Read chapter 1 here
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Warning: not proofed yet! Feel free to point out typos, but there will be a few :(
I hear Ma opening the door, and a kind male voice stating, “Ma’am, I need the girl in the cupboard.”
The cupboard opens, but I know no one touched it because Ghost, the Ghost, the Master of the Capital’s Cursoi unit, is at the door, and Ma and Seria are facing him. I am in fetal position clutching what’s left of Grey’s Anatomy to my chest, when Lethal and Drama walk in after Ghost. Beside Lethal is Zera, tall and gorgeous with her green eyes and smooth blond hair up in a ponytail. If the gossip has it right, she’s the one that erased the crowd’s memory at the parade.
Oh. My. Lars.
Seria squeals, hands to her bright red face. She cannot be happy. Can she? It’s almost as if she sucked all the life from Ma, who backs one step, her arms on her sides, and a determined look on her face, as if she could protect me from the four Cursoi who just invaded our home.
I make no sound. I don’t move. Ghost’s blue eyes take in Ma. He smiles, tilting his head and speaks, “We mean no harm. We are here to help.”
I know he means the words for me as much as Ma.
Seria moves closer to Lethal, who stays motionless, like a bonking ancient statue of perfection. It’s almost as if Lethal and Zera are paused, waiting for instructions. I’ve never heard an order spoken to Cursoi. How the Merc do they operate?
Ghost steps forward, causing Seria to stumble backward and fall on her ass. She doesn’t move, and he adds, “Nala, you are one of us. You belong with us. Come.”
“Bonk you!” I answer. How does he even know my name?
My retort gets everyone’s attention. Zera’s green gaze moves to me with what could be mistaken for interest. Lethal has the biggest hazel eyes I have ever seen, and I’m pretty sure he just concluded I’m dumb.
Who wouldn’t want to discover they’re Cursoi? Me. Right here. Bonk them all. Kill me now. I want to change the world. I want to start a revolution! I’m no loyal soldier!
Drama says, his voice deep and rich, “You might be able to do whatever it is you wanna do, but with us. A million times better.”
If only he knew. But maybe he has a point. Could I infiltrate the Cursoi?
Ma says, “You could be a curer, Nala!”
Ghost’s pale blue eyes study me. “Don’t be afraid. We mean—”
“I don’t want to become Cursoi,” I interrupt. Lethal scoffs, the son of a nymph. Seria and Ma are frozen in place.
Ghost answers, “Nala, you are Cursoi. You don’t become one.”
“And work for Crash? Thank you, but no thank you.”
Lethal rolls his eyes, and I hate him a bit more. I guess the expressionless facade is only for parades. Contempt wafts off him in spiteful waves. Instead, did I just catch a smirk play on Drama’s gorgeous lips? Bonk, he’s hot up close.
His smirk opens in an ill-concealed smile.
What the Merc? What’s so funny?
Ghost says, without any less kindness, “Well, this is not playing out the way I thought it would, Nala, but you either come with us, or we’ll have to terminate you, which would be a real loss for everyone.” He gestures at Ma and Seria, but I know he means the whole planet. Cursoi are sacred.
My eyes lock with Lethal who, no doubt, would do the honors. Not one ounce of pity crosses his bonking angel face, not dread, not annoyance. He’s here to do a job, and he will.
I close my eyes, pretending my eighteenth birthday never happened. I reopen them and look at the Cursoi staring at me. I feel ridiculous, crouched in my cupboard.
Tears are streaming down Ma’s face. Seria is still with her ass on the floor, one hand on her unscathed knee, mouth open, eyes on Lethal. I scoot out of the cupboard, and jump to the floor, ready to infiltrate the bonking Cursoi.
“Fine,” I say, without shedding a tear.
“Do you need to pack?” Ghost asks, the ignorant, tactless jerk. I shake my head. I’m wearing the only clothes I own, and clutching Grey’s Anatomy, my only possession. Ghost adds, “Leave the book, Nala. Anything you’ve ever wanted to learn will be at your disposal back home.”
The words don’t make any sense. I swallow my tears, and leave my life behind. I don’t laugh just because I am too busy trying not to cry. I step out of Ma’s lab and Zera lingers inside, likely erasing any memory my family ever had of me.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. At least they didn’t arrest Ma. At least Ma won’t miss me.
Two more Cursoi are waiting in the alley, leaning against the mossy wall: Kino, dark as night, who likely opened the cupboard I was hiding in through telekinesis , and Dime. I have no idea what Dime’s skill might be, and his nickname is a bit cryptic. His blue hair stands up at all angles and several flat gold rings are pressed around the ridge of his right ear. His skin is incredibly white, making his eyes seem almost black and completely unfocused.
Ghost nods at him and we are gone.
One second I was outside Ma’s lab, and the next I’m in the biggest foyer I have ever seen. It’s a huge room with cream-colored walls and an imposing fireplace off to the left, burning logs. Why in the world would they burn wood? And where did they find it? My spite reaches record highs. I have still no bonking idea how we got here.
A gigantic wooden staircase covered in red velvet starts in the center of the room and splits half way to meet again on the first floor hallway, where many doors, all side by side, face the balustrade. The banister is the same rich mahogany of the stairs and the mantle. There is only one door downstairs, opposite the fireplace, and it’s closed. The floor is pink marble.
Selling the materials in this room would grant my family food for life. Trad-food for life.
It seems strange that despite the lavishness of my surroundings there is no personal touch, no ancient paintings, no holo-pics or projections. The place is completely anonymous.
Drama murmurs right behind me, “It’s okay to ask questions.”
Really? No one spoke to me yet. No one paid me any mind. I wipe my eyes, and shake off the shiver his murmur caused me. It seems quite inappropriate given the circumstances. I remind myself that I do not like him. I hate Cursoi.
Lethal, Dime, Kino, and Zera file up the stairs utterly ignoring me, but Ghost calls, “Dime! You stay, remember?”
The guy musses his blue hair, nodding as if he had just recalled something. “Oh, right, right, right.” He walks back down while the others disappear behind three of the many doors facing the stairs. Ghost and Drama are still beside me.
“Um, okay,” I reply. “How did we get here?”
“Dimensional travel,” Ghost answers. “It’s Dime’s skill. He blinked us here. Dime is short for dimension.”
Dime turns when he hears his name and smiles, but honestly he’s kinda spacey, whistling, hands behind his back.
I nod as if what Ghost said made sense, but Drama’s amused smile tells me he’s onto me.
“Why is this guy still here?” I ask, nodding at Drama, who grins apologetically.
“You need him and Dime to—”
“And where is here?” I interrupt him, more and more unnerved.
“Nowhere,” Ghost answers with a deep sigh. “It would be too dangerous to have all Cursoi in one place: too easy of a target. Dime created this parallel dimension for us.”
Again, Dime grins, moving his head to music only he can hear. I cannot believe he was still at the parade. He looked so hot on the holo-pics, but in real life he’s a bit goofy.
Ghost adds, “Only Cursoi can access this dimension. You’re safe here.”
I was safe home too.
I’m positive I did not speak my thought out loud, yet Drama says, “You wouldn’t have been safe at home for long, Nala. You healed your sister today. It would have been a matter of time for you to become a very easy target.”
How does he know that?
Ghost nods. “You would have been abducted, likely experimented on, and ultimately—” He stops when Drama shakes his head, eyes wide. Ghost puts a hand on my shoulder and I jump, terrified. “Calm down. Let’s get you to your place. You need to rest and start training as soon as possible. You have a lot to catch up, and I want to see what you can do.” I nod, feeling lonely and hopeless. “Drama, Dime: take over. Do you mind?”
Drama answers, “Not at all.”
Dime is lost in thought, staring blankly ahead, frozen. Ghost calls, “Dime. Dime!”
Dime starts. “Oh, yeah. What?”
Ghost shakes his head, and Dime’s gaze focuses as if he had heard something only his ears could capture. At least he’s not threatening like Lethal or…confusing like Drama. I hate how self-assured my hot kidnapper looks. His eyes are constantly on me.
Dime and Drama move, and I follow them up the stairs, Ghost behind me. The hallway ends against the wall on both left and right. The only thing up here are about thirty doors. Ghost disappears into one of them, and Drama, walking ahead of me, says, “Nala, don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
Says the kidnapper and pillager.
Drama rolls his eyes. “We did not kidnap you, you should have been here all along, and the materials you see were not pillaged from Earth. Dime conjured them. They cannot leave this dimension.”
“Wait a second!” I yell.
He turns, and I almost walk into his chest. Almost. He smells like the sea, which completely evaporated centuries ago. Yet, I’ve been at several beaches through virtual reality at the museum.
His broad smile makes me feel…like nothing bad could ever happen. I force my brain back into my skull and ask, “Drama, how the Merc do you know what I think or feel?”
Drama shrugs. “It’s my skill. I’m an empath. Do you know what’s an empath?”
“Yes, Drama. I’m poor, not stupid.”
My mind is racing with all the information he could have gathered from my unaware brain. Did he figure out I want to infiltrate Cursoi? Does he know I think he’s the hottest thing on Earth? Dime leans against a wall, waiting, lost in his own world.
Drama says, “Don’t be angry. It’s common for less, uh, affluent people to lack time and money for education.”
“I’m self-taught. And what do you know about less affluent people anyway?” I’m standing in the middle of the hallway, legs apart, hands on my sides, feeling like I might just unleash all of my unhappiness on the closest empath.
“Point taken. I apologize. Anyway, this will be your place.” He waves at a door, and I stare at it.
All the doors are right beside each other. Are Cursoi stowed in coffins when not in use?
Drama must sense my perplexity, because he adds, “Dime and I will make you a place, uh, Dime?” Dime, who had walked down the hallway stops and turns around. Drama adds, “We’ll make you the place you don’t even know you needed. Are you ready?”
I shake my head, staring in his huge brown eyes. I swallow. “Uh, just how much do you feel of my emotions?”
“Ah, it might get pretty specific,” he answers, embarrassed, running a hand in his long disheveled, black, tight curls.
My mouth dries. “How specific?”
He says, “Well, you think Lethal is a piece of dung, which is refreshing. You hate soldiers, and have very original ideas on how you will spend your time here.”
I blanch, outraged. I don’t know if I’m more appalled by the fact he knew I’d kill them all if I could, or the fact he does not seem alarmed in the least.
Drama adds, “Also, you, uh, find me very attractive.”
Flustered, furious, appalled. I think I might just have discovered that my skill is disappearing into steam, but apparently I am still here because Drama adds, “You’ll get used to it. I mean, not my looks, I hope.” He looks away. “If it makes you feel better, I think you’re pretty attractive too.” He smiles.
Really? How’s that even possible? Now I might have dispersed completely.
Drama calls, “Dime? Dime, you there?”
Dime turns to us, “Oh, hey, yeah.” He looks at my face, which still feels on fire, and asks, “What happened to her? Did Lethal get in her pants, already?”
“Oh, bonk you!” I answer.
“Huh?” Dime tilts his head with a playful glint in his black eyes. “I like her already.”
Actually, I like him too. Much easier to deal with him than any of the Cursoi I met so far. Drama leans in to whisper in my ear. “You like him. You find him less intimidating than—”
“Stop it!” I hiss, trying to shake him off.
Dime stares at us, while Drama shrugs and replies, “I know you liked it, the whispering, I mean.”
Dime arches a blue eyebrow and asks, “Are you two done? Nala, if you want to merge with Drama, I don’t even need to make you a place.”
Merge? What the Merc is he talking about? “Oh, shut it,” I reply, opening my door, the eleventh on the right from the staircase, as I just counted.
At first I think I’m staring at a white room, but when I step in, Drama catches me from behind and I realize I would have fallen into…nothing. I am very aware of his arm, tight around my waist, and I am delighted I went to the common baths last night. My heart is spasming.
When he doesn’t release me, I pry his arm off me. “Do you file for sexual harassment in this place?”
Dime laughs out loud, then pauses. “Oh, wait. You were serious?”
Drama chukles too. “I guess you don’t know much about Cursoi. Do you?Can’t wait to teach you.” He says it in a way that should have totally creeped me out yet somehow thrilled me and pissed me off at the same time.
I do my best not to stare at him.“Right. So, what do we do?”
Dime offers me his hand. “One hand to me, one to Drama.”
“Are you serious?”
The corners of Drama’s mouth twitch in amusement. “Yes, but that would have been a great idea. In fact, before you give us your hands, why don’t you take your clothes off?”
“Niiiice,” Dime says.
Their one-track mind should set off all sort of red flags, but it just feels natural to joke about sex with them. I almost kick Drama, when one door opens and Lethal walks out in nothing but a white towel around his waist. His hair hits his shoulders and we are left staring at his muscular back.
Drama sighs. “And there I thought you didn’t like him.”
“Hey, he’s eye-candy.” A pang of longing for Seria makes a hole in my heart.
“He sure is.” Dime sighs.
I continue, “But that’s only one more reason to hate him. I’m more of an underdog type of person.”
“I don’t know if I should be flattered or offended,” Drama replies.
Dime rubs his face in his hands and says through his fingers, “All right, guys, work first, then merge.”
“Merge?” I ask. The two stare at me, clearly at a loss. “Nevermind. So, do I take my clothes off?” I lift the hem of my threadbare tunic, then peek at them. Both Dime and Drama are staring at me with bathed breath, and I burst out laughing. Who knew. I’m a natural at dirty banter.
Drama shakes his head. “I knew you were joking! I should have known!”
Dime offers a hand. “Yeah, I betcha all the blood left your brain to go other places. Come on.”
I do my best to keep up my nonchalant face when I put my hands into theirs, but there is something comforting in knowing that no matter how much I pretend, Drama knows exactly what I’m feeling. There’s no need to hide. He winks at me, likely agreeing.
I’ll get used to it, one day.
“Close your eyes,” Dime says.
“No more pranks,” I chide.
“Well, there’s no need really, it’s more for the surprise factor.”
And so, I do.