Unnatural

Chapter 1

Preface

by: x_Lupa_x
''Joanette''

It all started, Joanette supposed, the day she went for a walk in the park with her parents. It seemed like any other day--the sky was opaque with gray-white clouds, threatening to rain but not quite there yet. She was only seven--too young, too naive at the time, to know how ominous a sign that was.

She didn't know what made her turn to look at the man. Everybody else just walked past--even Mama and Daddy, although they did turn slightly to give him wary looks. Something about him, though--it gave Joan a yucky feeling in her tummy, the way Mama sometimes described how she felt when she saw spiders: shivery but feverish at the same time, and like you were sick but not gonna throw up soon.

She turned to look at him, keeping her tight grip on Daddy's hand.

Then...something happened.

That's how she's always tried to describe it. She didn't know what it was--she still, to this day, couldn't tell you what happened. But when she looked at the man, at first he was just a guy--a dirty guy, with bugs floating around his head and an unkempt, unhealthy air about him, but still just a guy. His hair was wispy and scraggly, and tangled and greasy-looking. Then her eyes did...a trick. Something made the tiny hairs on her arms stand straight up as though there were an electric charge. She blinked, and when she looked back, he wasn't some old dirty guy anymore.

Now he was a tall, healthy man with bright violet eyes. He was making a series of complicated hand motions and murmuring, and the patterns his hands traced sparkled with a purple glow that matched his eyes eyes eerily. Joan's hand on her Daddy's tightened, and she felt a skittering of fear--something, she didn't kow what, but ''something'' about this man was not good, not right...''not natural.'' That's what her instincts told her. And she wanted ''away'' from him, right now!

"Pumpkin, what's wrong?" Daddy asked, looking down at her.

"Daddy," Joan squeaked, "I don't like him--he scares me!" She jabbed an accusatory finger at the man, cringing into Daddy's leg. He stopped and crouched to look at Joan, placing his large hands, coarse from all the woodworking he did, on her tiny shoulders.

"He won't hurt you, Joanie, I promise. It's okay."

Joan relaxed slightly, nodding. After one final wary glance at the man, who was still doing those odd hand gestures and murmuring in a guttural voice that sounded like it was speaking in an alien language, she followed her parents out of the park.

If Daddy had promised it, it had to be true. The man wouldn't hurt her--he couldn't, because Daddy had promised. He couldn't...

...right? So why, then, was she unable to get the image of those glowing purple eyes out of her head, as though they had been burned into her memory forever?

Joan shivered and continued walking.

***

''Ramona''

Ramona hadn't meant to knock the tree into the house--honestly, she hadn't! She'd never use her Talent like that--actually, until now, she hadn't known that she had wind as her Talent. Yes, she knew she was one of the Unnaturals--the non-humans who could not only sense the Power all around her, but she could channel it from an abstract thing, an idea or a thought, and transition into the physical world and make ''magic'' out of it.

In her case, she could take the Power in the air currents around her and manipulate them any way she wished. That was the theory, anyway, once she had learned to control it.

She studied the wreckage with interest--the tree had fallen squarely in the middle of the house when she had gotten scared. She had just been trying to get her ball back when it rolled across the street. She hadn't seen the car, until its horn was blaring, practically on top of her.

She had screamed and scrambled back to the sidewalk, shaking, as the car squealed off. Her mind, sensing danger from the adrenaline running through her, had subconsciously sent out a burst of Power.

Suddenly, the gentle breeze that had been pleasantly cool around her had whipped into a sudden frenzy, ripping at her hair. She had started crying--she didn't understand! What was going on? Then, as she continued to wail, the wind whipped away from her and tore viciously at the tree. It had groaned and creaked in protest, resisting at first, but when the wind doubled in force it had given way with a sharp, startling ''crack!'', leaving Mona staring in awe as it swayed once, twice, a third time, before finally falling on the house.

There was screaming, a lot of it. Humans were easily scared by such occurrences. They were scared by anything they didn't understand--that was what she had been taught. And she couldn't tell them, the Mundanes, that she was Unnatural, because they wouldn't understand, and they would be scared. They might even hurt her.

"We know you don't understand," Papa had said gently when she asked why she couldn't tell her new friends about Power and Talents and the energy all around them. "But Mundanes fear the unknown, unless they can control it. Your abilities will be incredible--I sense great Power in you already, Princess. They would never be able to control it, so they would be terrified--and they might try to destroy it."

She hadn't understood then--she still didn't understand. She was a child, her Talent just manifesting for the first time. But she did know that Papa was almost always right, and even if he was wrong it was better to be cautious than wounded. So she kept her secret. She was ten--she had plenty of time to learn how to use it correctly.

After listening to the screams of the Mundanes a while longer, Mona slowly stood and walked off, contemplating her Talent.

She felt a slow grin spread across her face as she anticipated all the fun she would be able to have. She skipped away merrily, looking like any Mundane child, thinking of all the chaos she could cause with her Power.

''Those Seers won't know what hit them,'' she thought with a Cheshire cat smile.

***

''Kendal''

How his parents had talked him into coming to this lame hypnotist's show on a Friday night, Kendal never knew. No fifteen-year-old wanted to hang with the folks any day of the week, especially the weekend.

Kendal knew the hypnotist was a hoax. There was no such thing as magic. Every "volunteer' from the audience had probably been paid before the show and knew exactly what they were being "hypnotized" to do. That was what Ken thought--he was sure of it, in fact.

He was sure until the man's eyes started to glow gold, that is.

Ken jerked and did a double-take. He hadn't just seen what he thought he had...had he? Of course not--he couldn't have! But just to be sure..he looked again.

Gold eyes, which a moment ago had been dark brown, met his. Ken felt his own eyes widening in shock, and the man's lips curled in a faintly sarcastic smile. As the hypnotist proceeded with his act--making the current volunteer act like a cheerleader going through a routine, doing a series of flips and tumbles, much to the audience's delight--he began to glow. Literally, glow--an amber light, the color of maple syrup or autumn leaves in the middle of changing color, was emanating from the man's whole body.

If Kendal hadn't been a skeptic, he'd have called it an aura.

He glanced around uneasily. Nobody else seemed to notice--they were all watching with avid admiration as the volunteer proceeded to do a herkie that ended in a split. While the rest of the audience cheered, Ken sniffed his drink. He didn't think he'd ordered anything alcoholic...but how else could you explain the...the...hallucinations, the illusions that only he seemed able to see?

And then, as suddenly as they had appeared, the glow around the man vanished, the gold in his eyes became muddy brown again, leaving Kendall wondering if he had imagined the whole thing to begin with.

He shook his head in confusion as the audience cheered applauded, wondering what was wrong with his head.

''Time to go visit the psychologist--you're seeing things, Kendal,'' he told himself as the hypnotist bowed with a sly smile.

After all--there's no such thing as magic, right?

***

''Lukas''

Lukas was daydreaming about Talents as he walked home from school.

Everyone else his age had already found theirs--Ramona controlled the element wind. Azalea was a clairvoyant--she could sense the thoughts of those around her. Josephine had a Talent for charms and herbs. Alexander could cast spells by using only his voice and Power. He was the only one that hadn't found his yet, and he was worried about why he hadn't developed one yet--was there something wrong with him, he wondered? Was there some genetic glitch that was stopping up his power, making him...Mundane?

He shuddered at the thought, cringing, when a sharp, high-pitched voice interrupted his musings.

''"Hey! You, there! Yeah you, can you help me? There's a snake in my nest!"'' Lukas looked around in confusion for the source of the voice. ''"Hey, down here!"'' came the voice again. Lukas looked down and saw a chickadee peering up at him.

Lukas thought at first that he was just imagining it. After all, it wasn't completely outside the realm of possibility that his subconscious was imagining things based off of what he wanted--he was pretty desperate to find his Talent.

He stared at the little black-capped chickadee in the middle of the sidewalk, his eyes wide. He looked around doubtfully, and then cast his gaze back on the bird. "Are…are you talking to me?" he asked dubiously, wondering--not completely coherently--if he was still day-dreaming.

''"Of course--who else would I be speaking to?"'' she chirped impatiently. ''"Are you going to help me with the snake or not?"'' she twittered shrilly, hopping along the sidewalk hyperly, looking up at him with beady black eyes. He could sense her concern as though it were his own--she'd just laid her eggs, and she wanted to protect her babies. But she couldn't do anything against a snake besides get eaten with her babies.

"Um...yes, yeah; sure, I'll help," he stammered. She fluttered off and he hurried after her in a daze, forgetting that he was supposed to be going home, his mind whirring with excitement--if he was still dreaming, he didn't ever want to wake up! This dream was far better than his current reality.

When they got to the big oak tree, he climbed without hesitation; he was feeling as though he were hallucinating. He swung up and straddled the branch, scooting forward until he could peer into the nest. There was, indeed, a snake in the chickadee's nest, but the eggs were--so far--unharmed.

"Hey! You with the fangs and scales," he said awkwardly, unsure what to call the snake. It glanced up at him, its forked pink tongue flicking out slightly to taste his scent on the air, its cold black eyes cruel as they gazed up at him.

''"What do you want, mortal?"'' the snake hissed, making the hairs on the back of Lukas' neck rise with a shiver. But he kept his voice steady, other than a faint quiver of excitement--could this really be real? Had he finally found his Talent?

"Those eggs are not yours, and you need to leave," he said firmly. The snake hissed a laugh, its pointed tongue flicking out as it went ''hss-hss-hss'', a disturbing sound that was almost a chuckle.

''"They are mine if I choose them to be. I am a predator--it is my prey. This is the balance of Nature."'' The snake's head moved as it spoke--only it didn't really speak, Lukas realized. His ears heard the same hissing sound he always had before. But in his mind, he heard the hoarse, mocking hiss of the snake.

He shivered, and then he looked in the snake's eyes and he reached using his Power. He couldn’t describe how he knew how to do it--it was instinctive, automatic. It came to him as naturally as breathing.

It was like a tentacle of Power extended from his mind, reaching out to touch the snake’s mind. He got an impression of predator cruelty, a mind that was sharp and cold and clear, like an ice dagger. He shivered, and then he grabbed it. The snake froze.

''You're going to leave now,'' Lukas told the snake in its head. ''You're not going to hurt the bird, and you're going to leave its nest and eggs alone. Now scram!''

The snake shook its small triangular head, looking dazed, and slithered off. The chickadee twittered in relief and proceeded to count her eggs, fluttering maniacally.

Lukas grinned as he swung down from the tree. He didn't know what significance his power would be--he could talk to, sort of Influence animals. What good would that do?--but at the moment, he didn't care. He'd found his Talent--nothing else mattered!

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