Young Adult - Lisa Marie Bosso
Darkness swallowed the too-real dream and I awoke to a scream ripping from my chest. My heart pounded against every angle of my chest, the sound reaching a crescendo as my doorknob pinged off the crumbling lath and plaster wall. A dark figure smelling faintly of pears and honey tip-toed to my bedside.
I fought the instinctual urge to reach beneath my pillows and unsheathe my katana. Nearly three months here and I still hadn’t fully allowed myself to feel safe.
A barely hundred pound girl sat beside me on the bed, not enough weight to even bow the mattress. The lamp on the nightstand clicked on, bathing the room in soft yellow light. “You’ve had some bad dreams before but that one…it sounded bad.”
My breath still hitched in short gasps. I looked up at my roommate, Taylor. Metal shined from her right nostril and just above the right corner of her lip as her piercings stole light from the lamp. “It’s fine,” I said in place of I’m fine, and avoided her gaze, scolding myself for coming even that close to cutting her in half.
“Want to talk about it?”
I shook my head. Nothing had ever felt so real. Or so threatening. It was like I hadn’t truly lived yet, hadn’t felt anything before the grit of that dream. Something stung my eyes, but it couldn’t be tears. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cried. At my previous home doing so was forbidden.
“You’re ringing wet,” Taylor said after sweeping my dark bangs aside. “And not in the good way.” She wiped her hand on her too-short pink sleep shorts.
I tucked what I could of my almost chin length hair back behind my ear and swiped at my forehead with the back of my hand. Sweat not only dripped from my brow, it trickled down the back of my neck and seemed to cover every inch my skin. The images from the dream came again, flowing like a faucet with broken knobs.
Chained to a chair. In the dream I had felt the cold metal biting into my wrists. I rubbed wrists, searching for the all too familiar feel of indents or cuts on my skin. But there was nothing, only memories from the dream.
I fought through the tightness in my chest for air. I heard myself wheeze and centered my chi inward, willing my lungs to expand and contract normally. Taking control; the way my former master, Darius had taught me in case I ever got captured or sustained a fatal injury. He used to say: with meditation and inner control you can delay the inevitable and take your revenge. You can carry that soul over to the other side with you, a trophy.
Darius never was much of a role model, but his teachings kept me alive on the near-impossible missions he sent me on.
I wiped my mind clean of everything that reminded me of him—including the all-too-real dream—and threw my blankets off. “I’m good, Tay. Thanks.”
She stood and folded her arms. The tattoo of a bird centered on her chest peeked out from beneath her pink tank. “I don’t buy that for a second. I’ve never seen you so scared. What was it about?”
I thought about telling her every detail of the dream, but what good would it do? The dreams were my curse to bear.
The creak of a floorboard outside my room sent my hand beneath my pillows. Twisting my fingers around the hilt had never felt so good. With the flick of my thumb, the sheath loosened. All I’d need was to move the blade and the sheath would fall away. Another creak. The footsteps were coming slowly. I tensed my arm rather than immediately freeing the Praying Mantis from her cell. I’d have more than enough time to see the intruder first.
A busty blonde stepped in the doorway wearing nothing more than a pair of red lacy underwear and a sheer bra. I used my thumb to close the distance between the hilt and the sheath, putting the blade to rest once again.
“Come back to bed, Tay.” She crossed one foot over the other and leaned into the doorframe. A satisfied grin stretched across on her unblemished face.
I arched a brow and shot Taylor a glower of disbelief.
She bit back a smile, badly, and said, “Take that sweet butt back to bed. I’ll be there in two minutes.”
The blonde spun like a dancer in an almost pirouette, and trotted away without a thought in her head and not nearly enough fabric covering what that sweet butt. “Another one, Tay?”
The goofy smile of a love struck cartoon character overwhelmed my roommate’s face as she stood and stretched.
“Wasn’t that Carrie, the JV squad’s cheerleader?”
She simply nodded, satisfaction breaching her lips again. “That’s her all right, and you should see her splits off the field.”
“I think I’ll leave the lady lovin’ to you. Guys are much more my speed.” Guys. I again tried to shake the feeling that crept up my neck like fingers from the dead, back for revenge. In the dream, there was a guy. I never saw him, but the Reptilian questioning me called him Devlin.
“I don’t discriminate, you know that,” Tay shot back. “Male, female, I love ‘um all.” Her smile dropped and she sobered when she glanced around. “You still have a bag packed.”
Avoiding her eyes, I glanced at the black duffle in question. “I have to be prepared. In case Darius comes back—or something comes up.” I rushed to cover over my stumble, but Tay never missed things like that.
“But you said he’s never late.”
Damn her for being right. My former master timed everything perfectly. So when he abandoned me on the wrong side of the Academy’s bars two days after the start of the semester with a typical assignment brief, and said he’d be back in two weeks—tops—and never showed, I knew something was wrong.
“Anything can happen, Tay. And when it does, I need to be ready.”
For fourteen days I waited, existing without sleep, the way he taught and calculated my escape. I was used to non-mainstream, night-based intel gathering and assassinations, not sitting around inside some gated Academy with no direct orders. Darius had to be in trouble, otherwise why would he have just left me here?
But Taylor stopped me from leaving. I’d done everything in my power to keep her at arm’s length, to make her believe we were polar opposites and would remain that way, but the girl was relentless. She dragged me to a party that fifteenth night where I got drunk and told her everything—well, not everything, but pretty damn close. She even held my hair while I buried my face in the toilet and tried her hand at convincing me fate had brought me here so I could finally have a chance at a normal life.
On the sixteenth day, for the first time ever—anywhere—I unpacked.
Her brown eyes rounded in that apologetic sort of way. “You gonna be alright?”
As soon as I heard the click of the door latch, I flipped my pillows off the bed. The Praying Mantis sat there, same as always, looking so sad and unused. Braided green silk circled the hilt and the bottom of the deep brown scabbard—the saya. The only thing keeping me from unsheathing it now was the absent promise of blood.