The annual Halloween themed dance seemed to sneak up on all of them, especially reminding Zoey of Aisha’s refusal to hang out with them, leaving her with a pang of sadness in her heart. Usually she would have bought her ticket as soon as it came out, keeping up with the tradition to get Stacey one as well. Instead, Zabrina was the one to remind her, and keeping up with the pretenses seemed to be the most important thing right now, even if their world seemed to be falling around them. So they bought their tickets, and discussed costumes, and Zoey tried not to imagine punching Karver, or whoever his dad was, square in the face. At least, not constantly.
Dominic had been spending more time with Brie and Aisha, claiming to be trying to figure out what was wrong when Zabrina questioned him. The rest all knew better of course, and kept him away from Blythe whenever he tried to talk to her. The last thing she needed was an interrogation, and although she had gotten basic control of her powers pretty easily due to the fact that she was an adult, but emotions could easily set those powers off.
Zoey had to pretend not to notice Doug hover around her a little more than usual, nervous she was going to be the next target. She wished she could say this was unfounded and brush it off, calming his nerves, but truth be told, growing up in what she considered a relatively normal household, hand-to-hand combat had never been something she was taught. Ben was another option, but they had already expressed an interest in performing the experiments on women more than men. Zoey figured Perrin was fairly safe, as JARGON didn’t even know she was back in the area, and seemed to fear Oscar, Sinley, and Vikki intensely. That, of course, could just be Karver, who might have a faulty memory, but at some point it must have started working again, and maybe he had an altercation with Oscar. When she mentioned it to Oscar, he winced and looked at his hands, admitting he had such a lack of control over his powers that he didn’t remember who he hurt at all, but that sometimes he dreamed of it. She decided to stop questioning him out of mercy, nervously wondering how powerful Oscar actually was. It seemed like such cruel fate to give that power to someone who seemed so tender-hearted.
Melanie was absorbed in making Ben and her own Halloween costumes for the dance, taking detailed measurements of the length of his arms and waist. She wasn’t really known for being a talented seamstress past the fact that she was able to mend a rip, so Ben was eyeing her nervously even though she didn’t have any needles in her hands yet.
“You know, Mel, Babe, there is nothing wrong with buying a costume.” He tried, palms sweating.
“I really want to try to make them this year though! Everything has been so gloomy, I needed to try something new and move past it!” Melanie cheered, chattering about how good it was going to look, and how he had to just wait and see. Melanie dealt with difficult situations through distractions, which worked well when you were excited to try out new and different hobbies, but not so much when you were lured over under the guise of being allowed to use her indoor pool, Ben mused.
“Am I allowed to use your pool when you’re done measuring me?” Ben tried, and relaxed a little when she nodded.
“Are you excited about the dance?” She asked, looking up at him, voice still bubbly, but in a forced way. Her eyes showed how stressed she was, and how much she wanted to just sweep off all of the gloom from their friends.
“I-I’m lucky my parents are letting me go after everything that’s happened.” He told her seriously.
She rolled her eyes at the mention of his overprotective parents. “As if I’d ever let anything happen to you.” She muttered, leaning over to write down a measurement on a pad of paper she had on her coffee table. She frowned. Straightening herself up, she tossed the measuring tape around her shoulders and grabbed him by the sides of the face gently. “You are much too important.” Then she pulled him down and planted a kiss on his nose.
Ben had to smile back at that, even if he was partially smiling out of nervousness. He hadn’t liked watching her have to fight Karver, even for the few minutes it had happened by the docks. Knowing it could happen again made him nauseous. That was when his stomach dropped, seeing a projectile hurtling towards the window. He pulled Melanie to one side, trying to keep them both on their feet to run, as the glass was shattered and the small explosive went off, creating a wide opening in the side of Melanie’s living room.
Melanie wheeled around, mouth agape, looking at the damage. Karver stepped in gingerly through the rubble, and she shrieked in anger. She didn’t even speak, instead picking up a ceramic statue of a fish and throwing it, hitting the remains of the wall beside him, where it shattered, cutting him across the cheek.
“Is that anyway to behave? I just came by to talk.” Karver sneered, touching the place where he had been hit and leaving a small smear of blood.
“Look what you did to my living room! That is no way to ‘talk’ to someone!” Melanie shrieked again, making Karver wince.
She gave Ben a shove next to her, and he started running, just as a couple of JARGON agents forced their way through the front door. He dashed past them, yelling out that there was more company, heading towards her bedroom. Under any normal circumstances, Melanie had the coolest bedroom out of any he had seen. It opened like a normal room, but into a massive room, with a huge metal staircase that he was trying to race down without falling. At the bottom of the stairs was a tiled platform, and for all intents and purposes, that was Melanie’s ‘bedroom’ with her bed, a vanity, dresser, things like that. However, the rest of the room was her huge, underground pool, which surrounded the platform and went under the staircase. Ben had made it down to the platform before he stopped and checked to see the workers behind him. Normally, knowing that there were two water dragons about to be battling it out in this room would make him balk at the thought of getting into the water, but with the agents so close behind him, he didn’t even bother to take off his shoes. Melanie had underwater tunnels that led to inner rooms as well, and if he could find a shorter one that he could swim, the agents might not be able to keep track of him. He thought he saw one he could use, but the water suddenly pulled against him with intense strength, throwing him back up onto the platform at the feet of a roughed-over looking Karver.
“Don’t bother trying to run. They’re two of the best shots in JARGON.” Karver warned him, sounding out of breath, but referring to the two agents, guns both aimed at Ben.
Ben wasn’t even sure what to say, having probably only seen a gun maybe twice in his life, and one time was probably at a museum.
“Don’t. You. Dare.” Melanie hissed, standing at the top of the stairs. The wound she had received the other day had reopened, and she seemed to have a scrape across her chin as well. “Whatever business you have, it’s with me, so you talk to me, and you leave him alone.” She started to make her way down the stairs, and one of the agents turned his gun towards her, but she continued walking as if she couldn’t care less.
Karver seemed conflicted. He turned away from Ben and took a few steps forward. “Lower your weapons. I am the only one to fight with her.” He ordered the agents. “Keep an eye on him, though.” They did as he said which surprised Ben. Karver must have more clout than they gave him credit for. They had assumed he was more of their trained pet before this, but maybe he had people that worked under him.
Ben didn’t have time to wonder long though, before he realized Melanie, making her way towards them, slowly, was missing her pinkie finger. Unlike any other wounds, this was a clean cut, and he glanced to the ground, slamming his hand to the first drops of water he saw moving towards him. He heard the guns go off, of course, but felt nothing, and was at her side, materialized in nearly an instant. The guns changed their positions, but Karver barked for them to lower them again.
“Get to the top of the stairs.” whispered Melanie, who hit the agents with blasts of water, knocking them back into the pool without even a twitch of her hands. As they struggled to get out of the pool in their suits, with now waterlogged guns, Karver snapped, hitting them both with a wave so powerful Ben was nearly swept off of the stairs, but he grabbed onto the bars of the railing with few seconds to spare.
Melanie lunged at Karver after the initial wave, leaving Ben soaked again but otherwise unharmed, crouching on the stairs. Karver and Melanie both dove into the pool, rising every few moments to send torrents of water barrelling at one another.
“You’re strong, Melanie. Please, consider our offer. It’s safer to be part of JARGON than it is to be against it.” Karver crowed, knocking her back into the wall. She was only down for an instant before diving back into the water.
“Never! Not after what happened there. You… You all made me a monster!” She spat, sending a current back at him.
Karver looked confused again. “We made you better than you could ever dream of becoming.” He told her insistently.
“No, they told me it was a ‘shame’ I was going to be turned into a ‘monster’” Melanie countered back. “You ruined my life.”
At this, Karver looked irked for a moment. He paused, turning back to one of the agents. “Find out which researchers were involved in Melanie’s transformation. They cannot be having those types of thoughts while performing such important work.” He looked angry. Then he sighed. “I don’t want to fight you, Melanie.”
“Well, I sure do! Get out of my room! Get out of my house! Get out of my life!” She screamed, still looking bedraggled. Her fists were clenched at her sides, shaking in anger.
“Do you actually though? You’re stronger than Doug and Ferris. Yet I’m barely scratched.” Karver pointed out, a drop of water falling off his nose. “I won’t lie, part of me does want to hurt you, you’re in my way.” He paused, choosing his words. “But the dragon half of me doesn’t, and you know that too.”
Melanie hesitated, unsure of what to do. “What do you even mean?” she asked, sounding interested but without trust.
“Mel, I don’t know if it’s in our best interest to listen to him!” Ben called out from the stairway, still crouching, holding on.
“Change into a dragon.” Karver told her, and Melanie instantly paled. She took a step back. He shot her a very confused look.
“No. I-I don’t want to. Don’t force my hand.” She whispered. She glanced at Ben and then at Karver. Karver was technically closer to Ben than she was, and she was scared for his safety. To her surprise, Karver just sighed deeply.
He changed swiftly, all silver-blue scales and bright blue eyes, but he didn’t lunge towards Melanie. She bristled when he turned towards Ben, however.
“You’ve seen enough dragons to know they don’t all look the same, correct?” He asked Ben, who gave a hesitant nod in return. Karver glanced back to Melanie, who looked as if she was ready to leap at him, even in his larger and more formidable form. “Well, water dragons come in a variety of blue-green-silver colors, and tend to have longer bodies to make them more streamlined.” He continued, as if giving a lesson. “I trust you’ve seen Melanie change at least once in the time you’ve known her.”
“Get to the point, Karver.” One of his agents snapped, shivering in his wet clothes. Karver decided to ignore him. Ben nodded again, stealing glances at Melanie.
“Have you noticed something?” Karver asked patronizingly. His back was still turned to Melanie, so he didn’t notice her change until she slammed into him from behind, sending him toppling into the water. Steely blue, lithe body, and the bright blue eyes Ben had known for forever. Karver burst out of the water, leaving claw marks across the tiles as he scrambled out, agitated. “I’d destroy you if the dragon half of me would let me.”
“You two look really similar.” Ben answered, unnecessarily.
“Tell me why that is! You obviously know something.” Melanie spat at Karver, before changing back.
“We’re brother and sister, of course. Not in that you’re related to the Zinc family in any way. But for some of the dragons used in the experiment, we managed to catch siblings. I… I remember one day my father brought me to where the dragons were kept, and I saw a dragon that looked just like me, and one next to him that, to this day, looks identical to you. I think my father wanted to see if the dragon would do anything to try and hurt me. However, it just spoke to me. He seemed horrified by the fact that I existed, and I asked him who the other dragon was. He told me it was his sister. So, no matter how hard I try to hate you, I cannot. It became clear to me on the boardwalk why that was, as you were easily able to control water that I called forth-water that I have more magical ownership over. Unless, of course, there is shared blood.” Karver explained, pausing to let everything sink in.
Melanie just returned an aghast look, and he changed back, rolling his shoulders.
“That’s probably enough talking for now. I’ll give you some time to think it all over. Good day.” He told her, using water to blast himself over to the stairs, and motioning for his agents to follow him out.
Melanie continued standing there, even as they walked past Ben, who huddled closer to the bars of stairs. After their footsteps faded away, she began sobbing; weeping that she was a monster, and even worse to be related to him. Ben dashed across the room, swimming over to the ledge on the other side of the pool, pulling her close. He was trying to not hold her too roughly in the places she was injured, but she pressed herself closer to him, crying.
“You can’t mean that. You aren’t a monster… you’re beautiful…” Ben murmured, trying to quell the sadness in his heart. This wasn’t the first time they had had this conversation, even if it did come with new information this time. He stroked her hair. “You can’t blame those poor dragons for being captured and used. I’m sure she wouldn’t have wanted it to happen to you.”
Melanie just continued to cry softly, until he demanded they go look after her wounds. She followed him back up the stairs, and he tried to make his voice as reassuring as possible.
“You’re going to the dance as a mermaid, you don’t want any scrapes left to take away from your wonderful costume. I’ll help with the sequins.” He told her with certainty. She gave him an attempt at a laugh in return, but it was something.
Everyone else was shocked by the news when they heard, but weren’t sure what to do with the information that was given. It seemed like Karver really thought Melanie would take his offer seriously, which she didn’t, but he had revealed something very dangerous to himself: A weakness. As time went on, more and more of those were starting to come up, and while they were aware of this, and almost excited about them, they knew he would be continuing his attacks and appearances because he knew what he had revealed as well. The next few days went by silently, and stiffly, until it was time for the dance.
Zoey was pretty excited for Doug to see her costume. She was waiting by the door for him to pick her up, but trying to do so in the least conspicuous way possible, if there was one. She knew he was going as a ghost, so she was only half surprised when she saw him looking like he had rolled in a bag of flour, but had refused to tell him her costume because it was perfect and she wanted to surprise him. He was pleasantly surprised to see her in a floaty dress, wings, and a headband sporting antennae.
“I’m a butterfly!” She cheered, hearing her parents mutter how cute it was from the next room over before lowering her voice and adding, “…You know, because butterflies are attracted to plants.”
Doug turned on his heels, blushing, and she laughed, running up behind him. “I’m a ghost, you can’t make me blush, ghosts aren’t supposed to blush.” He mock complained, as they raced over to Ferris’ car and climbed inside.
Zoey had to be careful with manuvering her wings inside, but once she was in she was able to get her seatbelt on still, and thought that was better than expected. After that, she checked out Rebecca’s costume, and nearly gasped. She didn’t want to gush, but Rebecca looked ethereal in a princess costume, even if her crown did keep sliding off of her head, and was made of paper.
“You look so cute!” Zoey told her sincerely, and Rebecca blushed.
“Thank you. I really should have chosen to make the crown out of something stiffer though. But I’m good at sewing and altering dresses, so I was pretty excited to make this one. Ferris’ we had to buy though, I don’t know how to do armor.” Rebecca told her, holding up a helmet she was cradling on her lap. Zoey glanced at the driver to see him stiffly moving in a knight costume.
“We had it 3D printed” Rebecca told her, and Zoey nodded, thinking that was a bit extreme for a school dance, but keeping it to herself.
Once they had made it to the dance, Zoey broke off from the group for a second, seeing Stacey and wanting to say hello. Stacey lit up when she saw her, and was dressed as a bunny rabbit. Ted and Zabrina had picked her up, wanting their costumes to be a surprise too. Zoey made a mental note that if she ever got another chance to dress up again that she needed to plan a couples costume, as Ted was a camera-man and Zabrina a journalist. That, paired with Rebecca and Ferris, was enough already. Maybe there had been a text she hadn’t received, but Doug didn’t seem unnerved by the whole thing.
“I haven’t seen you since the last dance! How have you been?” Asked Stacey cheerfully, and Zoey only paused for a second before replying.
“I’ve been good! I like your costume, it’s very cute.”
Stacey looked fairly pleased at that, and then overjoyed a moment later as Aisha walked up, dressed as a gummy bear, with a red hijab and a red headband and ears on overtop.
“That’s such a unique costume idea, Aisha!” Zoey told her, looking to her friend for any sign of warmth. Much to her glee, Aisha gave her a smile back, and nodded at Zoey’s wings.
“I like your costume too, Zo.” She gave her a little bittersweet look before checking her phone. “We have to go find Brie now. She’s with Chad and Dominic. She’s dressed as a vampire but I need your height to actually see her.” She told Stacey, who let out a confused laugh.
“Why don’t we just tell her we’re by the West entrance to your school? They can all meet us here.” Stacey offered.
Aisha took a quick glance at Zoey and swallowed. “She-She doesn’t want to hang out with Zoey and her friends right now. She wants us to hang out with her… I’m sorry Zoey, she’s my best friend, I-I have to go.” She told her, taking her girlfriend by the hand and slowly walking away. Stacey continued to look confused, and Ted turned to Zabrina as if he wanted to ask what was up but she shook her head.
Zoey was silent and Zabrina tried to turn it into a joke, saying, “The journalist is the one who asks the questions, now let’s find the others and get the news. See who’s wearing who on the red carpet. Or should I say who’s wearing… Boo?” This made Zoey roll her eyes but smile a little and lead them back over to where Doug and his friends were.
They had begun to filter into the gym, but Zoey spotted Atlas and Blythe, both zombies, heading towards the doors.
“All of my siblings went as zombies for Halloween, and we took them trick-or-treating, so we looked pretty cool all together.” Blythe explained. “Also it gave me an excuse to not have to walk so fast. I’m already beat, but I really wanted to go to the dance.”
“You shouldn’t have volunteered to take your siblings out…” Atlas started to grumble but he looked down when she started to frown. “I just mean, you have one sister that’s 16, she’s plenty old to take the younger ones.”
Zoey didn’t comment on this either, but followed them inside, grabbing Doug by the wrist and pulling him gently along. Once they were on the dance floor, old trusty tarp back in place, and gaudy orange streamers from every corner, Zoey started to relax. She felt a little bad about not having had a double date with Ted and Zabrina yet, but knew that as long as Karver kept showing up as a third wheel, they couldn’t do so safely. She leaned into Doug during a slow song and out of the corner of her eye caught her friend doing the same to Ted, and felt happy for them. Then she saw a black cat and a skeleton dancing together and sent Brinly and Calder a little wave.
Melanie, a mermaid with a shimmery, flowing tail/skirt, and Ben, a tropical tourist, arrived next, although she still looked shaken from the prior couple of days. Ben tried to distract from this by comparing fake cameras with Ted.
Finally, the last to arrive, was Oscar, dressed as a DJ, with a small dragon-onesie clad Lynda in tow. Her eyes lit up as soon as she saw Rebecca and Ferris. Ferris began shaking his head and warning her to not do anything.
“But I’m a dragon! And you’re the knight! We are born to battle!” She exclaimed, only to have Ferris turn his back on her in a huff. She seemed to give up, returning to Oscar, dancing with everyone… until the next slow song came on. She was as quick as a dart, and when Ferris turned to dance with Rebecca, he found Lynda dancing with her instead, sticking her tongue out.
“Looks like the dragon stole the princess…” Calder told him, and Ferris just let out a huge sigh. Everyone else seemed to find it quite funny.
“I’m not battling you in the middle of a high school dance, little dragon.”Ferris warned, and Lynda stepped back, presenting Rebecca.
“The dragon is aware of its small stature and knows when a fight is too great.” She proclaimed, rushing back to Oscar. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, which of course, was Karver’s calling card.
All the dragons and their dates in the group paled, taking a step back, as Karver, dressed as a pirate, parted the crowd and walked up to them like he’d been to a thousand school dances before, even if he did seem to be utterly confused by the music.
“Is it always this loud?” He screamed over the music, then shook his head, yelling, “Doesn’t matter, I’m not here to dance.”
Atlas was already enraged, and stormed forward, only stopped by Ferris physically jumping up and grabbing onto his arms, pulling himself up to dangle in Atlas’ face.
“You can’t do anything here, Atlas!” He told him, his tone warning.
Atlas looked back at him with a look that was complete pain, but he stopped walking forward.
Zabrina, of course, had noticed this whole exchange, and walked over to Zoey, seeming startled. “What’s going on, Zoey?” She asked, pointing to Karver. “Who’s the pirate?” She looked at Zoey expectantly, and Zoey balked for a moment, unsure of what to say.
“Oh, I know Doug and Ferris more than I know your friend Zoey, if that makes you feel better. I don’t go to school here.” Karver started, but when he took a step towards Zabrina, Zoey blocked his path.
“He’s mean, Zabrina. He was mean to Blythe after she was mugged. Not much else there is to it.” Zoey half-lied, giving Karver a hard stare considering she’d watched him wear through rocks with his water powers before. “Also, he harassed Rebecca after she got back. She doesn’t want to date you, and never will, so leave her alone!” She added. This was enough fuel for her best friend to work with.
“Oh poor Rebecca. I didn’t know you were having to deal with this creep.” Zabrina soothed, and then shot Karver a glare, saying, “I don’t know what you said to Blythe but it must have been horrid. Leave us alone.”
Karver looked like he was about to retort when Zoey stepped in again. “Listen, ‘brina, can you and Ted go check up on Aisha and everyone? I think we need to have a word in private here with Karver.” She asked, and Zabrina gave a quick nod, leading Ted away. Then Zoey relaxed a little. It wasn’t the best situation, as they were still surrounded by kids dancing, and they were stiffly standing there, being obvious and awkward.
“I think a little literal dancing with the devil may be necessary here. So we don’t all look so unnatural.” Lynda suggested, starting to move to the music. Oscar hesitantly followed suit, and the others joined in one by one, last one being Karver himself.
“I am going to let that comment slide only because you are with the electric-freak. I am far from the devil.” Karver sniped, trying to awkwardly sway to the music. He might have been trying to fox-trot unsuccessfully to it. “I- I am here to extend the offer I made to Melanie to the rest of her ‘friends’.” He paused, checking the bottom of his shoe, probably having stepped on some chewing gum. “We are making no progress fighting one another, and you will all just continue to get hurt unless you return to work under JARGON.”
Ferris glanced at Rebecca, who shook her head violently, tears welling in her eyes, before turning back to Karver. When he spoke, it caught Zoey off guard that Doug spoke in unison with him. “That’s a no from us. You can leave now.” They said, high fiving afterwards.
The others around them began agreeing with Ferris and Doug, and Karver sighed as if saddened. “This is only going to lead to more heart-ache, I hope you know that. You could be so much better, and be able to protect your friends better.”He warned them.
“We said you can leave now.” Spat Brinly, holding up her little cat-paw hands in a threatening manner.
“Wait, I do have one question.” Piped up Calder, and Brinly lowered her hands. “Why did you bother dressing up if all you wanted to do was to come talk to us about this?”
Karver looked troubled for a moment. “I knew your school had a dance coming up, and that you would all be attending. I figured it was best to wear a costume so I didn’t stick out, and that I would be able to talk to you with ease here.” He concluded, looking pleased with himself.
Melanie looked suspicious. “But my wall didn’t deserve the same treatment the other day? Or my front door? How did you even get a ticket?” she snapped, and he turned to face her.
“You wouldn’t have let me in, and there are witnesses here. I can’t just bust my way through. And there are a surprising amount of things you can do with money. I’m your age, and while I am homeschooled, if you get a visitors ticket, you are allowed to attend.” He countered.
“Still… you did go all out for the costume. Especially to just extend an offer.” Zoey added, noting he even had weathered looking boots and a belt.
At this, he seemed thrown off for a second. “I wanted to make sure I was believable, that’s all.” He assured her.
“So you’ve never been to a dance before? Are you sure you didn’t get overexcited about Halloween or something?” Zoey threw back. He was starting to sweat.
“Of course I’ve never been to a dance, and I’ve never needed to go to one. This is a mission. I made sure I was dressed properly for it. If I went over the top a little it’s because I’ve never been allowed to dress up for Halloween before, so I didn’t realize there was a limit, okay, little pixie?” Karver snapped, and Zoey winced, looking at him with almost pity.
“I’m a butterfly, but,“ She started but he interrupted with:
“I’m leaving, I don’t care! You look like some sort of Fae. Anyway, you know my offer, and if you don’t heed my warnings you’ll regret it. I’m going to bed before this music rots my brain. Father only plays brain stimulating music for good reason!” He seethed, stomping out.
The rest of the dance slowly returned to normal, and although Karver had warned them multiple times, nobody was attacked that night. Doug reassured Zoey that she did look like a butterfly, but also mentioned that saying she looked like a pixie wasn’t even an insult. She kissed him on the nose and continued dancing. The more they learned about Karver, the odder he got, and the more threats they received from JARGON, the angrier Zoey got. She knew the others felt the same. Why was their town so corrupt? Hopefully they had been calm enough at the dance that nobody in the crowd had noticed their meeting.