Will could feel the sweat running down her face as she sprinted through the forest. The light from the flames danced on her cheeks while the heat pierced her to the core. Her mind raced as she tried to make sense of the scene around her. She tried to count up her friends, both the ones still standing and the ones who lay on the ground, but she found it hard to take her eyes away from the grotesque shape silhouetted against the spreading flames. It was all too much for her, and she was trying to fight down the fear when a friendly voice snapped her back to reality.
"Hey Will, we could use your help over here!" Ray said, waving her over.
Will took a deep breath and clutched the glowing pink jewel tightly. Will had only met Ray recently, and didn't know too much about him, but she knew this. He hadn't been lying when he said things would be exciting.
Three Weeks Earlier
Will hated the rain. She hated the way it penetrated her skin and soaked her to the core, and she hated the way it chilled her as she stepped out of her mother's warm car. The rain, as if sensing her feelings and repaying her in kind, hit her like a wall of ice, pounding away at whatever hope she had left that this was going to be a good day.
"Now you have a good time at school honey." Her mother said, leaning over from the driver's seat, but being careful not to get wet, "I put an extra batch of cookies in your lunch to help you make friends!"
"Yeah, that'll make me popular." Will mumbled as she watched the car drive off.
Will turned away from the now empty road and faced her new school for the first time. Will was told that in the sun, the Sheffield Institute was a beautiful old building that more closely resembled a castle then a school. In the rain however, it towered over Will like an intimidating cage. Still, Will tried to keep positive. She put a smile on her face, and was determined to have a better second day then her first. She stayed like this right up until a wall of cold water drenched her from behind, at which point the smile disappeared, replaced by a look of contempt for the world and everything in it.
"Need a hand?" asked a voice from behind.
Will spun to find a boy her age standing behind her, arms raised in a sign of assistance. Will gave the boy little more then a quick glance, noticing his mixed decent and red streak in an otherwise dark mop of hair.
"Sorry, couldn't help but notice you were on the wrong end of a puddle." the boy said. "I can take your bag if you want to dry off."
"How would that help me dry off?" Will said, having thought about it for a second.
The boy also thought about this, then shrugged.
"Couldn't hurt." He said, arm still outstretched.
"How about we just focus on getting inside." Will replied with a smile, keeping the back on her shoulders.
The two sprinted through the downpour, bursting through the front doors just in time to hear the first bell ring.
"So I've never seen you around before…" Ray said once he was content he was dry.
"Second day." Will admitted. "My mom got a job in Heatherfield, so we packed everything up and got a fresh start."
"I bet you'll love it here." Ray said with a wink. "The people are really special, and it seems there's almost always something exciting going on in Heatherfield."
"Hmmm, I've never been much for excitement." Will said, starting to head to her first class. "But it's good to know the people are nice."
"Well, if you want to meet them, look for me in the caf at lunch." Ray said with a wave. "I'll introduce you to the gang."
Will headed to her first class with a much lighter heart then she had had earlier. It had only taken her minutes for her to meet someone, and he did seem nice. Her first class was history with professor Collins, but Will managed to avoid any incidences by keeping her head down and her mouth shut. For her first couple of days, all she wanted to do was stay out of trouble and not have any surprises, and so far she was doing well.
Her streak of luck ended when she went to her lockers between classes. As she opened her locker up, she watched a small piece of paper fall to the floor at her feet. Cautiously, she bent over and picked it up, looking around to see if anyone was watching. Assured that no one was, she opened up the note and read it.
HI WILL! YOU DON'T KNOW ME, BUT MY NAME IS HAY LIN. I HEARD YOU'RE NEW HERE, AND WAS WONDERING IF YOU WANTED TO HANG OUT WITH MY FRIENDS AND ME AT LUNCH. JUST LOOK FOR THE POPULAR TABLE, WE'RE RIGHT NEXT TO THAT ONE. :)
Will read the note with a smile, which quickly transitioned into a thoughtful frown. So much for not making friends, she thought. It was still an hour before lunch and she had already had two invitations. But who was Hay Lin? She had never heard that name before. At least she had met Ray, but Hay Lin and her group of friends were complete strangers. As she walked to her next class, Will's mind went over the possibilities, keeping her distracted throughout the entirety of her math lecture.
As it turned out, Will had little to worry about. As she entered the cafeteria with a tray of food in hand, she spied Ray sitting at a table with two girls and one large boy. Ray waved Will over, and the young girl pulled up a chair.
"Hey Will!" Ray said once Will had been seated. "Glad you could join us. Meet some of my friends. This is…"
"Hay Lin." Finished the girl sitting across from Will. "Nice to finally meet you in person Will."
"Uh, yeah." Will replied cautiously. "Not that I don't appreciate the invitation, but how did you know me?"
"Oh, I just saw you around." Hay Lin replied, bashfully chewing on her fork. "Thought it might be nice to get to know you. Not really sure why, actually. Just a feeling."
As introductions continued, Will meet Taranee, and Cornelia and learned that the boy was named Gabe. Will smiled at each of them, relieved that they all seemed nice. Suddenly, a brown hair whirlwind sat down beside Will with a smile and a thump. A quick check of the girls knapsack told Will that this blur was called Irma.
"So," Irma said, "are we doing the thing where Taranee stares at Ray and Ray pretends he doesn't notice?"
"What?" Ray said.
"What?" Taranee said.
"What?" Irma said, mouth now full of sandwich.
"How is it even possible you have this much energy?" Cornelia asked, Taking the attention away from the blushing Taranee and Ray.
"Good eating." Irma said, unwrapping her cookie. "Keeps me full of energy. You should try it some time."
"What, having energy?" Cornelia asked.
"No, eating." Irma said with a smile, poking Cornelia's flat stomach.
Will smiled, but kept quiet. It was nice of Hay Lin and Ray to invite her to their group, but they obviously had a dynamic already in place. But she did notice one empty chair between her and Ray, and was wondering who filled it when another blonde girl appeared out of the corner of her eye.
"Hello friends." the girl said, standing tall over the table. "Hello Cornelia."
"Allie." Cornelia replied through gritted teeth.
"Hey Allie." Irma said with a wave. "Grab a seat and sit down."
"I don't know Irma," Cornelia said, "I think our personalities might clash."
"Maybe then your personality will match your outfit." Allie said, taking a seat. "Nothing else does."
Cornelia glared across the table at Allie, but her focus soon changed as she heard Irma let out a little giggle.
"Traitor." Cornelia said to Irma.
"I'm sorry, I must've missed the part where I swore allegiance to you." Irma replied. "I'm friends with you and Allie."
"Even when all they do is fight?" Hay Lin asked.
"Hey, dinner and a show!" Irma said, raising her milk carton in a mock toast.
Eventually tempers settled and the group began to act as they had before. Jokes were told, stories were exchanged, and various teachers were mocked. Those who had yet to meet her were introduced to Will, who felt a bit like a product on a manufacturing line, being inspected for defects. Her fears were unfounded however, and each member of the clique welcomed her with a smile. She was just beginning to memorize everyone's names when two new people, both boys, had showed up at the table. By the faces of her friends, however, Will could tell that these two were unwanted guests.
"Hello ladies." One of the boys said with a bitter tone. "How come you didn't save us a spot?"
"Carny and Uriah." Irma whispered to Will. "Local oafs. One day we expect them to slither back into the water."
"Sorry, boys, but there are certain requirements to sit at this table." Ray said.
"Oh yeah? Like what?"
"Well, a double digit IQ for starters. And some basic understanding of personal hygiene would be nice."
Those sitting at the table laughed while Carny and Uriah clenched their fists.
"Come on Carny." Uriah said, beginning to walk away. "We don't need these losers."
But Carny wasn't about to let Ray get the last word in, and stayed for just a second longer.
"Yeah, you're right Uriah. I don't want to sit with these mutts anyways."
"What did you call us?" Ray said, jumping to his feet, fist clenched.
Will glanced over at Taranee while this took place. She knew that Taranee and Ray were both well aware of their mixed heritage, but it didn't look like Taranee wanted any trouble. Instead, she remained sitting, trying to stay calm.
"You've got a big mouth Carny." Ray said. "Too bad you don't have anything to back it up."
"One of these days were gonna have to settle this for good Okamoto." Carny replied.
"Today seems as good as any." Ray responed, fists clenched.
Will couldn't take her eyes off Taranee. As Ray and Carny kept arguing, Taranee was getting more and more angry, but she kept herself from saying anything. Instead, she just gripped the edge of the table tighter and tighter, until Will thought it was going to break.
Instead, something much stranger happened. The table burst into flames right where Taranee was touching it. Everyone jumped back quickly, except for Taranee, who was to stunned to move. Even though Will was sure she had seen the flames engulf Taranee's hands, the girl didn't seem burned at all. It didn't take long before a scene had gathered, as Irma and Cornelia quickly tried to put out the flame. Will could only watch, wondering what exactly she had gotten herself into.