Chapter 11 Dreadflower

Arc 2 The Tournament

“Hales! Did you get a letter?” Asked Talayia over the phone.

“Yeah I did, you think everyone in our class got one?” Hales was walking through the busy city, cars honking in the traffic filled roads.

“Where are you?” Talayia asked, briefly changing the subject.

“Running errands.”

“Gotcha. It sounds like everyone did, everyone I’ve called so far anyways.”

“Who did you talk to? Hales asked.

“Some of the girls and a few of the guys. No one knows what it is.”

“You should call Dartan, I bet he can find some stuff on it. He’s pretty good with computers.” Hales advised.

“Good idea, I haven’t called him yet. I’ll get back to you.”

“Sweet, thanks.”

“Yup. See ya.”

“Bye Tals.” Talayia hung up the phone. Hales was approaching the store she was heading to. It was a dozen blocks away, so a bit of a hike. At least the summer weather was already warming the city. A nice change compared to the cool mountain air.

Garghent. A sprawling metropolis, one of the largest on the continent. The city had a very odd look, all the buildings were mix-matched. There could be a huge business skyscraper in one plot and its neighbor could be a small quaint house. Garghent was known for its random infrastructure, anyone with money could buy open land and build whatever they wanted. Be it a shop or a house or a restaurant. The only real order to the city was the layout of the roads. From a birds eye view it looked like an intricate geometric maze. 

Hales had seen images online and the fact became clear that the city was expertly planned. The random districts made it exciting to explore. Around each corner could be a unique and lowkey store otherwise hidden in the mass of buildings and billboards. Garghent had it all in its network of architecture. Although this made it indisputably easy to get lost in.

Hales was glad to be home. Only less than a full week ago, the mountain seemed already far in the distant past. Life resuming back to normal.

She found the shop, ‘the vine and floral’ and entered. This flower shop was new to her and so she took in all the smells and colors in a burst. The owner greeted her and asked if she needed help finding anything. Hales smiled and replied by saying she was just looking. 

There were bouquets, potted flowers, seeds, and of course vines. Vines were becoming the fashion among the rich, and therefore the trend for everyone else. People would buy vines to grow on the sides of their houses. It added a flare of nature and gave buildings character and a vintage look. Hales thought it was one of the neater trends to arise lately.

She was browsing flowers when another person entered the building. The owner called out, “Welcome Deo!” The boy, who looked no older than Hales, waved his greeting back.

“Did you get them?” the owner asked eagerly. Deo nodded, and unstrung his pack, which looked like it was made for carrying flowers specifically. She also noticed a pair of earphones hanging from his collar, the cord fed through under his shirt.

He pulled out two dozen lilies, or what looked like lilies. They retained the same shape and size except that they were grey in color with a tint of faded blue. It was bizarre, and Hales knew enough about flowers to know that it wasn’t natural. 

“Excellent, these are stunning!” The owner seemed genuinely excited, he was passionate about his store and field, that much was obvious.

“Here’s your payment, Deo.” He opened the cash register and pulled out some money, handing it to the boy.

“What’s next?” Deo asked. He had a soft, low voice, the kind that people get when they rarely speak. Hales found herself watching the interaction, and especially the boy. He was wearing a long sleeve black shirt, with dark pants. His hair was dusky and messy, with a sort of bedhead look. Someone who didn’t care much about their appearance, who went through their day how they woke up. It worked for him. He was handsome despite the messy look, at least from his side profile that Hales could see.

“Hmm, I’m thinking dogwoods or petunias. Think you can get those?” The owner asked hopeful.

“Sure thing, I’ll get them by next week.” Deo assured the owner. Deo turned to leave. Hales’ breath caught in her throat. The boys eyes were a curiously deep purple. He walked by her and left the store, the bell ringing and the door closing behind. The owner wasted no time adding his new flowers to a section labeled ‘premium and exotic’. Hales approached him.

“Does that boy grow them?”

“Yes! He does, and he’s so young too. I don’t know how he does it but his flowers are very beautiful.” The owner said looking at the grey flowers admiringly. 

“They’re not fake?” Hales asked skeptically.

“No not all, one hundred percent real. I studied the first one’s he brought in almost a year ago. Put them under a microscope and everything.” The owner obviously wanted to say more, Hales was curious too. She nodded him on.

“Here’s the crazy thing, the flowers are dead. Not a living cell in them.”

“Shouldn’t the petals be dry and brittle?” Hales offered.

“One would think. The cells don’t grow but they also don’t die, not anymore than they already are. It’s like he found a way to preserve them, yet there’s no sign of any preservatives. Not a single chemical added.” He grabbed one, evaluating it as he spoke, as if it was the first time he’d ever seen the dead lily.

“I’ve tried asking him but he just shrugs and says it’s how he grows them. But I know he doesn’t grow them himself. That boy just wanders around the city taking flowers and then turns them into this. Other flower shops he sells to can confirm this.” If it wasn’t for the fact that she couldn’t get the strange boy out of her head, she would have tried ending the man’s ramblings.

“He’s an enigma and he goes to whoever pays the most for the flowers. Right now that’s me. He’ll take requests for any flower, and he never ceases to deliver. It’s honestly great for business, customers can’t get enough of them. But that’s just part of the reason. As a botanist, I can’t pass up the opportunity to study them.” He continued, eager to talk to about the subject.

“You see the most bizarre quality of these flowers is that they last forever. They don’t decay or shrivel up and bugs don’t eat them. I’ve tried replanting them and they just sit in the ground. Truly astonishing!” He finally trailed off, fading to silence. Hales heard enough, she had her own theory about the boy.

“How much per flower?”

“Fifty dollars.” He said, sounding almost guilty. It was a fair price she thought, these were unique flowers only one person in the world could produce, and they lasted forever if the owner was right.

“I’ll buy three.” Hales held up three fingers. Fair, but expensive. It was worth it.

“Coming right up, pick the ones you want, I’ll meet you at the counter.” Hales smiled and picked her three.

“Your totals one-fifty.” Hales pulled her wallet out and payed.

“Need something to carry them?” He asked routinely. Hales ‘no thanked’ him and carried them in her hands.

She left the store. The cemetery was another seven blocks away. As she made her way she was debated visiting the store again next week, hoping to run into the boy again. It was stupid to think she could time it right and decided the whole mental scenario was unrealistic and childish.

Her phone started ringing again. Talayia.

“Hello.” Hales answered the phone.

“Okay so here’s what Dartan found.” Talayia got right to the chase.

“Dartan works fast.” Hales said impressed.

“Yeah, he had already looked into it when he got his letter.”

“What’d he say?” 

“So it’s this huge underground party that happens every three or four years, it’s pretty hush hush and for the most part an off the grid kind of thing.”

“How did Dartan find it?”

“He did some sketchy internet stuff, I don’t know, got into some secret forum thing or whatever”

“Right.” Of course he did, Dartan is tech genius of the class.

“So the place it’s at is this mansion somewhere in the city, Specters from all over the continent gather to fight in this tournament.”

“What did you mean by underground?” Hales asked.

“Apparently the government and the military don’t know about it.”

“I’m sensing there’s more to this.”

“Yeah that’s just the start. There’s a lot of big players that go. We’re talking business CEO’s, millionaires, really powerful figures. It is a party but also a recruiting grounds. A way to scout out new Specters and powers. Apparently you can get some serious job offers and opportunities.”

“Aspects are considered one of the most valuable resources.” Hales quoted.

“Exactly, and Dartan said it’s only people around our age, new prodigy Specters, high school or college ages only.”

“Good, I really don’t want to fight Klyle again.” Hales said half jokingly.

“Yeah but don’t get too excited. They have you sign a death warrant and a sealed lips agreement.”

“So it’s that serious.” Hales said more as a statement than a question. 

“It’s that serious.” Talayia agreed.

“Are you going?” Hales asked.

“Not sure, we have a group getting some coffee tomorrow. Down to go?” Talayia invited.

“Yeah I’ll be there, text me the details.”

“Sure thing.”

“See ya, Talayia.”

“Later.” Hales hung up her phone. She was just arriving at her destination, the cemetery.

She made her way through the various tombstones, which there were thousands of. The grounds were kept decently well, the grass slightly overgrown but she actually thought it added to the cemetary, breaking the monotony of having similar geometric stone slabs in rows.

Most of the stones were plain, with only the names and dates of the deceased. Some were more fancy and elegant, standing more than a couple meters tall. Hales thought it ridiculous, death is an equalizer, the size and style of the stone doesn’t make someone any less dead. But she also couldn’t stand the visual displeasure of seeing every single gravestone be the exact same.

It was with this dilemma of balancing taste with visual appeal that she found her mom’s grave, marked as one of the plain stones.

She sat by it, placing the grey lilies in front.

Hales always felt awkward at graves. It seemed like the stereotype was to talk to your dead loved ones. Hales never knew what to say.

It was peaceful here compared to most anywhere else in the city. There were only a handful of other people in the area. She didn’t spend more than half an hour before she got up to leave.

It was on the way out when she ran into the boy from the flower shop.

She didn’t really run into him, she recognized him on the other side of the cemetery and changed her route to meet him.

Deo hadn’t noticed Hales, he was checking on a bed of flowers, earphones plugged in.

“I know what you are.” Hales said after a minute of deciding how to get his attention.

He ignored the comment for a second, and then took his earphones out.

Deo turned around, his expression annoyed. He stared hard at her, no recognition in his face. His eyes were still the same deep violet-purple. She felt his gaze pierce through her. It was so cold she felt a random shiver crawl up her spine.

She was at a loss for words suddenly.

“Hello?” The boy pressed. Hales realized he hadn’t heard her, he must have just felt her presence behind him. She regained her composure, but only after clearing her throat.

“I know what you are.” She said again, it sounded better the first time, she berated herself. He raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to continue.

“You have an Aspect, don’t you?” Hales was sure of herself.

Anger flashed in his eyes, but passed in an instant.

“Do I know you?” He said diplomatically.

“I was in the flower shop today.” She explained.

“Ah, I remember now.” Still ignoring the question.

“Your eyes give it away. Those aren’t normal.” Hales accused conversationally.

“I wear contacts, I like the color.” Deo said before standing and stretching. Hales saw his pack had a few more of those dead flowers in various species.

“I guess you put contacts on the flowers too.” Hales retorted.

“I guess so.” Deo shrugged and started walking. Hales stayed still, and whispered a word.

“Solar.” Her eyes became galaxies. She drew out a tiny star and set its course to fly by Deo.

When he noticed the small star orbiting him, he turned around. Without warning he grabbed Hales’ arm and threw her to the ground.

“What do you think you’re doing?” He stormed. He stood above her, livid.

Hales narrowed her eyes.

“So you are a Specter.” There was venom in her voice. Hales couldn’t remember the last time she was this mad. 

“Yes, congratulations you got me. If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you.” Deo kept his expression stern. Hales stood up, still furious.

“You wouldn’t win.” Hales warned, shaking her head slowly, her eyes fixed on his.

“You’re a new Specter, huh? Just got your powers?” Deo read her expression easily and picked her apart. “Think you’re on top of the world, invincible and full of arrogance. But what do you know? Nothing.”

She stammered but he continued before she could speak again.

“I’ve had my Aspect my whole life.” He stated and left it at that. His gaze stayed on her.

“You’re not on the Registry are you?” Her anger diffused suddenly, and she let her Aspect deactivate, eyes returning to her natural brown color.

He sighed.

“You’re clever.” He didn’t mean it sarcastically.

“I won’t tell. I swear.” Hales held her hand up in honesty.

“Thank you.” He conceded, his anger evaporating too.

“Can I ask why?”

He shook his head, “You may not.”

“Another time perhaps.” He added as an afterthought. Hales figured he only said that in order to keep an eye on her, but she was intrigued by the young man. Something about him was off. He was mysterious and clearly a loner.

“Hey, it’s Deo right?”

“Yes. What is your name?”

“Hales. Why don’t we exchange numbers, that way you can make sure I keep my promise.” She offered.

He smirked, “Very well.” He sounded like he was going to say more but decided against it. “I have to get back to work.” He declared instead.

Hales laughed at his awkwardness. They exchanged numbers and parted ways. It was getting late, the sun nearly hidden behind the horizon. Hales found her way back to her apartment, a smile on her face.

A smile that disappeared when she recalled Deo’s words.

I’ve had my Aspect my whole life.

That statement kept her up all night long.

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