out of the muzzle was the blood flowing out of the teenager’s wound.
The teenager let out a string of curses. “Get her!” he shrieked, expecting his henchmen to tackle her.
Instead, they ran away, fearful for their own lives.
Xena glared sternly at the mobster cussing on the ground.
“I did warn you. Be grateful that I’m leaving you with your life.”
Xena walked away, letting the pistol turn back into shadows and walking into the shadows herself.
“What the hell-” she heard the teenager behind her say as she shadow travelled.
The next thing she knew, she was standing in the shade of an abandoned, burnt bungalow, probably from the middle 2000s. It was where Xena was currently residing.
Small, quaint, and far away from other people, it was the ideal safe house.
Xena pulled out the wallet she snatched from an entrepreneur right before she ran into the gang. She flipped through the notes as she pushed open the rusty door and slipped into the house.
She stepped into the main living room and kitchen, which was devoid of furniture. The floorboards groaning under her weight, she walked into an empty bedroom.
Xena had already been at the bungalow for three days. Stay too long in one place, the police would catch her.
At the age of thirteen, a year after your ability appears, the Gifted are given a choice: work for the police or die. Xena, along with many others who have half a brain, chose a third option: run away before their thirteenth birthday.
The thing is, what the police didn’t mention is that you would have a short lifespan if you choose to work for the police. The Gifted have to pass a special, unknown test that kills almost all who take it. If you pass, you will be assigned the most dangerous jobs and will not be supplied proper equipment, resulting in death. Most Gifted who choose to work for the police rarely live to the age of fourteen. On the other hand, there have been Gifted who live to the ripe age of seventy if they run away instead.
An owl hooted nearby, snapping Xena out of her thoughts. She swiped her brunette hair out of her forest green eyes and walked to the corner of the room, where a military backpack was lying on the ground. Stuffing the wallet she stole inside the backpack, she slung the bag onto her shoulder, walking towards a shadow and preparing to travel again.
Unfortunately, shadow travelling would only allow Xena to go where she has already been before. Xena went to an old barn, where she slept the first night as a runaway.
The barn was exactly the same as it was a year ago. Piles of hay was swept to the walls and a loft hung above her head. Everything smelled faintly of cow manure and horses.
Xena climbed up the rope ladder and into the loft. Pulling up the ladder after her, she settled into a pile of hay, trying to fall asleep.
Suddenly, the door banged open. A boy, about fifteen years of age, a year older than Xena, walked in, whistling a tune. He was carrying a stack of firewood and wearing a black and white camouflage backpack.
He piled up the wood in the middle of the room, tossing nearby hay onto the pile. He then continued to start a fire with a lighter.
Xena crouched behind a pile of hay. He was obviously a runaway, like her, but had not fully developed survival instincts every runaway needs. Xena was torn between teaching him how to survive and win a victory over the police, or shadow travelling away.
In the end, the boy made the choice for her. He paused in the midst of his work, glancing up and locking eyes with her.
“Hello?” he said. “Um... Who exactly are you?”
Xena cautiously stepped out of the shadows. “I could ask you the same question.”
“Dean Stanford. Pleased to meet you.”
“Ability?” Xena asked.
Telepathy, he said in her head.
Xena flinched, unused to the new voice. “Can you read my mind?”
Dean scrunched up his nose. “Unfortunately, no. But I can detect the activity of minds. That’s how I knew you were here. So, who are you? And what ability do you have?”
“And why should I tell you?”
“Because it would be rude not to.”
“Xena. But there’s no way I’m telling you my last name or my ability.”
“Fair enough,” he replied. He went back to kindling his fire.
Xena immediately regretted her decision to not reveal her ability. Now, she had no way of teleporting out without revealing her ability.
“I’m leaving,” she announced. Xena climbed down the ladder and strode towards the exit.
“Well, definitely not teleportation,” Dean said.
“What I mean to say is, your ability isn’t teleportation since you’re walking out.”
“Maybe. Or maybe I’m hiding my ability from you,” she replied vaguely.
Xena reached the barn doors and was about to push it open, when she heard something in her mind.
STOP! And don’t say anything. I sense a group of people walking towards us outside.
She turned around slowly, unsure whether to trust Dean’s judgement.
She stayed quiet long enough to hear the sounds of boots trampling dead leaves.
Both Xena and Dean shrank into the shadows, trying to hide themselves.
Xena measured the darkness of the shadows. It was dark enough to allow her to give a solid form to the shadows, but it too weak for her to teleport away, thanks to the stupid roaring fire behind her. She produced a shadow gun, not trying to hide it.
You’re an illusionist? Can you make us invisible instead? Unless you’re too weak. No offense and all, but that gun doesn’t even look realistic.
Xena fought to contain the urge to correct him.
At that moment, the doors burst open. Six cops holding guns and flashlights barged in, aiming them at Xena and Dean. The shadow gun she was holding disappeared.
“Xena Elder and Dean Stanford, you are under arrest,” one of them enunciated loudly. “As customary, you are given the rights to choose between execution and a job as a police officer. You have five minutes to decide.”
Xena considered her options. Her ability to control shadows was useless and she couldn’t do anything with her night vision. It wasn’t even complete night vision. She could still see the dark, only pitch black for other people was merely dim for her.
“Time’s up,” one of them announced. “What’s your decision?”
Xena looked up at the police. “It would be an honor to work alongside the police and put criminals where they belong.”
Dean glanced at her in surprise before nodding in agreement.
“Well, in that case, prepare for the Evaluation.”
The police pulled a tranquilizer gun from his belt and shot her in the arm.
Everything faded to darkness, complete darkness that she only saw when she’s asleep, as the drug worked its way through her body.