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It was raining that night. An onslaught of booming thunder knocked Claire off her feet. Now covered in muddy slop, she finger-combed through her damp brown locks. Once she was up, she kept walking, as if nothing had happened.
Claire was average, for the most part, but many people found her strange. Her appearance was a bit scruffy as her hair was fluffy and all over the place and she wore big round glasses and had freckles across her nose. She wasn’t very tall, either. Claire didn’t have much confidence in the way she looked but she accepted that she was nowhere near model material.
Now, why was Claire walking in the rain? Because, she thought it would get her mind off of the annoyances in her life. She felt like her situation wasn’t working anymore and on the verge of 18, she felt like running away. Yet, not all hope was lost. There was something she still wanted to do. That is, if she’d survive it.
Claire loved space even though she didn’t have the math skills to be an astronomer. That didn’t matter because it was beautiful and it made her happy just to gaze through the lens of a telescope or the lens of her eyes. She wondered if there was anything else up there, and if there was, why it was held from her.
Regardless, she continued to trudge through the rain. She walked a winding road with hills galore. It was getting late and she began receiving messages on her phone asking where she was. Claire lied and said she’d stay over at a friends house. But the truth is, she had no friends. It didn’t matter to her because she didn’t like any of the people she met. They just weren’t her type.
Claire’s legs started to give way and her fatigue was settling in. She knew of a place she could go to rest but was a little unsure of how safe it was. Past the hills she walked on, there was a heavily wooded area and by taking a secret path, you would be led to a special residency. A residency of which was home to a old man who houses lone travelers and the rejects of society. Claire never met him before and was advised to stay away from his lodge, but who’s to say she wasn’t an outcast, too?
Once she could see the trees in the moonlight, she dashed for cover. Now in the protection of the forest, she wandered shyly in search of the secret road. By this time, it was midnight and an abundance of unusual sounds echoed around her, sending a shiver down her spine. Claire spun around in circles, frantically hoping (what she was looking for) would jump out at her as her nerves were beginning to crumble. Just then, a large owl swooped over her head and scared her half to death. She backed over a broken branch and fell into dirt and even more mud. She moaned in disgust as it was a pathetic sight.
“You know, the woods aren’t really the place for scaredy cats, Miss.”
Claire threw her head back and saw the figure of a tall man looking down at her, with a hand extended to her. She simply stared at him.
“Alright, how long do you want me to stand here?” He said impatiently.
Claire grabbed his hand and he pulled her up out of the mud with ease. The moonlight struck his back and she could see him better. He was a scruffy man with wild black hair and stubble around his chin. His eyes were dark, too, and he appeared as strong as he felt. The stranger took her by the wrist and led her through many twists and turns until she saw the warm lights of the cabin she had been searching for.
The place was bigger than she expected and puffs of smoke chuffed out of the brick chimney. The man led her through the wood door and she was suddenly greeted with hot air and many different peoples enjoying drinks at round tables. A handsome blonde-haired man with round glasses called out to them.
“Good to see you again, Rick! Brought a cute little friend with you tonight, I see.”
Claire blushed and looked away.
“Shut up already.” Rick rolled his eyes and leaned in to whisper to Claire. “That’s Kenith. Don’t get bothered cause he’s dumber than a box of rocks.”
“I heard that,” Kenith replied as he wiped a wine glass with a cloth, leaning against the bar with his back to them.
“Anyways, take a seat, kid. It might be a while before Verian comes out.”
Claire sat down but as Rick started to walk away, she called to him.
“What is it?”
“Um... Why did you help me?”
“Because I’m a nice guy. Is that hard to believe?” He paused. “Listen, I know when someone’s lost and I certainly know what it’s like to not belong. I could smell it on you. Verian’s the man you’re looking for. Maybe he can give you the home you belong in, too.” With that, Rick continued on and went upstairs to the bedrooms.
Once he was gone, Kenith jumped over the bar and came over. Claire began to sweat a little bit.
“Hey, don’t worry, I’m not a creep. I promise!” He laughed. “You’re the youngest visitor we’ve had. Usually, kids like you have families to go home to. I don’t mean to impose, but what brings you here?”
“Well, I don’t really have the best home life. I wanted to get away and start over. My dad doesn’t even want me there and I turn 18 in a couple weeks so I’m sure I’d get booted out anyways.”
“Poor thing. Good thing Rick got a hold of you, huh?” He lifted a piece of her messy jacket between his fingers. “I’ll wash these for you. Let me show you to your room and you can make yourself comfortable.” He patted her briskly on the back and walked her upstairs.
Once they made it up two sets of stairs, she took a sigh of relief.
“Oh, I felt like they were all watching me,” she said, embarrassed.
“Hah! They probably were!” Kenith said, clearly amused. “They’re most likely just imagining the trouble you’ll get into.” He continued to laugh as he escorted her down an oddly long hall.
“Phew. Finally found it.” Kenith put a silver key in the hole and turned it. He pushed open the door and let Claire enter first. As soon as she stepped inside, it seemed as if the space around her was altered.
“This room is huge!” She exclaimed.
There was a queen-sized bed against the left wall upon entering and a tall, golden lamp next to it. The window was directly to the back and its view was even more amazing. She was looking out on a beautiful beach scene. One she could have only imagined since she never could afford a nice resort. It was daytime there, too, and as she pulled the window open with the two handles, she felt a salty breeze hit her face. She slammed it shut and spun around, waiting for an answer. However, Kenith said nothing and laughed once more as he shut her door.
“What is going on?” She put her hands on her head. “Could it be that this is the-"
Claire was interrupted by the door opening again. It was Rick.
“God, good thing you weren’t changing.” He wrote down the number on the panel outside the door. “1...0...2... Okay, got it. Go back to your business.” So, he left as soon as he entered.
“Maybe I should get some sleep.” And with that, Claire cleaned up and put on a comfy nightgown, coincidentally her size. Too tired to question it, she let the thought rest until morning. She closed her eyes and let her dreams take over. Yet, nothing could have prepared her for the adventures of tomorrow.
* * *
“Run away with me. What does it matter if we die?” A voice rang out. “There is no freedom here. There is no life here.”
In a dream, Claire saw a shadow of someone. Someone telling her to run away.
She approached them. “What is your name?” She asked.
“...Can you give me one?”
* * *
Claire’s alarm went off and she fell right out of her bed. “I always do that,” she said, annoyed. She quickly got dressed in black pants and a pink blouse. After getting ready, she flew downstairs to see if everything was the way she left it last night. Low and behold, it was.
“Well, somebody’s eager to be up and early,” Kenith joked.
Claire glanced around. Today, the difference was the man sitting solemnly at a table in the middle of the dining room. She knew it had to be the old man. His beard, his gray hair, even his quiet mannerisms. Yes, it was him.
He glanced up and seemed to recognize her in an instant, his blue eyes twinkling.
“Claire! So glad you could join us for breakfast,” he said, beaming.
Claire started to wonder how anyone knew her name. “Wait, you know my name?”
“Yes, I do. Along with many other things. There’s no sense of getting too worked up over one thing because I always have another trick up my sleeve to surprise you with.”
She pulled out a chair at the table and sat down. Rick came and sat next to her while Kenith brought a tray full of eggs, toast and pancakes. He laid an extra plate down for himself.
“Are you talking about the beach thing?”
“The beach—Oh! Yes, Kenith must have given you the nice room. That’s my favorite part about this place. It takes you anywhere you want to go. I suppose you haven’t stepped outside since you arrived?”
“Well then, I guess you’re in for a treat!” Verian laughed.
Claire was quiet for a while as she ate her breakfast. Rick had been acting like he wanted to say something for quite some time.
“Claire. What was it that you wanted from Verian?” He paused. “I’m sorry, that came out harshly. It’s that everyone who comes here comes here for a reason.”
“I guess I just...” She remembered the strange dream from last night. “...Wanted to run away.”
Verian raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to the side. They all stared at her and she felt her face redden.
“Where have I heard that before?” Verian asked and Rick rolled his eyes.
“That boy couldn’t get himself out of a bathroom stall even if he tried,” Rick commented.
Claire just stared back at them, concerned.
“So, Miss Claire, let me tell you a little story.” He leaned in closer and patted her head. “Can I trust you?”
Suddenly, his eyes got brighter and hers became foggy. She could see into his mind and he showed her the story he wanted to tell. As she drifted into this dream world, she could hear Kenith’s voice saying: “Oh, did I tell you he’s a wizard?” Followed by more laughter.
In an instant, Claire was in a fancy hotel lobby. She realized she was in Verian’s memory as no one in the replayed moment knew she was there. Before her was Verian, Rick and a young boy with gray skin and silvery hair. The hotel was closed at this hour and they were alone.
“What are we to do with him? He can’t speak a lick of English or anything, at that,” Rick said, frustrated. The boy simply stared at the ground.
“He’s a special boy and we must help him in any way we can. He’s not supposed to be here but he is now and all we can do is work him into this society—this world.”
Claire walked around them as they talked and observed the boy. He seemed gentle, even fragile.
“How? How will this kid ever fit in?”
Just then, through the boy’s skin shown a reddish glow accompanied by an irritated expression on his face.
“He’s intelligent. He knows what we said and he responded with his body,” Verian said quietly. He exchanged looks with Rick and they proceeded to try and communicate with the boy, but nothing could be heard as Claire was transported to another memory.
It was the same setting, but on another night. The boy was headed to his bedroom. Verian watched him as he walked. The boy never smiled. Verian leaned against the wall and sighed. Kenith approached him and stood with him.
“You know, I might just have to let the boy go,” Verian said dispondently.
“What? Why?” Kenith asked, shocked.
“I think he hates us. But I can’t blame him. We can’t cater his needs and we aren’t the ones who should be taking care of him. Children, even teenagers, need guidance. They need family. We’re not even the same species as him. How could we help him?”
“For starters, there’s no one else who could help him! Moreover, no one would take care of him and I wouldn’t exactly call myself a proponent on letting him just waltz out of here. I know we turn a blind eye to a lot of things, but I can’t to this. I don’t care if it’s a challenge. We need to protect him.”
Once more, the memory changed. Claire watched as the boy ran into a terrential rainstorm just like the one she found herself in the other day. Tears fell down his face and his body emanated a blue hue.
“Come back!” Rick yelled as he chased him. He wanted to keep calling out but then he realized the boy didn’t have a name. They didn’t have him for very long before he tried to run away.
“I don’t belong here,” he said softly.
He ran through a forested area and Claire ran with him.
‘Where is he going?’ She thought.
All that time he was running he thought Rick was the one chasing him. Turned out he was wrong. The minute he looked back, he was electrocuted with a long taser and was taken away.
Claire was so confused at how they let him slip away so carelessly. She dashed back to the hotel entrance before the memory ended and saw Rick confronting Verian.
“Why? Why did you let him get away?” He yelled.
“I knew you wouldn’t take it easily, but I had to do something.”
“You did this!” Rick screamed.
Yet, before more could be said, the memory faded out and Claire was back in the present.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“That’s alright,” Verian reassured her. “Follow me.” Verian got up, pushed his chair in and opened the front doors. Rick and Kenith stayed seated and said nothing.
As Claire stepped outside, she saw something amazing in front of her. It was a beautiful castle town with an old but charming mansion at the end of it. Once she was outside, she spun around a saw the front of a giant hotel.
“The hotel!” She exclaimed.
“Yes. This is actually a hotel. I disguised it as a lodge so people don’t simply wander right in. Makes them nervous, you know?”
“So, you really have powers?”
“Yes, magical ones. I’ve lived in this town all my life and wanted a way to share it with people who wanted to escape, too.”
“That’s amazing. But where was the hotel when that boy ran away?”
“The forest. He always wanted to be alone in the deep woods when he was upset.”
“Why did you call those people?”
“It wasn’t adequate living for him. He couldn’t adjust here. Not that anyone welcomed him, either.” Verian took a deep breath in. “I regret it.”
Claire stared at his shameful expression. “I made sure Rick would find you. I even tempered with the rain to make it keep you walking. I wasn’t sure if you were the kind courageous enough to enter the woods of your own free will.”
“You did?” She was taken aback.
“You have many questions, I know. And Rick and Kenith weren’t exactly thrilled you came because they’ve been upset with me lately because of what I did.” He grabbed her shoulders. “I promise you’ll understand eventually, but as for now, you will be staying in that mansion.”
“Wait, I need to know—"
“No more questions. Go straight there and someone will be there to greet you.”
Without any more words exchanged, Claire sped to the mansion and flung open the doors. A bright-eyed woman jumped at her entrance and a group of people in uniform her age all looked at her.
She blushed and asked: “Do any of you know what’s going on?”
A blonde haired boy with a sharp glare scoffed. “You don’t?” He pushed himself off the leather lounge near the entrance. “Well, at least-hopefully- you don’t turn out to be another freak like him.” With that, the boy went into another room.
The woman bashfully introduced herself as Madam Iris, the caretaker of the people who lived in the mansion. She made the rules and was always the last word. Iris told Claire that the boy’s name was Revel and was pretty standoffish.
“Well, my dear, please ignore him. I encourage you to meet the others and make yourself comfortable.”
“What is all this about?”
“Ah, well, this group is being trained in combat and enhancing their powers.”
“Yes. These people were born with gifts and we’re trying to strengthen them to become great leaders one day.”
Claire stood bewildered.
“They will be leaders of different societies and places. The goal is to expand our reach and make this world perfect. They will protect the sacred belief the world was founded on. However, you came at a bit of a predicament. See, they’ve been given a special mission and your name has been added to the list.” She held her tongue for a minute. “It’s a retrieval mission.”
Claire didn’t reply.
“This is a lot at once. I see you only just arrived yesterday so I’ll give you some time. Oh, and your room is 102 and the dorms are upstairs on the second floor. I probably won’t see you again until tomorrow, so goodnight.” With that, Iris went off to the right into the kitchen area. Claire had a headache and wanted to go to sleep, but her new roommate had other plans. A young lady with big blonde locks of hair smiled at her as she entered.
“I’ll tell you everything. It happens with every newbie every time.” She touched her hand gently. “Especially with the same failed rescue mission we’ve been on for months.”
Claire stared into her emerald green eyes.
“But maybe you’ll be different.”
And so began Claire Layond’s journey to discover the truth of this strange new world that she only read about in storybooks. She laid in bed, listening to Cecile’s story and got all her questions answered about the hotel, the wizard and even a bit about the alien boy infamously known as “Subject A.”