Xena groggily shook herself out of her stupor. She could hear people whispering nearby. She opened her eyes and was met with blank white walls and blinding white lights on the ceiling. A few people were milling around, whispering quietly.
Xena stretched in the corner where someone laid her. She cautiously stood up. Leaning against the wall for support, Xena grabbed a short girl and yanked her towards her.
“Where are we?”
“The waiting room for the Evaluation,” she whispered back.
“They’re going to take us somewhere to Evaluate us. If we pass, we become a cop. If we fail, well, we die. It’s that simple.”
“Is it like a written test? Oral? Physical? How long will it be until they come for us? Is it only the Gifted who take the Evaluation, or will we be mixed in with the Ungifted?”
The girl held up her hands. “Whoa, stop bombarding me with questions. That’s all they told us. But I’m pretty sure we’re all Gifted.”
“Are you Gifted?” Xena asked.
“Yeah. Healing. You?”
“Illusion manipulation, but she’s not the strongest,” someone said behind her.
Xena whirled around to find Dean watching them.
“You know him?” the girl asked.
“We met right before the police dragged us here,” Xena replied, letting them believe that she was an illusionist.
“Dean Stanford,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Blythe Forrest. Pleased to meet you.” Blythe look at Xena expectantly.
“She’s really paranoid. When we met, she refused to tell me her ability and surname,” Dean replied for her.
“So, what’s her name?”
“Xena Elder,” Xena said, glaring daggers at Dean. Xena shook Blythe’s outstretched hand. “I would say I’m pleased to meet you, but, if we never met, then I wouldn’t be here. Therefore, I would be lying if I said that I were pleased to meet you.”
“Fair enough,” Blythe shrugged, unfazed by her rudeness. “The feeling’s mutual.”
Xena released her hand as a loud hissing noise emerged from the walls. Green gas covered descended on the crowd. Xena dropped to the ground and covered her face with her shirt, holding her breath for as long as she could.
Her lungs burned and she gulped in a lungful of air, falling unconscious.
The next thing Xena knew, she was lying in a field. Her nose filled with the smell of rich soil and grass tickled her face. She sat up.
There were pastures filled with cows, chickens, and other farm animals. A small shed’s door was ajar, revealing plenty of farm tools. A city loomed a few miles away, and a mountain range surrounded everything. There were groups of people around her, all starting to wake up.
Xena spotted Blythe and Dean a few feet away from her. She walked towards them, grateful for familiar faces.
“Where are we?” Dean groaned.
“The Evaluation,” Xena replied calmly. “I bet you that there are invisible cameras watching us right now, reporting to the police of our every move.”
“That sounds plausible,” Blythe said.
“So, what do we do now?” Dean asked.
“I dunno. I guess we figure out how to survive. I mean, what else are we supposed to do?” Xena replied.
Dean stood up, rubbing his back. He walked towards a rotting tree stump.
“Hey!” Dean said, waving his hands around to get everyone’s attention.
“My name is Dean Stanford. I’m 15. I’m also Gifted, and my Gift is telepathy. Don’t worry, I can’t read your minds, but I can sense the activity of your minds, so don’t even think about sneaking up behind me.” That earned a few chuckles.
“Now, I’m pretty sure that we’re all Gifted, but I need to confirm it. Raise your hand if you’re not Gifted.” He paused. No one raised their hand. “Okay, then. That confirms it. Well, as many of you may have figured out, we’re in the Evaluation. And if the rumors are even somewhat true, then more than half of us won’t survive.”
Everyone murmured to themselves, unsettled. Dean raised one of his hands.
“I don’t know what the police want us to do and what will kill us, but I think that the Evaluation isn’t just a normal test that takes a few hours. We need to think ahead. We could be here for weeks, months, years. Personally, I think that our first course of action should be identifying everyone and their ability. Then, we should split up into two groups: one will go over to that farm over there and see if they can produce any food, and the others will go explore. Does anyone disagree?”
Everyone nodded in consent.
“Great. Now, line up in front of me, please.”
Xena was shocked at Dean’s natural leadership. Everyone else was forming a line without argument. Xena followed their example.
One by one, each person told Dean their name, Gift, and age. Some also performed a mini demonstration of their ability. Soon, it was Xena’s turn.
“You already know my name and Gift,” Xena said, still unwilling to tell him her real ability. “And I’m also 14.”
“They’re transparent,” she offered.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“No, not really.”
“Okay. Next,” Dean ordered.
Xena watched as he interrogated Blythe. As it turns out, Blythe can heal anything that people from the early 21st century could heal.
“A bit outdated, but better than nothing,” Dean commented, before waving her past.
A few minutes later, Dean was done. He climbed back onto the stump and raised his hand for silence.
“There’s currently 64 of us, including me. I’m going to try my best to keep that number the same. Now, I think the best course of action would be to split us up into two groups. Go to the left, my left, if you would like to explore this place, and go to the right if you would like to stay here and find a stable food and water source.”
Xena immediately went to the left, along with Blythe, Dean, and another boy. No one else were with them. She studied the newcomer. He looked familiar, with that dirty tank top and baggy black pants. It hit her the same moment it hit him.
“You!” they snarled in unison.
“You’re that mobster,” Xena accused.
“You’re that shadow girl,” he growled back.
Xena glanced at the sky. It was noon, so her powers wouldn’t come into effect for a long while yet. Instead, she lowered herself into an offensive pose as he slowly drew a knife from his belt.
“Woah, what’s going on here?” Dean said, alarmed, stepping between them.
“She attacked me!” the teenager said.
“Well, you threatened me. I was only passing by.”
“You went into my territory!”
“There was no way for me to tell that it was your territory!”
“That’s like saying, ‘It’s okay for me to murder someone because I don’t know that killing someone is illegal,’” he shot back.
“You’re a mobster. I doubt you’ve never killed anyone before.”
“What in the world are you guys talking about?”
“None of your business!” they both snapped.
“Actually, it is my business. Derrick, Xena, one of you tell me what’s going on.”
“She shot me in the foot!” Derrick accused. Xena sighed, thankful that Derrick didn’t reveal her real Gift.
Derrick took her sigh the wrong way. “What, you’re exasperated? Well, that’s exactly what happened. That, and the fact that you crossed into my territory.”
“You know what? Xena, tell me the entire story. From the start.”
Xena recounted everything, word for word, leaving out the fact that she made a shadow gun. Instead, she said, “I shot him in the foot and then I left. The end.”
Dean glanced at Derrick. He nodded in confirmation that her story was correct.
“Well, I honestly think that both of you have faults, but let’s put it behind us. Blythe, can you take a look at that foot?” Dean concluded, signaling that the conversation was over.
Blythe pulled off Derrick’s shoe and foot. She studied it for a moment for healing it.
“It’s a weird wound. The bullet didn’t go through his foot, and yet, the bullet was nowhere to be found. It’s almost like it disappeared into midair. Derrick, did you or anyone else pull the bullet out?”
He shook his head, and Xena’s heart sank. When she let the gun form back into shadows, the bullet would’ve also disappeared along with it. That’s why Blythe couldn’t have found the bullet.
“Well, I guess the bullet could’ve fallen out by itself. I don’t know if that’s possible in such a short amount of time, but that’s the only logical explanation,” Blythe shrugged.
“Blythe, do me a favor and make sure the two don’t get into a fight while I go brief the other group on what they should do. Thanks,” he said, without waiting for a reply.
Xena and Derrick glared at each other as Dean walked away. Blythe stood awkwardly between them, trying to make small talk.
“So, Derrick, what’s your ability?”
“Pain inducement,” he replied, wriggling his fingers in front of Blythe’s face. “I can give you a free trial.”
Blythe turned ashen gray. “Uh, thanks, but no thanks.”
“It’s funny how you can produce pain, but can’t handle pain yourself,” Xena said casually, twirling a strand of hair around her finger. “Kind of ironic, right?”
“You- you- you- idiot!” Derrick shrieked, turning a shade of red. He grabbed her wrist.
A flame of agony erupted where his skin touched hers. It felt like a thousand red hot daggers were being plunged into her skin, like someone was ripping her hand off. However, she forced herself to yawn and act as if the pain didn’t affect her at all.
“You call that pain?” Xena asked. “It feels like someone’s tickling me with a feather.”
“Really?” Blythe asked, reaching out for Derrick’s wrist. She touched it and screamed in pain. Tears welled up in her eyes, as she jerked away from him.
Xena tugged Derrick’s hand off her, walking over to Blythe.
“You okay?” she asked, helping her up.
“Yeah,” she gasped. “I don’t know how you think that doesn’t hurt.”
Xena was spared the need to reply, as at that moment, a giant wave streaked towards them and crashed down mercilessly.
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