Realm-Mesh Reality Wiki

This article is rated T for Frequent Light Depressive Themes, Moderate Horror Themes, and Frequent Light Horror Themes.

This novelette was written by Lucentstar according to an outline provided by Wikikinetic, and has been beta-read by Malletspace.

Aiden's Journal[]

Entry 1[]

So. New journal. I hope something interesting happens, so I don't feel like a total doofus for writing everything down. Alex gave this to me for my birthday (yes, I'm 15 today), though, and she's the smartest person I know, so here goes.

Alex gave me this, though

She's the smartest I know

Off to write I must go

With my journaling flow

Lyrics don't belong in this journal!! Alex gave me a separate one for that.

Anyway, school was normal today, I guess. When I went to pick up Madison from middle school I saw her talking to Jag. I shooed him away, because, you know, that's my little sister, she's not getting bullied on my watch. I tried to tell her that she has to stand up for herself, or at least be like Alex or our little brother Opal, and make it known that bullying just rolls off her tail feathers, so to speak.

I mean, she watched, just like I did, as Opal took his albinism, took the name-calling and owned it. He still stands out visually when he's with the rest of our dark-skinned family, but he doesn't care anymore, and none of the rest of us really ever did.

Back to Madison, though. (This writing stuff down gig is harder than I thought it would be.) She said she'd try, and before we left I gave her some space to talk to Jag again, and when he walked away from her, I saw his face. He looked seriously shaken. She wouldn't take any credit, though.

I think I'm going to do my homework now. My friends are supposed to come over for dinner tonight, and Dad won't let me hang out with them afterwards if he doesn't see it's done.

Entry 2[]

Well, look at that. I asked for interesting, and I got it. It’s still my birthday (I'm about to go to bed), and something has already happened. I'd better start at the beginning.

We were having a little party in my backyard—me, Alex, Kirby, Kirby’s older sister Marcia, Corey, and Kate. Marcia started a row by telling Kirby not to talk about the horror movie they and Corey had seen that afternoon in front of Kate. Kate said she wouldn't be scared, and Marcia implied that she would, which made Kate mad… Anyway, Kate went indoors to get some water or something and calm down, at which point Corey decided it would be a good idea to bring Alex and me up to speed on the movie.

"There they were," he was saying, with far too much relish, in my humble opinion, "trapped in the blizzard, the abominable snowmen closing in, howling, picking them off one by one…"

I heard a small noise, turned my head, and saw Kate standing in the doorway, hands covering her mouth, slightly bent over like she was going to be sick. Kirby must have seen her, too, because he snapped, "Shut up, Corey."

"Hey, Kate," I said, getting up and going over to pat her on the shoulder, "it's okay. It was just a movie."

I don't know what I said wrong, but I'm not stupid. I know something I said must have been wrong, because Kate shoved me away and started crying and yelling.

"You think I'm just a wimp, don’t you? You think I'm paranoid? I'm not! Guess what? I was kidnapped. I was almost killed. Do you think that's just a movie? Because it was real! There were monsters! I could have died!" That was more or less what she said, anyway.

We'd all heard rumors about what happened to Kate and her older sister Bri a few years back—me especially, maybe, because Dad is Chief of Police—but that was before we met Kate, and I don’t think any of us had ever particularly connected her to the story. Anyway, the other five of us were kind of standing there with our mouths open, looking like fools (at least that's how I felt), when Kate shrieked, "There are EYES! Look at them!"

Before any of us could get a good look at whatever she was pointing at, she pulled her hand back and thrust it out, palm forward, a beam of multicolored energy shooting out into the bushes.

There was a rending, crunching sound, which apparently satisfied Kate. "I'm out of here," she muttered, and pretty much ran back into the house. We could hear the front door moments later, which let us know that she had definitely left.

"Well. Looks like the party's over," Corey said. I think he was still grumpy from being told to shut up. "See y'all tomorrow." He stormed off in a huff before we could stop him, either.

"We ought to head home as well," Kirby said, nudging Marcia. She nodded, and they made their way through the house.

Which left just Alex and me, looking at each other.

"Aiden… are you okay? I know how excited you were for this party. I'm so sorry it went south."

I admit, that wasn't what I had been expecting her to say at all. At least, it wasn't what I had been hoping she would say. Every time we're alone I hope she'll say something to give me an opportunity to ask her on a date.

Maybe I should stop waiting for the perfect opportunity. I just like her so much, because, well, she's Alex, and she's as near perfect as anyone can be, and I'd rather never ask than have her say no, and why would she say anything but no to me? I’m well aware she's out of my league.

"I'm fine. Hopefully this won't make my Dad even less likely to let me have you over again."

"Yeah." We looked at each other some more, and it would have been awkward if it were anyone but Alex.

"Well, Aiden," she said, "thanks for inviting me. I guess I'll be going."

"Do you… would you like me to walk you home?" Not my suavest, but I tried.

Alex gave me an odd look. "I'm fine. It's just around the corner, and it's not even dark yet."

Feeling the full embarrassment of having thoroughly made a fool of myself, I just nodded mutely and let her leave.

Journal, I like Alex. I really like her. I can only hope she likes me back.

Oh, one more thing! I almost forgot why I came to write in the first place. After everyone was gone, I went to look at what Kate had shot in the bushes. It wasn't something with eyes, after all. What I found were the badly mangled remains of a camera.

It isn't mine. I don't know who put it there. I don't think Dad would have, but I’ll ask him tomorrow. If it was his camera Kate torched, though, I'll never be allowed to have friends over again, that's for sure.

Entry 3[]

Pardon my handwriting if it's shaky. I've never been so scared in my life.

So, Dad is Chief of Police, I wrote that here already, I think. He's taught his kids what to do in dangerous situations. But, I mean, I don't think any of us really thought we'd ever have to use that, you know?

I was wrong. This is the middle of the night after I found that camera in the backyard—after Kate torched it. About an hour ago I woke up to the feeling of something cold on my face. I was still half-asleep when I tried to feel what it was, but the whisper woke me up good and proper.

"You move, you die, kid," a voice said—quietly, but that only made it more frightening, or at least didn't make it any less. I froze. I tried to look at the person holding me at gunpoint, but the angle my head was held at wasn't helping, and the only light in my room was what leaked in around my curtains from the street-lamps.

"I don't want to kill you," the voice continued, "I just want you to take me to your father. If he does what I ask no one has to get hurt. You'll take me there, won't you? He won't make me hurt you, will he?"

I mean, he wasn't wrong. There was nothing I could do but go along with him, and Dad would do anything but let his children get harmed in any way. But that was a distant worry. Mostly, I was terrified out of my skull about having a gun to my head and so, so grateful that the person had for whatever reason come into my room and not Madison's, because she wouldn't have been able to hold herself together at all, or Opal's, because he would have calmly told the gunman to go back where he came from, and probably gotten himself shot. As it was, I whispered, "Yes," and followed his instructions to slowly sit up and then walk in front of him with my hands in the air.

That walk from my room to Dad's took both forever and not nearly long enough. Half-baked ideas kept popping into my head, and I had to shoot them down just as quickly. Ways-to-get-myself-killed whack-a-mole. It wasn't funny at the time, but if you can't laugh about it afterwards, then they really have won.

At the gunman's instruction (and I still hadn't seen much of him, he'd stayed behind me) I knocked on the door.

"Call to him," he hissed, when Dad didn't come immediately. "But if you warn him, I’ll shoot you dead on the spot."

Well, that sent my voice running. I had to clear my throat twice before it crawled back at all. "Dad?" I called. I hadn't gone to Dad's room in the middle of the night since those times after Mom died when I had terrible nightmares about Dad dying, and needed to see that he was alright. That was years ago, though. I hoped he would sense something was up. Aren't cops supposed to have danger sense?

But no, Dad opened his door in his undershirt and shorts, his hair sticking up in all different directions, no sidearm in sight. He was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes as he said, "What is it, Ai—" he broke off when he saw whoever was behind me, and his eyes widened almost comically.

"Drop the gun!" he ordered, cop voice in full effect. My siblings and I always jumped to do whatever he said when he used that tone, but the mouth of the gun stayed pressed against my temple, a now-warm circle of metal.

I wasn't quite as scared anymore. Dad was in control.

"Information, and the kid walks away without a scratch on him," the voice said.

"Right," Dad said. Someone who didn't know him wouldn't have recognized that his slightly more rapid than usual blinking meant he was coming up with a plan. "We can be civil about this. Why don't you and your buddy come sit down? You can take your gun off my son."

"My buddy?" the voice said, suspiciously.

"The man behind you?" Dad said, with the perfect inflection of someone talking to a person who is being exasperatingly thick.

Dad told me afterwards that this made the gunman look over his shoulder. The oldest trick in the book, he called it. All I knew at the time was that he had scarcely finished speaking before he thrust his hand out towards the gun, using mental force to spin it away from my head and push the person holding it some distance back. Dad grabbed me with his other hand and pulled me behind him, and finally I could see the man responsible for the voice, although not much of him, dressed as he was in a black suit with a fancy black masque on his face. His gun lay some distance away from where he was sprawled against the opposite wall of the hallway.

He reached for a walkie-talkie on his belt. Without overthinking it, I pushed my hand towards him, sending waves of blaring sound to drown out whatever he might be about to say. Dad winced at the volume, but didn't try to stop me.

Dad reached out and his own walkie-talkie flew into his hand. He pressed the button that called for backup, and then we waited, he and I, with me keeping up the white noise until he had taken the handset and handgun both, and pinned the man in black flat on the floor.

Madison and Opal had been woken up by the ruckus, and were peeking out of their rooms by the time the cops arrived. I brought them up to speed while Dad talked with his officers and arranged for the man to be taken away. Then Dad shooed us all back to bed, but I decided I should write this down while it's fresh in my mind.

Not that I'm likely to forget being woken with a gun to my head any time soon.

Entry 4[]

So, I'm on the bus to school. This is only the second day I have this journal and I'm already on my fourth entry. Yikes. Yesterday was a birthday to remember for sure.

Dad was tetchy at breakfast. It was pretty obvious he hadn’t gone back to sleep last night. He even admitted to having gone by the station to watch and re-watch the tapes of the man's confession, if it could be called that. He didn't want to tell me what he learned, but with Madison in the house and her ability to pick up on some thoughts, he grudgingly agreed it would be better to tell the whole truth than let her be frightened by a partial version of it.

So: the man last night was an agent of an organization called the Gone. I know, spooky, right? It kind of is, especially the way Dad said it. He said they were still investigating what exactly this organization is or does, and I could tell that was as much as I was going to get from him on the subject, so I let it drop.

Almost at school. I'll write more later.

Entry 5[]

This is the free period I have after lunch, now, and I want to write this down before I forget exactly what she said: "The Gone are a paramilitary cult who worship a dragon goddess and think they're on a mission to bring her knowledge of how powers function."

During lunch, I tried to talk to Kate. I thought she'd like to know that the thing she blasted was a camera, and Dad's theory that the camera belonged to the Gone agent who broke into my house last night, but she freaked out. She basically just said she didn't want any part of this and called up her older sister Bri to come over from Amaranth University (where she’s studying Electronics) and talk to me instead. I'd never met Kate’s sister before, but she’s actually pretty cool.

So Bri told me what I just wrote down about the Gone, and we hung out for the rest of our lunch period. Bri is the most insanely prepared and paranoid person I have ever met—and I live with my Dad. With Bri, though, it's less "something bad might happen, so stay close to me at all times" and more "something bad might happen, and if it does, something bad will happen to it, namely me". She was carrying multiple knives, flashlights, energy bars, and lots of other things I'm sure would be dead useful to have in a scrape. She was constantly looking around the room like someone might jump out from behind any of the lunch tables and start attacking.

"If you want, I'll come over and put some prime security around your house after school," Bri offered, after I told her what happened last night, "I can rig up some nice electrified barbed wire, no problem. Heat and motion sensors linked to alarms. All the basic stuff. And we should see about getting you good and armed. I'd give you one of my knives right now, but if I take it out here the lunch monitors will freak, and you're more likely to hurt yourself with it than whoever you're trying to hurt, if you don't know what you're doing."

"That's… really generous of you," I said. I think anyone would have been just a little overwhelmed. Thinking back to that brief time I was being held at gunpoint, I added, "I just wish I had a little panic button. If I could have alerted my Dad that something was wrong, I would've felt much safer."

Bri actually stopped scanning the room for a moment, staring off into space instead. "Yes," she muttered, "the transmitter… the chip…" Her gaze swung around to fix directly on me. If there is one word that sums up Bri, it has to be intense. Her eyes could have bored holes directly through my skull. "Thank you. That's another thing that would have helped when Kate and I were kidnapped. I'll have a prototype for you by tomorrow."

So, Bri is pretty cool.

Entry 6[]

It happened again. Is this some twisted fulfillment of my wish for something interesting to happen? I take it back. It's been about twenty-four hours since I wrote that and I've had too much "interesting" for the whole year.

I was walking home from school with Alex and Marcia—Kirby and Corey were off somewhere else, and Kate still wasn't talking to us—and I stopped to tie my shoe. I told the girls not to wait for me, so they were a little way ahead. Maybe I shouldn't have. Bri probably wouldn't have, but then if I had been her when I felt a gun to my head for the second time since midnight, I probably would have stabbed the Gone agent or something equally heroic.

As it was, all I did was gasp, "You've got to be kidding me."

It was nearly as terrifying the second time as the first. The agent in his black getup walked around me to stand between me and my house, the mouth of his gun sliding around the side of my head to rest on my forehead. My eyes crossed trying to look at it. When they uncrossed, I saw over the agent's shoulder that Alex was looking towards us, her eyes and mouth wide open. The gun must have been visible.

Dad bested the last one by making him turn around. That was the last thing I wanted this one to do. A little desperate (okay, a lot desperate), I began to babble whatever came into my head at the man with a gun to that very head.

"So, are you new to the area? I haven't seen you around before yesterday, and I think the person I saw yesterday only looked like you and wasn't you, anyway. This is mostly a residential neighborhood but there are some good restaurants a couple blocks away, the pizza place is my favorite, do you like pizza? The owner is really cool, sometimes he lets me DJ and even sell my mixtapes there. Do you like music? I was mixing together that new single by—"

Before I could persuade the gunman of the awesomeness of my newest mixtape, an almost invisible bubble appeared around him. Alex had come up behind him and was slowing down the time directly around him. I took a step to the side, out of in front of the gun. That turned out to be smart in comparison to the stupid thing I did next, trying to pull the gun straight out of the man's hand. Since his finger was still on the trigger, I ended up making the gun fire, a bullet whizzing past a hair away from my ear. With that ear and the other one still ringing from the shot, I pulled the gun sideways out of the nearly-still hand, dropped it on the ground, and kicked it away.

Dad was not happy when he came rushing out of the house, armed, ready to confront whomever had just fired a shot outside his home. I'm grounded for the rest of the afternoon, and Dad said I’m lucky it’s not longer, for being so careless with a gun.

Alex went with Marcia to Marcia and Kirby's house, and that's where Kirby and Corey had ended up, so I was able to brief them all on the situation at once on speakerphone. I got a full rant from Marcia about how ridiculous and dangerous and idiotic the situation and I both are. Alex didn’t tell me off, but only because she's Alex. Her just being quietly disappointed is much more crushing than any yelling could be. The boys didn't say much, but then they weren't around during my latest attack. Still, they all deserve to know, especially if they're getting caught up in it.

Dad took the second Gone agent to the station. He's not home yet. I hope he comes home soon, and that this is the end of it. If the Gone people have any sense, they'll realize this strategy isn't working.

Entry 7[]

That wasn't the end of it.

After dinner there was a knock on the door, and we could see on the security cameras Bri had installed when she came by this afternoon that it was just my friends, so Dad let me go answer it. Kirby came in first, silent and embarrassed-looking. That might have had something to do with Marcia stomping in after him, barely stopping the door from hitting Alex behind her.

"Where's Corey?" I asked, because they were all together when we talked in the early afternoon.

"He's in the hospital, you unthinking—"

"Marcia, it's not Aiden's fault," Alex said.

"What's not my fault?"

"That Corey is in the hospital, because he decided to go after these Gone agents of yours! You know Corey as well as I do. You really didn't think he'd go do something impulsive and stupid like that?" Marcia was almost jumping up and down with rage.

"I—" The truth is, I hadn't really thought about it, and now Corey had paid the price. "Is Corey okay? What happened to him?"

"Gah!" Marcia said, throwing up her hands, "I can't believe you!" and stomped right back out of the house.

I looked at Kirby and Alex for more information.

Kirby stared at his shuffling feet. "Corey remembered you said Bri knew stuff about the Gone, so he called her, and she told him where their headquarters in downtown Amaranth City are. He went looking for trouble. He… tried to climb up the outside of the building. He's lucky he only broke his leg falling."

"We only found out because Corey has a new phone and the only number in it yet is Kirby's," Alex said, "the healers called him during dinner, which I had been invited to stay for, and they told him what happened before he gave them Corey's parents' number."

I really didn't know what to feel. I was worried for Corey, guilty that I had put him in harm's way, hurt that my friend thought I'd done it on purpose. "Will he be alright?"

"The healers just want to keep him overnight, but I'm sure he'll get out of school for it as well," Alex said, sounding vaguely disapproving. If it were she who'd somehow acquired a newly-healed leg, you may be sure she'd have been back in school the next day, just like normal. It isn't all her parents' fault that Alex thinks it's so important to learn. From all evidence, she actually likes school. But then, Alex is also really smart, so that probably helps.

"Kirby!" Marcia called from outside, and Kirby said, "Gotta go," and went. Then it was just Alex and me. Alone again. Just like last night.

"Aiden…" Alex said. "It's not your fault, you know? You were trying to tell us what's going on in your life, especially because it might affect us, and I, at least, appreciate that. Corey is just the kind of person who can go too far with the best of intentions, because, well, he still acts like a kid sometimes. And when you mix immaturity with a serious situation…" Then you get a friend in the hospital and another one who doesn't want to talk to you any more.

I hate losing friends. It really hurts.

Entry 8[]

I just messed up. Big time.

So here I am, sitting in my pizza place, halfway between school and home, and honestly, I don't know if I'll be up to facing Alex anytime soon. I have three slices of pizza on the way, because as awful as I feel right now, I'm still hungry. The whole conversation in the schoolyard is still ringing in my ears, so I might as well write it down.

Madison was looking glum when I found her in the shared yard of my high school and her junior high, and I got out of her that Jag had been bothering her again, so I went to talk to him. Enough is enough. I kind of cornered him by the benches near the fence and said, "Okay, buddy, we need to talk."

Jag is a tall kid, taller than me even though he's only Madison's age, and he sneered down at me.

"Oh, yeah? Why?"

"You've been bothering my sister Madison, Jag. I kindly suggest you knock it off."

"Oh, yeah? Took you long enough. I bet you'd never have waited a couple days if someone so much as looked wrong at your girlfriend Alex."

Then I said what I shouldn't have: "Alex isn't my girlfriend yet, but she totally could be. You just wish you even had a shot at her, don't you?"

Jag laughed. "If I had a wish, it would be that those wretched Gone agents never came to my house and threatened my parents, not to steal your stupid girlfriend."

I wanted to defend Alex's intelligence, but what he said about the Gone agents grabbed my attention. "Wait, Gone agents came to your house?"

Jag turned half away so I couldn't see much of his face.

"Forget I said anything," he muttered, and walked off, fast.

When I turned around to go find Madison, I saw Alex sitting one bench away, staring at me.

"Oh," I said. It was hard to say anything. I asked, "What did you hear?"

"I didn't mean to eavesdrop," Alex said, quickly, "I was actually already sitting here reading when you came over. But yes, I did hear what you said about me."

Alex scooted over, patted the part of the bench next to her. Stupidly, my hopes soared.

"Why don't you sit down, Aiden?"

I sat down.

"What you said about me, about me being your girlfriend, Aiden… I don't, I mean, I think you have way too much going on right now, with the Gone and all that, and just starting our sophomore year of high school, and I wouldn't want to put even more on your plate, not that you couldn't handle it, but stress isn't good for anyone, and—"

I did cut her off. It was better than letting her keep digging.

You're digging a hole

Straight down to my heart

Sliced pizza, no roll

Wish we could restart

"Alex, it's okay. I was just saying that to Jag to win the argument. What, did you think I thought you would be my girlfriend?" I laughed, even though there was nothing funny about the situation. "No hard feelings. I wouldn't be your boyfriend, either." At this point, the voice in my head telling me to shut up, Aiden became so loud that I closed my mouth, despite having just stuck my foot in it.

"Well. That's, that's good, then." Alex said, and I wished I could just disappear. Whether or not I would ever reappear made no difference.

I said something and left, came here, to my favorite place. My pizza just arrived; I'm going to eat it before it gets cold. Maybe I can hide at Kirby's house after that, if Marcia doesn't pitch a fit. Maybe I can stay there long enough to avoid running into Alex on the way home.

Entry 9[]

Kirby decided to leave me alone to think over what he said, which is a pretty annoying thing for him to have done, but I guess I'll write about it (that's been helping me think lately).

I mean, I came to get some moral support from Kirby. I didn't want to talk about Alex, and I certainly didn't want to talk about me. But when, after some oddly awkward small talk, I sat down on the sofa in front of the TV with Kirby and a large bowl of chips, he immediately said, "Aiden, not to be, well, Marcia, but I can tell something's bothering you." And I, like the genius I am, said, "Dude, my relationship with Alex is none of your business, okay?"

I swear she must have some special kind of hearing, because the moment I said "relationship", Marcia's head popped out of the kitchen.

"Ooh! Is that where you were after school? On a date with Alex? Tell me all about it!"

I might have lost my temper a little bit. "No! I was not on a date with Alex. I'll probably never go on a date with Alex, because she said she doesn't want to date me, and I maybe possibly said I didn't want to date her either! So would you kindly just mind your own business‽"

"Sheesh, no need to yell," Marcia said, and stomped through the living room back to her bedroom, carrying a box of toaster tarts. Then she stuck her head out once again and said, "Kirby, tell Aiden why I'm not speaking to you, either." Then she slammed her door.

I looked at Kirby. "She's not speaking to us?"

He looked away. "Aiden, I may not have been completely, um, forthcoming last night."

"What?" I said, ever articulate.

Kirby fixed his eyes on the TV, on the chips, anywhere but my face. "I was with Corey when he went after the Gone, and I'm the reason he got hurt."

"Woah, woah, woah," I said. "Back up a minute. What happened?"

"I was hanging out with Corey yesterday afternoon to try to make up for having told him to shut up the night before, you know, at your birthday party. When you told us about the Gone, and especially once he got their location from Bri, he was dead set on going. I thought he would be safer if I tagged along." Kirby laughed without smiling. "I was wrong."

"But what happened?" I asked.

"Corey tried to climb up the front of the building. I stayed at the bottom to keep an eye out for Gone. Instead, I got spotted. An agent came out and tried to grab me. I had the situation under control—I'd frozen him in place—but Corey couldn't tell, and when he tried to jump down to help me out, he ended up sliding on the ice I'd made and breaking his leg."

"Wow, that was… completely not your fault," I said, "but why in the world didn't you tell me last night?"

"Because I thought you would hate me!" Kirby said, jumping up and beginning to pace, his arms waving wildly. "Because I hate me right now for getting Corey hurt!"

"Friends don't hate each other that easily," I said, but Kirby didn't look convinced.

"I'll let you think about it before you decide whether you mean that or not," he said, and left me here.

All I can think is that Kirby doesn't trust me, doesn't think we're nearly as close friends as I thought. What else am I to think?

Entry 10[]

It's all over, now. At least, I think it is, and Dad wants this journal as a record of what happened, so I only have a little while to finish writing about it.

It's crazy. Forty-eight hours ago I had never even been held at gunpoint. Now—but I'm getting ahead of myself, and it's important that I get this right.

I left Kirby and Marcia's house a little after four thirty, I think, definitely before five o'clock. I was walking home being very alert, making sure I wasn't letting anyone sneak up on me like yesterday afternoon. That's why I noticed the Gone agent appear out of nowhere in the middle of the sidewalk.

Dad, when you read this, I promise, I'm not stupid. I did run away from the Gone agent. But that didn't really help, because another one appeared on the sidewalk in the other direction, and when I turned to cross the street, there was one there, too. I tried, I did, but I couldn't outrun three Gone agents in different directions, and I stopped trying once they pulled out their guns.

Two of them grabbed one of my arms each, and dragged me to a blue sedan that appeared out of nowhere in the street. They pushed me into the back seat, sitting one on each side of me, still holding my arms. The third one went to the driver's seat, and in the passenger's seat was Jag. I think it was because I was so shocked and scared that I didn't say anything the whole way into the city. I just kept thinking, if they thought I would escape, if they thought I would live, they wouldn't be letting me see how to get to their headquarters. So they must mean to kill me this time.

I still don't know if that was correct, actually.

They weren't the chatty type. The townhouse they took me to was red brick with white-painted metal cages around the windows and a gray roof, ordinary as anything. They walked me in without speaking to me, the driver in front, one still holding each of my arms, Jag behind me. They marched me up a poorly lit stairwell to a small area like a minstrels' gallery that overlooked the big room the front door led into. There were a couple of unremarkable wooden chairs with arms there, and they tied me to one. Then one of the Gone agents said, "Watch him til the meeting, Khajag," and all three of them left, leaving just Jag and tied-up me.

"Khajag?" I asked Jag. He scowled and fidgeted with his ball cap, turning it right way round for once. It was petty and mean of me, but I was thinking he was helping people who wanted to kill me, okay? "Your last name's Kasabian, right? Khajag Kasabian. That has a ring to it."

"The name's Jag," Jag growled, "and I wasn't planning on antagonizing you, but if that's how you want it, then fine, you won't get anything from me."

"You weren't?" I asked. "I'm sorry, then. Go ahead with whatever non-antagonistic thing you were planning."

Jag rolled his eyes, but pulled over another one of the chairs, sat down in it backwards, resting his arms on the backrest. "I still don't like you, Aiden. But I never meant for you to get caught up in this. I didn't end up having a choice. I think they—the Gone—picked me because my parents used to teach at Viridian College before we moved here. They were pretty, um, disappointed when they found out that none of my family understands how Steam City magic works particularly, so they decided that they would take the next best thing: me."

I must have made a face of disbelief, because Jag rolled his eyes again before looking almost haunted. "Yes, Aiden, I have been very valuable to them. Too valuable. I can manipulate light. That's how all the Gone have been sneaking up on you, how they got that camera in, a couple of days ago."

"Oh," I said, as I digested that. "Okay. That makes sense, I guess. But why me?"

"Not you, specifically. The Gone decided that your father might know about how Rainbow Mist Lake magic works, because of your mother."

"But why me?"

"Because they decided that the best way to get your father to comply with their demands would be to take one of his children. It was actually supposed to be Madison, at first, because she's in my grade, but I just couldn't do it. I would be talking to her, and then I'd have an opportunity, and I'd just… freeze up. I couldn't do it."

We sat there not looking at each other for a while. What do you say to someone who has just confessed to trying to kidnap your sister under duress but having too strong a conscience to go through with it? I didn't know. I still don't.

"Listen," Jag said, finally, "it's not my fault that you're in this mess, but I'd feel like dirt if I just left you here like this. I can't just let you out, because the Gone know where my parents and I live, but I can at least make you a little more comfortable." Jag untied my arms from the arms of the chair, stuffed the rope in his pocket, and waved his hands over where the rope had been. A pretty good illusion of rope sprang up there.

"Keep your hands below the illusion if anyone looks in. I'll make sure I'm the one who unties you later, so it shouldn't be a problem."

"Later?" I asked.

"Whenever they decide to untie you."

"And you couldn't by any chance do the same for my feet?"

Jag gave me a hard look. "I'm risking enough as it is for your comfort. You should be thanking me," he said, but waved it away as soon as I opened my mouth. "I have to go. There's a meeting starting in a few minutes. They'll want me."

"What time is it?" I asked. It seemed like days since I had been sniping with Jag in the schoolyard after classes let out at two thirty.

"Almost six o'clock," he said, and left.

So then I was alone, on a weird balcony area on the inside of a townhouse owned by people who wanted me dead or at least as a hostage, tied to a chair except for my head and arms, and nobody knew where I was or even that I was missing. My thoughts were spiraling. I wasn't due at home for dinner for another hour. Was that when Dad would begin to worry? Or would he assume I was eating with friends, wait until my ten o'clock curfew to start looking for me? Anything could happen in four hours, even in one. Or would there be a call first, before he had a chance to notice something was off? Would some Gone agent ring up the police station, ask for Dad, tell him they had his son? Being held at gunpoint had been awful. Somehow, this was worse.

I don't know how long it took for me to calm down enough to be a useful human being again. Long enough, at least, that the room below me had filled with people talking, too quietly and too many at once for me to make out what they were saying. I could see some of them, if I craned my neck to the side. All of them were wearing black suits and black masques.

None of them seemed to be looking up. I risked moving my arms from the armrests of the chair, and nothing happened. I couldn't stand up, because my chest was tied to the back of the chair, but I did manage to wedge my hands into my front pants pockets.

One pocket had my phone, but try as I might I couldn't get the right angle to slip it out or even turn it on. In my other pocket was a wad of tissues. I wished I had convinced Bri to give me one of her knives when she almost offered yesterday. I could have used it to cut off the ropes.

And then I remembered that Bri did give me something, not yesterday but today, when she came by at lunchtime, pretending she’d come to visit Kate. I dug deeper, past the tissues, and pulled it out. It was a small asymmetrical blob on a keychain, wires and electrical bits exposed within an uneven coating of some hard, clear material, its most notable feature being the large plastic button. Without hesitation, I pressed that button down hard and left my finger on it.

This was the panic button I had mentioned and Bri had promised me and put together. When she gave it to me she told me that it was currently linked to an alarm in her room. I could only hope that she would hear it, tell Dad I was in trouble so he could start looking for me as soon as possible. If the Gone really did plan to kill me, it would be better if they had less time to get around to doing it in.

That was all I could think of to do. I hid the panic button back in my pocket under the tissues, laid my arms back on the armrests, and just thought some more.

I don't know if I should have been surprised that my thoughts went almost immediately to my friends—or, as I thought, my former friends. That time two days before, I had been anticipating seeing all five of them for my birthday dinner and party. Then Kate cut off contact with me because I didn't think about how real her fears were (and really, sitting kidnapped myself, there was no longer any question that her fears were real). Marcia wasn't speaking to me because I didn't think about what Corey would do with what I told him, and Corey seemed to be avoiding me, too, and why not, since it got him hurt? And of course then I had to go and throw an awkwardness bomb at Alex, not thinking about how what I said about her to Jag would make her feel, so it was only reasonable to expect she wouldn't want to be around me any more. Even Kirby didn't trust me, didn't think I thought well of him, and what kind of basis was that for a friendship? No, I was pretty convinced I'd lost all my friends within the few days I'd been fifteen.

The pattern among all of the ways I'd messed up had been not thinking, specifically not thinking about my friends. Then and there, I resolved that if I ever had friends again, I would be less selfish, try to stop and think about what might be going on in their heads before I opened my stupid mouth.

Of course, how I would treat whatever friends I might or might not have in the future would be a moot point if the Gone agents killed me now. I strained to listen to what they were saying, flexed my sound powers to magnify their voices between their mouths and my ears.

That turned out to be a bad idea when, moments later, I almost got my eardrums blown out from the amplified sound of the front door exploding open.

I gave my best attempt at a jump, nearly knocked the chair over, but managed to turn it far enough around to have a view of the doorway. Through a cloud of smoke I saw a figure, and as the smoke cleared, I saw that the figure was Bri, and in each hand she held a ball of fire.

I don't know if I'd ever been so pleased to see someone in my life as I was then to see Bri.

But Bri wasn't alone. As she advanced into the room, others followed after her, and I could scarcely believe my eyes. Corey was flanking her, waving a katana. Kirby and Marcia followed behind them, back to back, a whirling cloud of snow above their heads. Alex and Kate brought up the rear—and as much as I'd been surprised to see each of my friends coming to rescue me after I thought I'd lost them, I was absolutely shocked to see Kate, who wanted so much to be as far from danger as possible.

I don't know if they had a particular plan beyond busting in. I thought I could help, though, so I cupped my hands around my mouth, amplified my voice, and called, "I'm up here!"

Kate acted first, shooting a beam of energy up to shatter the railing in front of me, also taking out a chunk of the balcony. My chair was now very near the edge, but only for a moment. Kirby thrust out his hand and a slide of ice grew down from in front of my chair all the way to the floor below, and then Marcia beckoned and a gust of wind pushed my chair off the balcony and down the slide to land in front of them.

Alex ran over to untie me from the chair, and hugged me when I stood up.

"We were so worried about you," she said, no trace remaining of the awkwardness from earlier in the afternoon. "Kate called us all and said Bri was planning an assault on the Gone headquarters because they'd captured you. I'm so glad you're okay."

I almost facepalmed. It hadn't occurred to me that Bri would put together the panic alarm sounding with her knowledge of where the Gone’s headquarters were and that they were after me, let alone that she would get my friends to come along. Thinking back, however, it seemed obvious that that was what must have happened. Once again, my thoughtlessness had put my friends in danger.

"I'm so sorry you all got dragged into this," I started, but Kirby, passing by, grabbed me by the shoulders.

"Friends don't abandon each other that easily," he said, an echo of my words to him earlier. He recognized the reversal, too: "I guess everyone needs to be reminded of that once in a while."

Kirby, along with Marcia, Bri, and Corey, formed a sort of hollow square around Alex, Kate, and me, the four of them parrying attacks from the Gone agents and trying to cut a path back to the door. I turned to Kate, who looked as terrified as I'd ever been.

"Are you okay, Kate?" I asked. She nodded. "I want to be safe, Aiden. But you're my friend, and if you're in danger, I want you to be safe, too." She nudged Marcia aside and shot a blast of rainbow light at the Gone agent blocking the doorway, knocking him out with one blow.

Marcia stumbled into me, and I grabbed her to keep her upright. She gave me half a smile. "It was stupid of you to go off on your own this afternoon and get caught. But I guess that's what we're here for, helping each other out when we do stupid things," she said. I blinked at her. That was closer to an apology than I had ever gotten from Marcia. Then she shoved off my shoulder and leapt into the air, sailing over Kirby to knock away an agent who was about to tackle him.

It was about then that the police arrived, blue and red lights flashing, sirens wailing out their jarring not-tune. Dad told me afterwards that they had been responding to a noise complaint from a neighbor, but it didn't matter. As soon as they saw the door blasted off and the people slinging bullets and magic inside, they descended on the scene, quickly putting an end to the fight.

As we are escorted out onto the sidewalk, Corey slung an arm around my shoulders. I looked at him, and saw he was grinning like crazy. "Aiden. Dude. This has been awesome," he said to me. I stared at him. "Are you kidding me? You got your leg broken!"

He waved that off. "It's all better now. Did you see what I did with my katana? I just—" Corey was interrupted by a cop who came over and asked me for a moment. He had Dad on his walkie-talkie, on his way over.

When Dad arrived he sent all of us home, once he had made sure none of us were hurt. I got home right in time to help Madison and Opal make dinner. Dad's still at the station, but he called to say they're taking care of the Gone, so we shouldn't have any more trouble.

I asked him about Jag. Apparently Jag is in custody right now, but Dad said that based on what I told him, he expects Jag won't be prosecuted, despite having been helping the Gone. When he had the chance, Jag tried to be kind, and I haven't forgotten that.

So, yes, Dad wants this journal. I'll probably give it to him. I don't think Alex would mind. And maybe on my way to school tomorrow I'll pick up a new notebook to write my thoughts in.

Then again, maybe I won't. I'm all interested out for now. I'll be happy to just hang out with my friends and go to school for a while without worrying about masked cultists trying to kidnap me.