Chapter 2

I had a weird dream that night.

One minute, I was drifting in an endless sea of black, just relaxing. The next, I was in a room. It was dark, hardly any light shown through, but I could still see somehow. Faintly, I heard a quiet sound, like crying. I looked around, confused, trying to locate the sound, but I couldn't see anything, which was weird. Everything else was clear as crystal, I should be able to see who was crying in here.

Then I realized, the sound wasn't coming from around me. It was coming from me. The crying was mine, the quiet gasps belonged to me. I tried to figure this out, but just then the door opened and closed, casting the room into more shadow. Someone stepped forward hesitantly, as if uncertain that he could approach me.

"Who are you?" I choked out, suddenly getting control of myself.

He looked at me, or at least it seemed like he was looking at me, I couldn't see his eyes.

He didn't say anything, just stared until I felt really uncomfortable. I tried to look around, but there was nothing to see. Damn it, no escaping that gaze.

Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer. I glared him in the eye, sort of, (I still had no idea where his eyes were) and set my mouth into a grim line.

"Look, are you going to tell me who you are and why you're here, or am I just going to have to make you?" I said, trying to sound menacing. It didn't have quite the reaction I was looking for. The person chuckled, giving him away instantly.

I crawled slowly towards the sound and immediately heard him scrambling away. Aha, I had him. I smiled grimly and followed, reaching out to grab his hand...

The alarm clock buzzed just as I was making contact. I sat bolt upright and groaned as the blood rushed to my head, making me fall back again. Right, note to self: don't jump up after you've had about ten hours of sleep.

I straightened up slowly and got out of bed, my mind still on the dream. What on earth was that? I couldn't make any sense of it, but it felt like something important. That's what bothered me. Finally, I gave up, resolving to ask Sage about it when I got home after school. She was still asleep this time of day, it was unlike Sage to get up before noon.

I smiled wryly. What a night owl.

I walked to school again, too keyed up to catch the bus. I was early anyhow, so it would give me some time to get there. I was too preoccupied with my puzzlement over the dream to see what was coming. It was only when I heard a rock skid over the cement that I realized that someone had followed me.

I whirled around, prepared to yell, and saw the boys from yesterday. Oh, great.

Only, this time they were different. I realized that there were more of them, for one thing. They seemed unstable somehow, almost like they were high on something. It was hard to put my finger on it, but something was different. Something bad.

The one boy who had pushed me yesterday stepped forward, swaying slightly on his feet, his eyes unfocused. Oh, they were drunk. This was going to be fun.

"Hey...Medusa," he drawled in a slow, slurred voice.

I rolled my eyes.

"It's Media, you drunken fool," I said scathingly.

His eyes narrowed, he swayed again.

"You look more like a Medusa, snake hair," he muttered.

"That's a matter of opinion," I pointed out, all ready bored with the conversation. I turned around and started to walk away.

That was a mistake.

I heard a wild yell and turned just in time to see the boy coming down on me. He had launched himself from his place on the curb to jump me. Startled, I pulled away sharply, hoping to get out of the way. He was stronger than I thought, though. I hadn't moved two feet when suddenly his hand shot out and grabbed me by the ankle, sending me sprawling across the pavement. Ouch. I winced as my head met the sidewalk.

Then I rolled over, trying to untangle myself from the boy. He just laughed stupidly, holding on tightly. For the first time, I felt a small flash of fear. These guys might be drunk and dangerously low on brain power, but they were strong and fast. They could actually kill me.

"We missed you yesterday, snake hair," the one holding me whispered.

I struggled wildly, hoping to get free. He laughed, his grip tightening. I yelped and kicked him in the face. He howled and pulled away. I jumped on my feet and started to run, hearing the pounding steps behind me with dread.

There was drunken laughter and angry yells, like an animal in pain. I fought the urge to look behind me, still running. In my panic, I almost didn't notice the tall, dark boy in front of me. I skidded to a stop, just a few feet away from knocking him to the ground.

Man, I have got to get a better grip on my eyesight, I thought grimly.

I heard the boys behind me again, this time closer, and whirled around in panic. Suddenly, I heard quiet footsteps moving around me. I glanced up and saw the dark boy moving in front of me, almost protectively. His dark hair swirled away from his face in the light wind, hair so dark it was almost purple. I could almost see his piercing dark eyes flashing in the dim light. It was Amaranth.

Oh, come on! Was there anything in this day that could go right?

The drunken boys came to an unsteady halt a few feet from Amaranth. They saw me looking around him and smiled stupidly. One of them stepped forward, confident. I guess it had never occurred to him that Amaranth was twice his size and could easily knock him flat. Yeah, never even crossed his mind.

"Outta the way, Amaranta," he drawled.

The others chuckled, sounding a lot like monkeys in a zoo. Okay, so it wasn't fair to the monkeys. Monkeys smelled better.

Amaranth's mouth twitched, as if he had heard me, but it quickly turned down in a menacing leer.

"Get away. Now," he said flatly.

The boy's confident smile twitched and faltered. He backed up slowly and turned tail to run. The others in his group watched him go. They looked back at Amaranth, and then at each other. I could almost see the wordless math. One guy, who was obviously too over confident, and one useless girl, versus about five or six of them. Good odds, for them. I felt my jaw clench, stupidly angry. Who did they think they were that they could knock around kids like me? Suddenly, I welcomed whatever they were going to throw at me; I wanted a good go at these bozos. My mouth set and I felt myself tense, waiting for their attack.

It never came. The boys looked up again and I could see something almost inhuman pass across their faces. Their drunken looks vanished and suddenly I realized that the drunken thing was all an act. They were in complete control.

One of them, a tall man with a heavy set jaw and dark, shadowed blue eyes, stepped forward. He looked at Amaranth, his eyes narrowed. Amaranth stiffened in front of me, then relaxed.

The group gave one last look at me before walking away.

When they had left, Amaranth turned to walk away.

"Hey, wait!" I called, running to catch up. Man, he was fast.

Amaranth stopped and turned around reluctantly. His eyes cut through me again, but it looked slightly forced now.

"What?" he asked sharply.

I faltered a little but kept going, walking by his side.

"I just wanted to say thanks," I said quietly. "You didn't need to do that."

He shrugged.

"Well, I wouldn't be much better than them if I let them hurt you, Media," he said, in that annoying and strangely cute arrogant voice.

I looked at him sharply.

"Why did you call me that?" I demanded.

He looked away, slightly surprised.

"I thought your name was Media," he said flatly, without inflection.

"It is. I-I mean yeah, that's my name, but nobody calls me that," I stuttered. "Nobody bothers, actually," I added under my breath.

"I just bothered," he said.

I looked at him again, but he was already silent. Whatever tone that had been underneath the expressionless exterior was gone now.

"Um, thanks," I said slowly.

He looked ahead.

"There's the school. Get to class."

I stared after him, open mouthed, as he walked swiftly away, not even bothering to look behind him.

Flustered, I rushed to my class, getting in just before the bell rang. I heard a few scathing chuckles from my classmates, but I ignored them, my thoughts elsewhere. What had that been about? Why would Amaranth honestly care at all about my well being?

And why did I care if he cared?