The Auranades

This month we’re bringing a new author to Imagine Magazine. His name is Chad Blackman. For Chad’s series of stories, dubbed “The Auranade Series”, the chapters are presented in an episode format, essentially to mirror watching any regular TV series. So you’ll find that each episode often seems to contain a complete story, while the background of the main characters grow from episode to episode. The series follows the main character, eponymously named Chad Blackman, who with the help of the school café waitress, Vitani Layne, and a basketball jock, Josh Trent, discovers he is an “auranade” when he enrolls at Syndicate Academy. In following the events with his first boyfriend Rick Hayes, amidst the determination of school reporter Rita Allen and his special connection with football player Ray Torres, Chad begins an interesting journey – while fighting alongside his friends, against the supernatural evils of Westpoint City … 

Episode 1: Pilot

by Chad Blackman

Prolog

“You have a promising future ahead of you, Chad Blackman,” Professor Hayes states with a smile, before he walks over to the nearby windows and stares outside, “Even if you don’t get a wink of sleep tonight.”

Chad shifts uncomfortably and looks over at his professor when the last statement sends an eerie chill down his spine. He stops stuffing the rest of his tutor notes into his backpack and looks around the otherwise empty science lab.

“W-Why do you say that?”

Professor Hayes turns and looks the blond sixteen-year-old right in the eye before replying. “I mean with this odd weather we’ve been having, of course. The weather report forecasts heavy rains and thunderstorms over Westpoint City for the rest of tonight.”

“Oh right,” Chad awkwardly nods, as he slips one of his bag straps over his shoulder, “Then I guess I better get going, huh?”

“I look forward to our next encounter,” the professor grins.

“Um later,” Chad backs away towards the door before heading out of the science lab.

Chad closes the door behind him and steps out into the evening. He sees the campus grounds darkening and office lights flickering on, just as huge storm clouds roll over the sky. Chad figures he has to hurry if he’s going to make it to his dorm before the storm sets in. It looked at that moment as if they were in for something big tonight…

As he quickly makes his way across the campus grounds, Chad mentally tries to shake off that little uneasy feeling he couldn’t help but get every time he attended one of those tutoring sessions with Professor Hayes. His aunt signed him up for it when she enrolled him there at Syndicate Academy just a few weeks ago. He tells himself that at least he has his very own dorm room to look forward to – even if it was on the other side of the campus.

In fact, Chad was only about half way to his dorm when the heavy rains started to fall. Chad ducks into the nearest building for shelter, which turned out to be a little book café called the Libretta. He steps inside the door, hearing the tinkling of the chimes above the door, before turning to see the café was pretty crowded with other students – most likely sheltering from the weather, just like him. Chad takes a deep breath before making his way in when his shoes slip in a puddle on the floor. He slides forward and crashes into the back of another student, causing him to spill his beverage. Chad panics when he realizes his face was smushed against a red jersey with the name TRENT plastered on the back. This probably meant he had pissed off a basketball jock, which to Chad is probably number 101 on his list of 100 things never to do at this school.

The other students started to look around while the broad-shouldered blond jock turns around and doesn’t appear to be too happy about things. Two girls in cheerleader uniforms stand in awe and started to snicker to themselves.

“Like Amber, he did NOT just touch our Josh!”

“Like Christy, he so DID!”

“And he just cost me $5.99 in spilled cappuccino too,” Josh Trent sneered as he cracked his knuckles.

He makes a dash forward to grab Chad, but Chad manages to duck under his arms and move behind him. Josh turns around and fixes his jersey before balling his fists once more. Amber and Christy smirk as more students in the café gather to obverse the scene.

Chad shakes his head and tells him, “It was an accident, I swear!”

Josh shrugs with a menacing smirk, “Oh. I think my fists might accidentally start swinging too, ya little squirt.”

“Wait!” Chad begs and puts his hand out in protest.

At that very moment, the book café doors blow open and intense winds blow in, bringing in the falling rain with it – and soaking Josh right through. Amber and Christy gasp and the other students step back to keep from being wet by the sudden blow-in as well. Josh yelps as the strong winds blast him with chilly rain water from head to toe, before the wind regresses and the doors close once again, as though it had never happened.

When Josh flicks the water off his hands and glares at Chad through the blond hair matted to his forehead, Chad gulps to himself. He looks around the crowd of students in the café hoping to spot a quick escape route, which he might need in a few seconds, as Josh slides the sleeves of his jersey up and tightens his fists.

Josh states, “You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna –”

“You’re gonna clean up this mess, that’s what you’re gonna do,” a pretty slender girl in a waitress apron muses. “Here’s the mop.”

“But Vitani, I –” Josh tries to protest, as the girl calmly places the mop handle in his hand.

“You’ll need get started before someone else slips on that puddle you and your boys brought in after the basketball game got washed out,” Vitani smirks, as she goes and brings the yellow mop bucket out of the nearby closet. “Don’t worry Josh. It’s not too hard. Just move the mop in a left-to-right direction on the floor and wring it all out in this bucket. It works just like I imagine either one of the Milano sisters’ heads would work.”

“Hey!” Amber and Christy sneer before sitting back at their table.

“Fine,” Josh huffs before he looks over at Chad, “But this isn’t over, kid. This is just the beginning.”

Chad shifts uncomfortably as the crowd of students look over at him.

Vitani clears her throat and folds her arms, “Yeah people, but the show is over for now, so all of you can get back to whatever you were doing at your tables. Namely that’s making me work my ass off on overtime while this little storm’s in town. But what can I say; I’m actually being paid to put up with you people.”

With a little extra prompting on her part, it isn’t much longer before the rest of the students all return to their tables and Josh is busy mopping the floor. As soon as he is finished, he shoots a glare at Chad as he places the mop aside.

“I can’t believe you let that kid show me up,” Josh grumbles.

“Did I ever tell you that you’re cute when you’re angry,” Vitani teases him, pinching his cheek.

“Even when I’m soaking wet like this?” Josh shakes his head as she hands him a small towel. “I guess you wouldn’t mind if I just take off my jersey here then.”

Vitani jokingly puts up her hand in protest, “Hey. Then you’d have the nasty job of mopping up the Milano sisters too when they melt into a puddle from that little eye-full. Wouldn’t be my cup of tea and I’m a waitress at a café.”

Josh simply chuckles to himself before heading off into the back to dry off. Vitani smiles and turns to head back behind the counter when Amber and Christy stand up right in front of her. Vitani sighs and folds her arms expectantly.

“Like whatev’. Just for your info, I am sooo over him, okay?” Amber rolls her eyes before quickly checking in a pocket mirror, verifying that her eyeliner hadn’t been smudged, “I was over Josh the moment he became friends with the likes of losers like you.”

“Ugh,” Christy scoffs. “Yeah, like just do the only thing you’re good at and go get us our lattes.”

“Comin’ right up,” Vitani smiles, “I’ll just make sure to put a little extra anti-bitch in it just for you two.”

With that, she steps between them to head back behind the counter. The Milano sisters huff in frustration before heading back to their table. Chad shrugs and figures he probably ought to go find himself a seat elsewhere in the café before Josh Trent comes back in.

Chad looks around for a seat while trying to avoid as many of the stares from the other students as possible. Most of the students he passes by give him looks that tell him he probably wasn’t welcomed at their table. However, just as he reaches the back the café, a hand grabs him by the arm and invites him to sit.

“Hey thanks,” Chad sighs as he slips his backpack off and takes a seat. When Chad looks up, he smirks and says, “Wait a minute. I know you. You’re Professor Hayes’ son, Rick, from in my science classes.”

“And I know you. You’re Chad Blackman, my dad’s … person of interest,” Rick smirks.

Chad shrugs with a grin, “Hmm. Yeah, well my aunt said that it was in my best interest that she sign me up for his after-class tutoring.”

“Is your aunt friends with my dad?” Rick asks with a skeptical look, “Because I’m pretty sure his best buds must be made out of glass and go by the names Mr. Test Tube and Mr. Beaker.”

“Haha. He’s pretty passionate about chemistry, isn’t he?” Chad chuckles, “But no, my aunt isn’t made out of glass. I think she said Professor Hayes literally ran into her on campus, and once he heard I was studying science, he insisted he be my mentor. He wanted to watch how I progress or something. My aunt thinks its fate that they ran into each other.”

“Fate, huh?” Rick muses, “… I guess that’s one way to look at it.”

“Yea,” Chad nods, as he glances over at the window being pelted with rain.

“So tell me, Chad,” Rick says as he leans forward on the table, “do you believe in this ‘fate’?”

“Well I …” Chad turns to see Rick staring directly into his eyes. There is just something about the way he was staring that made Chad nervous. A “blushing in the cheeks” kind of nervous. He couldn’t help but wonder if Rick was asking some kind of trick question. Was he? Chad clears his throat, “I um … I mean … you know …“

Rick looks at him and grins, “It’s a yes or no question.”

Chad shrugs awkwardly and is about to answer when Vitani walks up to their table with a bright smile on her face and an order pad in her hand.

“Can I get you boys anything?”

“Um, no,” Chad says, avoiding a look from Rick, “I mean I was actually hoping to get out of here really soon once the rain holds up for a bit. I’m really tired and Professor Hayes gave me a ton of stuff to research tonight.”

“Let’s see how soon that’s gonna be possible,” Vitani replies and uses a remote from her apron pocket to turn on a TV set in the corner of the café.

It flickers on and most of the students simmer down to listen to the local school news. Chad watches as a pretty girl with long black hair, who appeared to be of Latin American descent shuffles some papers at a table:

“Hi, I’m Rita Allen and this is another segment of News SyndAcad. Tonight, just minutes ago in fact, the principal announced in a student union meeting that the football season will be delayed until current weather conditions subside. A storm is already in fact over the campus and most of Westpoint City, and forecasters predict heavy rains and thunderstorms for the duration of the night –”

The students grumble at the news and Vitani turns off the TV with the remote.

“You sure you don’t want a latte to pass the time?” Vitani grins, “I’ll give ya free sprinkles.”

“And I’ll buy if you stay,” Rick adds.

“Thanks guys, really,” Chad says as he slips his bag on his shoulders, “but I think I’m gonna have to make a run for it. I’ve had a really long day and I really wanna get home. My dorm’s like what, a ten, maybe fifteen minute walk from here. I’ll be fine. But I appreciate your offers.”

“Well, let me offer you an umbrella,” Vitani smiles, and she jogs to the back of the café to grab one before returning with it seconds later. “Just ‘cause I admire your determination. I mean, who can resist staying for free sprinkles?”

“And here, take my jacket,” Rick slides his leather jacket off his shoulders and hands it to him.

“Thanks. I’ll bring ‘em both back for you guys tomorrow,” Chad smiles, as he slips it on.

“Be safe,” Vitani tells him.

“I will,” Chad nods as he heads to the door, “Bye.”

Just as Chad turns around he almost butts into Josh Trent walking by. Chad steps back hesitantly to avoid another confrontation when Josh merely smirks at him and pats him on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry squirt, we’ll get to know each other much better real soon.”

With that, Josh walks back over to his buddies at another table.

Chad takes a deep breath and heads out of the café, pushing the umbrella open as he meets the falling rain outside. He passes by the side of the café to see Rick still sitting at the table. Rick smiles at him through the fogged-up glass. Chad turns and walks off towards his dorm.

He starts to walk a little faster when thunder rolls through the night. But suddenly two hands grab him by the shoulders and turn him around. It’s a girl who is soaked right through and in a serious panic. Her drenched hair doesn’t hide the worry in her eyes.

“Please, you gotta help me!” she screams. “My best friend … s-she’s about to jump!”

“What? Where?” Chad asks.

“Up there, on the roof of the library!” The girl pulls him along. “You gotta talk to her. I tried and she won’t listen to me! Maybe she’ll listen to you. Maybe she will feel as though somebody else cares whether her life ends or not!”

Chad squints upwards through the falling rain to see there is, indeed, a girl standing precariously on the edge of the library roof. It seems the library was closed early due to the inclement weather, meaning he was the only help left for this girl. But what could he do?

“Hey!” Chad shouts, “You don’t want to do this! You need to get down from up there!”

“Down’s the only way to go for me now …” she replies and steps forward a little more.

“Noooo!” the girl next to Chad screams in horror.

Before Chad could say anything else, the girl leans forward and comes plummeting downwards. Chad tosses the umbrella aside and instinctively runs forward in hopes that he could catch her, but he knows that possibility is slim. Her friend covers her eyes. A huge gust of wind blows by and manages to alter the girl’s fall. Chad steps forward a little more and she lands in his arms. Her weight causes him to fall back, however. Her friend moves her hand from her eyes to see the girl is saved. She quickly runs forward and kneels down by Chad’s side.

“Omigod! You saved her!” her friend states, “You’re a hero!”

Chad looks in disbelief at the now-unconscious girl lying in his arms. He had actually managed to catch the girl from falling to her death. He takes deep breaths of relief.

“You know what this is?” her friend says as she caresses the girl, “You being here? This is fate.”

Chad ponders.

 

Pilot

 

Down at the medical center, Chad looks through the glass at the suicidal girl on the hospital bed, her best friend faithfully at her side. Her best friend looks up and mouths a ‘thank you’ before squeezing her frail friend’s hand and smiling. Chad nods and walks away from the glass when he almost butts into someone. Chad squints his eyes in recognition of the pretty long-haired girl.

“Hi, I’m –”

“Rita Allen, school reporter at SyndAcad,” Chad concludes. “You reported the school news earlier tonight.”

The reporter girl smirks and says, “That’s me. I report on any kind of news as long as it’s interesting.”

Chad nods, “I take it then you’re reporting about what happened with that girl back there.”

“I know she took a dive off the deep end of the library roof tonight during the storm. What I really want to know is why,” Rita Allen explains, as she takes a little notepad out of her black handbag. “What would have driven her to do something like this?”

“I wish I could tell you. But I just happened to be there right when her toes were at the edge of that roof. It all happened so fast that I almost still can’t believe I was able to catch her,” Chad muses, “I don’t know what I should even call what happened.”

Rita Allen shrugs, “Some of us like to call it fate. Others like to call it a sign of worse to come.”

Chad frowns, “What do you mean?”

Rita Allen clears her throat, “Follow me.”

After she turns and heads down the hallway, Chad awkwardly gets his backpack and follows her. She soon comes to a halt by another viewing glass to a hospital room. Chad peers inside to see a female patient who lay asleep on the hospital bed.

“Who is she?” Chad asks quietly.

“She’s the first girl from our school to attempt to take on death head first,” Rita Allen states. “It was a few weeks ago, about the time this weird weather started. She jumped off the west dorms during a frat party. The sound of her body denting the roof of one of the jock’s custom finished Ferrari and setting off the car alarm was the only reason she was even noticed by anyone at SyndAcad.”

“She was one of those people who kept to themselves?” Chad guesses.

“Yup. No one even showed up here as a friend of hers while she was in a coma. I’m guessing she didn’t exactly shine socially, but from what I found, she was definitely a star academically. Made the honor roll every year for her work in science class,” Rita Allen explains. “She seemed like she had such a bright future ahead of her. But I can’t imagine a darker turn of events than this.”

“Something more must be going on,” Chad states.

“That’s exactly what I think. And that’s why I’m going to use all my resources as a reporter to find out what the driving force is to these girls attempting suicide,” Rita Allen vows, “Before another person finds themselves standing at the edge of life.”

“I really hope you find what you’re looking for,” Chad tells her, as he fixes his jacket.

He then tells her that he is going to head back to his dorm on campus to get some sleep before classes tomorrow. She nods as he leaves. Rita Allen stares through the viewing glass at the girl when her hands slowly reach out to the window.

Rita Allen moves and enters the room to find out what the matter is. The girl’s trembling hand still points to the window.

“What?” Rita Allen asks her, “What’s wrong?”

“He’s wearing the jacket …” the girl moans before closing her eyes.

Rita Allen frowns and pauses in thought.

= = =

The next morning, Chad enters the Libretta and makes his way to the counter to place an order. He slips off the jacket and folds it in his lap before Vitani comes over to greet him.

“Oh, here you go. Thanks for the umbrella yesterday,” Chad says as he passes it over the counter.

Vitani smiles genially as she puts the umbrella in the cupboard below, “As long as you made it home in time before things got worse last night.”

Chad shrugs to himself, “Things certainly took an unexpected turn during the storm yesterday …”

Vitani frowns and leans onto the counter, “Really? How so?”

“Hey Chad!” comes a voice from behind them.

Chad and Vitani look around to see Rick Hayes coming up to them at the counter. He takes a seat beside him.

“Hey Rick,” Chad smiles nervously.

“How about I get both of you something with sprinkles?” Vitani smiles and heads to the latte machine.

Chad nods before turning to face Rick, “So I um have your jacket with me from yesterday. Thanks.”

“You can thank me by keeping the jacket,” Rick says, “And maybe I will be thanking you sometime if you help me out in my dad’s class later. I’ve been having a bit of trouble with chemical equilibria. Just imagine how it looks for the chem professor’s son not to be on top of the class.”

“So you’re all about appearances, huh?” Chad asks, “The fancy jacket? Impressing other people?”

“On the contrary,” Rick replies, “There’s a lot more to me than a handsome smile and a fancy jacket.”

“Oh, really?” Chad smirks.

Rick nods, “You care to find out?”

Chad pauses nervously, “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean I’m interested in learning more about you, Chad,” Rick says coolly, “Just wondering if you feel the same way about me.”

“I … uh,” Chad stammers, as he wonders if he reading too much into things.

“Thursday, at the movies … say about 6 o’clock,” Rick says, “Get to know each other?”

“Um … sure,” Chad nods awkwardly.

A grin appears on Rick’s face. Chad gets nervous and turns away to hide his blushing.

Just then, Vitani returns with two milkshakes topped with sprinkles.

“Here you boys go. I hope it cheers you up after whatever happened last night, Chad.”

Rick leans his head curiously and frowns, “What happened to you last night?”

“Um,” Chad sighs before continuing, “I’m not sure I’m really supposed to be talking about this, but one of the students here attempted to commit suicide by jumping off of the library roof during the storm last night. I was barely able to save her.”

“Omigod!” Vitani exclaims in concern.

“Wow. I guess that girl was really lucky you were around,” Rick added, “But, um, how exactly did you manage to catch her in the middle of all that pouring rain? I guess luck was on your side too, huh?”

“Yeah. I was lucky this gust of wind kinda blew in her in my line of catch,” Chad shrugs.

Rick gets a thoughtful look on his face as he excuses himself to throw away his empty milkshake plastic cup. Vitani meanwhile has a troubled look on her face as she leans over on the counter.

“I’m just glad that girl’s gonna be okay,” she says, “I’m glad this school has a new potential hero too.”

“Who me?” Chad snickers shyly, “I’m just your regular kid, that and a nerd who’s allergic to all sports.”

“I’m willing to bet there’s a whole lot more to you Chad,” comes Rick’s voice as he walks back over.

Chad blushes again and looks away before saying, “Thanks.”

“I’ll see you around?” Rick says as he grabs his things to leave.

“In about an hour for your dad’s chem class actually,” Chad replies with a smile, looking at his watch.

Rick smirks as he pushes open the doors, “Yeah but at least it’s finally gonna be interesting.”

With that, he winks at Chad and leaves the bookshop café through the front doors. Chad smiles to himself before turning and thanking Vitani for the milkshake and mentioning that he’s now got to head off to the library to finish his homework.

He turns to leave when he bumps into someone on his way out. It’s none other than Josh Trent, who gives him a menacing grin. He cracks his knuckles and rolls up his sleeve as Chad warily steps back until Josh spots Vitani off behind the counter giving him a knowing look.

Josh sighs and stops, “Like I said, you and I are now about to get to know each other, squirt.”

Chad doesn’t answer and makes his way out of the Libretta. Meanwhile, Josh heads right over to Vitani with a frustrated look on his face. Vitani folds her arms and shakes her head.

Josh pulls up a seat for himself at the counter and swivels around to face her. “You know Vitani, I’m gonna lose my revered ‘jock’ status if you keep making me go easy on little squirts like him all the time.”

“That ‘little squirt’,” Vitani tells him, “might just be the one we’ve been looking for all these months.”

“Oh you gotta be kidding me!” Josh protests, “You’re telling me you think that kid is supposed to be –“

“The chosen one,” Vitani finishes, “Yes. And I think there’s a whole lot more to Chad than he might even realize himself right now.”

= = =

Thursday night that week, Chad and Rick exit the downtown movie theater laughing together among the crowds of people walking around. They stroll down the stairs and stop to chat by some benches out front.

“Oh c’mon, Chad. The movie wasn’t that sappy. And here I thought you were one guy who went for a little romance,” Rick teases.

Chad stops with a sigh, “Uh, not really. Especially when it has never applied to me personally.”

Rick turns to him and smirks, “What? You’re telling me you’ve never been in love before?”

“I thought they said we never really know what love is at this age anyway,” Chad shrugs.

“I dunno. I mean that could change for you and me soon,” Rick tells him, “Maybe even tonight.”

Chad gets nervous and clears his throat, “Well I think that’s a bit of a leap over reality.”

Rick steps a bit closer to him, “… I believe anything’s possible in this world.”

Chad looks up to avoid Rick’s staring green eyes and adds, “And I believe I ought to get going before those storm clouds over there decide intermission is over. Plus, your dad loaded me with twice the homework the rest of you got tonight.”

Rick grins, “Oh. I thought you and I were just getting to tonight’s main event.”

A bolt of lightning flashes through the night sky.

Chad slips his hand into his jacket pockets and muses, “Looks like that’ll have to wait.”

He turns to walk away when Rick grabs him by the arm. Chad looks back, hoping Rick can’t feel his arm shaking nervously from his touch.

“Don’t make me wait too long,” Rick tells him as he slides his hands down into Chad’s fingers.

Chad looks silently down at his hand in Rick’s. Rick tells him he’s got some quick errands to run before he heads back to campus before he turns to walk away in the other direction. Chad takes a deep breath while staring at his hands before turning to leave the movie theater.

= = =

Chad makes it back to SyndAcad, but the rain is sure to catch him on the walkway over to the other side of the campus. He pulls the jacket hood over his head and makes a run for it, barely making it under the bleachers of the football field for shelter. He kicks around some old popcorn buckets and soda bottles in frustration over being stuck out there in middle of the rain.

He sighs and collects his thoughts about his movie night with Rick Hayes. He thinks about the crush he’s been keeping to himself and wonders if Rick’s choice of words is in fact words of encouragement, or simply wishful thinking on his part.

“Yeah right. What’s the possibility of me finding love tonight?” he muses.

Just then, a huge gust of wind blows under the bleachers, causing him to move from beneath and duck to the side of the bleachers. The winds seem really strong tonight. Chad wonders if he ought to make a desperate run across the field to get home before the weather gets any worse. He peers out at the wide field and frowns in alarm at what he sees. Chad slips his hoodie back on and steps out to get a closer look.

There’s a huge wooden cross in the middle of the field. And someone is tied to it!

Chad races out onto the field through the pelting rain to help the person. He could see it was a boy about his age, who was half naked and covered in red paint as he struggles to untie the ropes around his feet and hands. The boy gets down and almost collapses when Chad grabs him. He had to get them out of this rain.

As Chad helps the drenched disoriented boy across the football field, against the billowing gusts of wind, thunder crackles across the night sky above. Chad looks up in time to see a huge lightning bolt light up the stormy atmosphere and come down right towards them. Chad tries his best to move out of the way when a draft picks up and the lightning bolt diverts it path and strikes the field a long distance away from them.

They sigh in relief and quickly make their way across the rest of the field and off to the dorms. Chad struggles to nab his keys and his wet hands almost drop them before he finally opens the door. Chad dredges the boy inside and closes the door in the relief of his dorm.

He shed his soaking jacket and turns to fetch a towel for the shivering boy when he sees the boy collapse onto his couch. Chad tentatively dries the boy’s body with the towel before putting a warm blanket over him. He sighs and takes a seat at his feet, where he turns on his TV. There is an array of news segments on the peculiar weather phenomena in Westpoint City as of late. Various weather specialists and meteorologists are sitting with news anchors and suggesting various causes, but none are conclusive. It’s still a mystery – just like the boy he just rescued from a cross in the middle of the football field. Who was he? And why was he tied to a cross in the middle of a storm?

Chad looks over at the peaceful look on the handsome boy’s face as he snuggles into the blanket, and a small grin comes over his face before he heads upstairs to his room.

= = =

The next morning, by which time the bad weather has subsided, Chad is just about ready for school as he comes downstairs to check on the mysterious boy. But the couch is empty. He figures the boy already woke up and left after finding himself in someone else’s dorm room. Chad goes on to make himself a quick breakfast before classes today. He turns to set it on the table when his front door opens and the boy walks in – with clothes – and a bright smile on his handsome face.

“Chad Kenneth Blackman,” The boy says as he stands in the middle of the room, “You, my friend, are the definition of hero.”

Chad chuckles to himself and he takes a sip of his cup, “That’s actually the third time I’ve heard someone say that this week. And even now I still find the statement hard to believe.”

“Well I’ll believe that you have some kind of hero complex,” the boy smirks as he takes a seat on a stool at the kitchen counter, “Thanks to you, stupid overachieving Ray Torres here wasn’t fried by a lightning bolt while I was basically crucified on the football field last night.”

Chad turns to him, “What the hell was that? Why were you out there tied to a cross in that weather?”

“Um,” Ray sips some of the beverage and takes a deep sigh, “I was hazed compliments of the same football team I made last week. I was so caught up in a high, thinking I’d finally been accepted into something I’ve wanted for so long, I hadn’t really listened to the part where our captain, Cameron Levine, said he had a little surprise for whoever made the team. Naturally I wouldn’t have thought it’d be me being stripped half naked, painted and tied to a cross in the middle of the football field, but hey.”

“Okay, but the idea of it all being a joke is gone the second they left you there in the middle of a storm,” Chad muses with a frown, “Not only could you get sick or whatever, but with all that crazy lightning out there – you could have even died.”

Ray smiles, “And thanks to you, I’m still standing here. Look, I don’t think they really meant any harm by it, you know. When the guys tied me up, the weather was absolutely fine. I was supposed to be left there overnight to be on display this morning when all the kids came out. And it was long after they left that that strange weather rolled in out of nowhere.”

Chad shakes his head, “Still, I wouldn’t let them get away with doing this.”

“They didn’t,” Ray smiles, “I mean you saved me and whatever’s left of my dignity after being tied up out there like that. And they won’t, because I vow to do whatever it takes to become the best out of all those guys on the team right now. I’m gonna make a name for myself in football one day and they are the ones who will be nothing but a joke.”

Chad puts his cup down and smiles, “I do admire your tenacity. Although I’m even more baffled by the love you people have for that sport, especially after what happened to you last night.”

“So you’re supposed to be a nerd, huh? I mean I noticed all of the chem books knocking around the place and all,” Ray chuckles, as Chad nods. He grins but adds, “But you’re a lot more than that to me now. I think you always will be.”

Chad hopes he wasn’t blushing at that compliment when he saw Ray give him a strange look before giggling.

“Sooo,” Ray continues, “I thought we ought to commemorate meeting each other and you saving my life and all. That’s why I rushed out of here so early after I woke up. Well that and to get some clothes on. But I actually got you some of the first tickets to the football game for the premier of the football season coming up – whenever this weird weather is over, that is.”

“Oh,” Chad says as he takes a look at them, “Thanks Ray.”

“So you’re gonna come?” Ray asks with a teasing grin, “Or do you have to like study and stuff to live up to your prestigious nerd status?”

“I do have to study,” Chad chuckles and replies, “But I’d gladly make the exception for you.”

“Now I’m blushing here,” Ray states, “You know you really have a way with words. I’m sure they’ll be the reason you’ll have a date with you for the game.”

“Uh …” Chad pauses; about the same moment, the doorbell at the front door to his dorm rings.

He excuses himself and heads to open the door, only to see Rick Hayes poised against his doorway.

“What is it about us? I mean we even have chemistry in the morning,” Rick says.

Chad flashes him a wary look and says, “Rick … “

“What’s the matter Chad? It’s just a reference to the fact that we both have my dad’s chem class this morning,” Rick explains with a grin, “It’s supposed to be a joke. But then again …”

“Um I guess this is my queue to leave,” Ray comes over to the door, “And you ought to be getting to your class now, C.K.”

“C.K.?” Chad raises an eyebrow.

“Your first two initials,” Ray explains as he grabs his jersey from the coat rack, “They’re the same as the greatest hero of all time. And I think you’re already on your way to living up to his name. I’ll always be here to remind that you’ve got a whole world to save.”

“If you insist,” Chad shrugs with a teasing grin.

“I do. And I also insist you make good on my offer,” Ray reminds him.

“I will. I promise,” Chad nods.

“Good. I guess I’ll see you around then,” Ray states and pauses before moving forward to give him a warm hug, which surprises Chad. Chad settles into the hug until he notices Rick staring at him. Ray lets go and smiles, “Thanks for being there when I needed it the most.”

With that, Ray excuses himself and exits the dorm room after briefly greeting Rick. Rick steps aside to let him pass and watches him leave before turning to Chad and raising an eyebrow.

“I’d say that looked like the beginning of something … beautiful,” Rick remarks.

Chad merely smiles to himself and quips, “It is what it is.”

He then grabs the jacket and steps out of his dorm before he and Rick leave for chemistry class.

= = =

Later, when the bell rings to signal their science class is over, the students are busy packing their things and exiting the lab, chatting with their friends. Chad is still packing up his things in his backpack while Rick waits by his desk.

“How did you like the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation?” Chad smirks.

“You know what I’d really like?” Rick replies, “For us to go somewhere again tonight. What do ya say?”

“I’d say ‘yes’ but this weird weather might say ‘no’,” Chad tells him and slinks his backpack on.

“This isn’t about the weather,” Rick says, “This is about … you and me.”

Chad starts to get that nervous feeling in his chest again and simply suggests they get going before his father Professor Hayes makes them stay behind for even more chemistry than he can handle himself. However, just as they reach the door to exit the lab, a gruff voice calls out.

“Uh, Mr. Blackman,” Professor Hayes requests from at his huge desk at the front of the lab, “I was hoping you’d be interested in an after-class recap of the topics we covered today.”

“I actually have Bio class next,” Chad explains, “Sorry.”

“C’mon. Let’s get outta here,” Rick whispers to Chad, “Before my dad pulls the …”

“Naturally, we’d be no more than five minutes,” Professor Hayes replies, leaning forward on his elbows.

He slips off his wiry glasses to stare at Chad with pleading green eyes. Chad exchanges reluctant glances with Rick before taking a deep sigh. Rick shakes his head as he sees Chad step back into the science lab.

“Sure, why not?” Chad gives in, slipping his backpack off his shoulders.

“You are welcome to join us, Richard,” Professor Hayes adds.

“It’s Rick. And I couldn’t handle five minutes extra of you being more of a husband to chemistry than to my own mother,” Rick quips, “I don’t think so, Dad. So I guess I’ll just catch you later, Chad.”

“Yeah,” Chad replies.

“Try not to let him make this the death of you,” Rick teases before leaving.

As the science lab doors click shut, Chad feels a sudden sense of dread. It seems like it even more so than it usually does when he’s alone with Professor Hayes in their tutoring classes. At least this is going to be just five minutes …

“So, Mr. Blackman,” Professor Hayes clears his throat, “About the proceedings …”

Then there was that way Professor Hayes always spoke as though life was one big agenda. Weird.

Chad swallows, “Yeah, this is gonna have to be quick because my Bio teacher is going over what we did last week about the um –”

“I’ll write a letter pardoning your tardiness,” the professor quickly replies, “So I’d say we have a little more time to ourselves today. And I can finally get started with my plans for you.”

As Professor Hayes rises from his seat at the desk and strolls about the lab, Chad shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He’s closing the windows … and making Chad twice as nervous. The chem professor turns to his tutee with a devious grin.

“You always do seem tense in our after-class sessions, Mr. Blackman. Why is that?”

Chad gulps as his eyes look at the closed windows, “I um … “

“I don’t make you nervous, do I?” Professor Hayes asks.

“W-Why are you closing the windows?” Chad asks warily, “A-Are we doing some kind of experiment?”

“One for which I already have the conclusion,” the professor replies with a devious grin.

“And what’s that conclusion?” Chad asks, getting an unsettling feeling in his stomach.

“That you are indeed the chosen one,” Professor Hayes replies, “And I must destroy you!”

A look of utter confusion appeared on Chad’s face. But his heart almost stops when he sees huge blue flames shoot up into the air from Bunsen burners on the tables, making a hissing sound as they give the science lab an eerie blue glow.

It was … unnatural.

“Omigod …” Chad stammers as he stumbles back out of his seat.

Chad watches in disbelief as Professor Hayes raises his hands and the blue fire swirls into a whirlwind of flames to mirror his hand movements. His knees tremble in fear as the fiery blaze spread out across the ceiling, making the room almost unbearably hot.

“It’s the beginning of the end!” Professor Hayes proclaims with a demonic grin on his face.

He swings his hand forward and, sure enough, the flames swoop down like a wave and roll over the lab counters, on their way to Chad. Chad barely ducks down to the side of a counter in time as the fire swirls over his head, charring the counters in the process. Chad quickly crawls away to another side of the room before the professor can see him.

Chad pulls himself to a halt as he hears the professor’s footsteps walk by the opposite side of the counter he was hiding behind, heading towards where he was last standing. The devilish professor launches a ball of fire down through that aisle, surprised that Chad is not even there. Of course, his eyes peer towards the lab exit doors next.

However, he hears a noise at the other end of the lab and quickly makes his way over there. Chad, meanwhile, thanks himself for rolling those beakers to the back of the room. He distracts Professor Hayes long enough for him to crawl towards the doors. He quickly stands and fiddles with the door to leave.

“This is the omega!” the professor sneers, turning to face him.

A dagger with weird symbols on the blade appears from the flames in Professor Hayes’ hands. Before Chad can turn the door handle to leave, the dagger is spiraling towards him. Chad closes his eyes in fear, raising his hands defensively. But the dagger seems to change course, as if it were blown back towards Professor Hayes. When Chad opens his eyes, the professor is impaled by the dagger and is set on fire as he screams in horror.

“It seems I was wrong …” Professor Hayes hissed, as his body is enveloped in his own wicked blue flames. “This is but only the beginning of far worse to come, Chad Blackman. Far worse than you could ever try to imagine! Let’s see how much of a hero you really are in the end …”

And with that, he surges in a bright explosive light and disappears into thin air that leaves the science lab in an eerie silence. Chad looks down at his hands to see his fingers trembling uncontrollably.

What the hell just happened? He was just attacked by his chemistry professor. Rick’s dad.

And now he’s gone up in flames. Professor Hayes has vanished into thin air. Just as have any conceivable answers Chad might ever have gotten about what he had meant by calling him the ‘chosen one’. Chad didn’t know what to do about anything … but to leave before worse really does come …

= = =

About a week later, Chad, with the hood of Rick’s jacket pulled over his head, walks into the Libretta to nab himself a quick something to eat before he headed back to his dorm. He didn’t want any of the kids from his science classes to see him and play twenty questions about his knowing anything about Professor Hayes’ disappearance, since he was his tutee at the time. It isn’t that he couldn’t easily deny it, but he feared his fear would give it all away.

So, as long as no one saw him, he would be fine until things died down …

“Hey Chad!” Vitani called out, after just taking some student’s orders.

He hadn’t been here for so long that he had almost forgotten she worked as a waitress at the bookshop café. Chad starts to back away slowly when Vitani runs over and catches up to him, tapping him on the shoulder.

“Hey, long time, no see,” Vitani says, “Did my sprinkles scare you off?”

“No. It’s nothing like that. I just have like a ton of work to do,” Chad shrugs with a weak smile.

“Wow. I thought you’d have all the free time in the world ever since that chem teacher you said used to give you a lot of homework mysteriously disappeared from campus,” Vitani replies. “What was his name again? That teacher who came in the week before you enrolled at SyndAcad. I think you said it was Professor Hayes.”

“I guess I have to keep busy with work,” Chad mumbles, “I kinda feel … like he’s watching my every move or something.”

“How bad was he?” comes a voice from behind him.

Chad whirls around to see Josh standing behind him. He turns back around to see Vitani give him a calming nod. Chad suddenly starts to feel confined by the two of them with their expectant looks.

“I dunno what you’re talking about,” Chad gulps, “But I’m sorry. I really have to go now.”

“Wait up. We just wanna talk about – ”  Josh reaches out to grab his arm.

But Chad flings his own arm back to avoid him touching him. As he does so, some trays on the counter behind him suddenly blow right off the table. Vitani and Josh look around in surprise, and while they are distracted, Chad makes his way to the door.

However, Rick comes in at that very moment with a big grin on his face.

“Omigod Chad. I haven’t seen you in forever dude!” Rick exclaims.

“Maybe I don’t want to be seen,” Chad snaps, before storming past him out of the bookshop café.

Rick looks over at Vitani and Josh approaching him before he goes running off after Chad outside. Back inside the Libretta, Vitani and Josh sigh in frustration and confusion and head to the back tables to talk about what happened.

A few seconds later, Rita Allen strolls inside the bookshop café to see it fairly empty. She has a curious look on her face after seeing Chad and Rick racing off somewhere just now. She spots Vitani and Josh off talking about something at the tables near the back. She sees most of the other kids studying at random tables, except for two girls who she knows are the cheer captains for the team. That and gossip mongers. Rita Allen smiles as she makes her way over to them, hopeful to find out what just went down with Chad a few minutes ago.

“Um hi. Do you mind if I talk to you girls for a second?” Rita Allen inquires in a fair voice.

“Omigod! Like you’re that reporter girl for the school paper,” Amber says, leaping up from her table.

Christy nods as she gets up, “Yeah. Like you’re probably here to interview us on having been appointed cheer captains for the third time in a row. Or maybe it’s just for us being like the renowned trendsetters of fashion of SyndAcad.”

“Actually, I just …” Rita Allen is about to say.

“I’m Amber,” Amber states with a pose.

“And I’m Christy,” Christy says as she twirls around.

“Love us or hate us, style always appreciates us!” Amber and Christy chime in unison.

The Milano sisters proceed to start striking various poses reminiscent of fashion models with broken backs. Rita Allen merely rolls her eyes as the Milano sisters contort their bodies in every fashionable way possible. She claps her hands to signal them to end their little Café Runway for now. Amber and Christy fumble to a stop before standing attentively.

“I might just be interested in giving you girls a byline in the school paper next week … if you can provide me with some information I’m interested in,” Rita Allen explains, as she takes a seat at their table, “What do you girls say?”

Amber and Christy giggle excitedly, “Like whatever you need!”

“I need you two to tell me what just happened over there a few minutes ago with that new kid Chad Blackman,” Rita Allen says coolly before adding, “He was wearing an expensive looking black leather jacket.”

“Oh. For starters I like totally saw that geek snap at my Josh Trent. He’s that hottie jock over there talking to that hippy waitress girl he has for a best friend,” Amber states with a flip of her hair and smacking of her lips, before stating, “Did I mention that he happens to be my ex-boyfriend?”

“Chad?” Rita Allen asks.

“Ick no! I meant Josh,” Amber says with a frown on her face, “Like as if I would allow that geek to even breathe my precious air.”

“I know, right, sis?” Christy scoffed, “I bet Josh Trent was probably asking him back for the jacket or something because the way it clashed with the other colors he was wearing, not to mention the way it clashed with his face, I could tell the jacket totally doesn’t belong to him.”

“Yeah. Someone definitely loaned him the jacket,” Amber agrees, “They were doing him a favor.”

Amber and Christy snicker between themselves about their little remark while on the other side of the table Rita Allen gets a ponderous look on her face as though a rather interesting thought had just hit her.

= = =

Meanwhile, Chad storms into his dorm in his best attempt to avoid anyone else trying to pry into anything that happened with Professor Hayes in the science labs a week ago. That topic wasn’t something he was ready to discuss yet, especially when he didn’t quite understand what happened himself. Chad turns to lock the door when suddenly Rick bursts into the room.

“Chad, hear me out,” Rick begins.

“You didn’t hear me invite you in either,” Chad sneers, folding his arms, “Now I’m asking you to leave.”

Rick replies, “I know you don’t really want that. I know you don’t really want me to go.”

Chad frowns and slams the door shut, “I think I know what I want, Rick.”

“Then stop running from it,” Rick begs, “Stop running from it.”

“What the heck are you talking about?” Chad asks.

“I’m talking about us,” Rick states, “I’m asking you to stop running from what you and I both know has been going on between us for weeks now.”

Chad lightly gasps to himself when he senses where the conversation seems to be going and clears his throat, “Look Rick, what I’m running from … is a lot scarier than this thing between us. It’s a lot harder to understand.”

“I can help you understand,” Rick tells him, “All you have to do is trust in me. I’m your friend. And quite honestly, I’d like to be a bit more.”

“You won’t want to be anywhere near me if you knew what was going on!” Chad snaps at him.

“I do know what’s going on here. Don’t you get it?” Rick smiles, “I know you have these feelings …”

“Rick …” Chad sighs.

“These feelings as though something bad is going to become of all this, but you’re wrong. It won’t be as bad as you think in the end,” Rick adds, as he steps closer, “I can prove that to you if you would just let me, Chad. Right here and right now.”

“How can you –“

Before Chad could finish his sentence, he feels his lips being captured by Rick’s own. Chad had wanted to pull away but when Rick’s hands cradled his neck, he felt himself tilt his head a little to keep things going. Rick moans lightly in response and Chad feels his arms tentatively snake up around Rick’s shoulders. It is a very slow and gentle kiss.

It is what Chad really wanted for a while, but it was also something he couldn’t let occur after what happened in the lab.

Chad squirms and pulls out of Rick’s grasp. Rick sighs and gives Chad a confused look.

“We can’t do this, Rick!” Chad exclaims putting his palms to his head in frustration.

“Yes we can!” Rick replies, turning him to face him, “You just have to face the truth for once!”

“You want the truth?” Chad says quietly, “Fine. The truth is … I’m the reason your father disappeared.”

With that, Chad couldn’t stand to stare into Rick’s watering eyes anymore. He turns and walks over to the window in his living room where he himself begins to sob. He hears shuffling behind him.

“A few days after the school board found out my dad was missing, they searched his office to find out why he was absent without leave,” Rick says quietly, “And you know what they found? They found all of these weird cryptic symbols written all over his papers in his desk. I knew something weird had to be going on. So I decided to take a look in a little trunk he hides in the attic at home to find out what other secrets he was keeping. And I found out his deadliest secret was … to kill you.”

Chad turns around with panicked eyes and feels his knees shaking nervously.

“He had all these pictures of you with little notes scribbled underneath like you were some kind of objective he had to monitor before he made his move,” Rick confesses, stepping a little closer, “So when you weren’t showing up to class anymore I assumed the worst for a minute. I was so scared he had done something with you, Chad. But then I saw you, wearing my jacket, trying to walk around in the background here and there without anyone seeing it was you. You were withdrawing from people and I knew something really bad must have happened.”

“I can’t even put it into words,” Chad mumbles.

“So I gave you a little time to yourself before I decided to try to reach out to you. I knew we had something going on between us and I figured that if anybody, you’d confide in me about what my father had done before he disappeared,” Rick explains, “I thought that if I could at least get you to admit that you felt about me like I felt for you, that would be the first step in getting you to open up. The first step in trying to bring the old Chad back.”

“The old Chad doesn’t exist anymore after what happened,” Chad states flatly.

“Well I’m not about to let you lose yourself over this,” Rick says sadly.

Chad shrugs, “What if I have already?”

“Then we are gonna do whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes, to let you find the real you,” Rick tries to put on a warm smile, “Together.”

“You seem to have all the answers,” Chad quips, “How exactly are we going to do that?”

“There’s way too much pain and hurt for us here at SyndAcad.” Rick takes Chad’s hands and puts them over his heart. “So you and I are gonna get out of town. Tonight.”

= = =

About two weeks later, Vitani digs for her keys as she is making her way to the front door of Josh’s condo, just outside of the SyndAcad premises. Not to her surprise, she hears loud pop rock music bellowing from below the door. She rolls her eyes and opens the door.

As she steps inside and closes the door, she gets a round of anonymous whistles from random jocks dispersed somewhere in the party crowd. A few girls even tugged at her silky auburn hair. Vitani sighs and makes her way through the half-drunk students to find her best friend as she kicks some odd plastic cups from her path. It wasn’t long before she spotted him chatting with some blonde at the kitchen bar counter.

“Hi, um sorry to interrupt you guys,” Vitani smiles, “But do you mind if I borrow Josh for a minute?”

“Or all three of us could make it work,” the blonde girl coos with a wink, “Isn’t that right, Josh?”

“No no no!” Josh’s eyes bulge with a shake of his head, “That is very wrong. Um, she’s not the girl I was telling you about. Heh heh. Not her.”

“Omigod! I’m so sorry!” the girl exclaims with a look of realization, “I think I better go. I’m so sorry.”

The girl quickly walks away before she feels anymore embarrassed, while Vitani exchanges glances between her and Josh and shakes her head. Josh slips one hand in his pocket and the other scratches his head.

“I’m just so sorry I even had to hear that,” Vitani rolls her eyes, “You know you two are almost as disgusting as this place is right now. By the way, this week’s after party cleanup is all on you. No buts.”

“Got it,” Josh nods and is quick to change the topic, “Sooo, what brings you home from book club so early tonight?”

Vitani nods and pulls Josh off into a corner of the condo living room that wasn’t filled with random basketball jocks, empty plastic cups or the smell of tortilla chips and alcohol before talking.

“It’s about Chad,” Vitani begins.

“Has the little squirt shown up at one of his classes this week?” Josh asks.

“No. I overheard two of the kids from his science class that are in my book club talking about the fact that not only had Chad been skipping his chem classes since Professor Hayes disappeared but he’s been absent from all of his classes now for the last two weeks,” Vitani informs him. “Some of the other kids in his class were worried about him and stopped by his dorm a few times, but apparently he hasn’t been back to his dorm for just as long.”

“So he’s definitely left campus,” Josh deduces.

“And guess who else some of the kids realized has been skipping all of their classes for the last two weeks,” Vitani adds. “None other than Rick Hayes.”

“Professor Hayes’ son,” Josh nods, “I’m sure there’s a connection. I mean whatever happened three weeks ago when Professor Hayes disappeared was enough to make Chad skip all of his chemistry classes. Then both he and Rick go AWOL the following week. They ran away together? They were both scared of whatever happened to Rick’s dad.”

“And we have no idea where they are now,” Vitani comments, “But it’s almost like it was all some sort of elaborate diversion to get Chad out of town before we could ever talk to him about him being the chosen one.”

“Hey! Remember when we first tried to talk to Chad about it,” Josh states.

“Rick showed up. And Chad did seem pretty shaken up about something else then. Especially when we mentioned Professor Hayes. Rick could have convinced Chad that the best way to get away from everything was by running away with him,” Vitani concludes, “And by doing that, he’d have Chad alone and all to himself.”

Josh looks up, “Do you really think –“

Vitani nods and gulps, “I think Chad’s in a lot of danger.”

= = =

“Omigod Rick!” Chad exclaims in disbelief, “I had no idea you were even capable of doing something like this!”

“Hmm. Well what can I say?” Rick approaches him with a devious grin on his face, “There’s a lot you didn’t know about me, Chad.”

“I know. I’m just getting to know the real you,” Chad replies before smiling, “But I’ve enjoyed every second of it so far in these two weeks we’ve spent together. I learn a little more about you with every day that passes. Like your amazing car stuntin’ skills back there.”

With that, the moment they close the door to their motel room, Chad snakes his arms around his boyfriend Rick’s neck and pulls him into a passionate kiss. They stumble back into the room and Rick moans in appreciation. They soon break the kiss and smile at each other.

“Wow. I need to win competitions more often if it means getting kisses like that,” Rick says.

Chad giggles, “I’ll let you know when you do good. And that was more than good. That was awesome!”

“It came in handy, didn’t it? Thanks to this little car stunts competition here at the motel, we now have loads of cash to finance our way across the rest of the country,” Rick smiles, as he lays the duffle bag of cash on the table in their motel room.

“What?” Chad frowns, “What do you mean ‘the rest of the country’?”

“You’re not seriously thinking about going back to SyndAcad after everything that’s happened, are you?” Rick asks with a chuckle. “What if more people like my dad come after us?”

“But nor was I thinking I was about to spend the rest of my life running away from what happened either,” Chad retorts. “Maybe at first that was my plan and all, but I know now that I can’t run forever. And it was really you who taught me all about not running away from my problems and facing them head on.”

“And you really think you can face what seems to be some kind of evil?” Rick snaps.

Chad looks away for a brief moment before he folds his arms, “… I did before.”

“You got lucky,” Rick tells him.

“I dunno, Rick. I mean sometimes I think …” Chad trails off.

Rick raises an eyebrow and folds his arms, “Sometimes you think what?”

“Sometimes I think it isn’t just luck,” Chad muses, “You know, sometimes I just feel as though it’s some kind of power or something that gets me through everything that’s happened so far. Like some kind of gift I never even realized I had until those last few weeks back at SyndAcad.”

Rick gulps nervously and steps forward, “Chad …”

“Look, I just get this feeling that we won’t get the answers to all the strange things that have been going on back in town unless we do go back,” Chad explains. “And I really think it’s about time we go back home and face this evil, or whatever it is, once and for all.”

Rick gets a grave look in his eye.

= = =

A few days later, Vitani comes around the side of the bleachers in the basketball court in the auditorium to look for Josh again. She eyes him making a shot, with the rest of his team members looking on around him. While Josh catches his own ball and dribbles around his feet, one of the guys points out Vitani in the distance and soon all of the boys are looking over at her with cheeky grins on their faces.

Josh looks up and sees her when all the other boys around him start to cheer. Josh rolls his eyes and tells them he wants to see consecutive shots from each of them or he’s sure they won’t be cheering for much longer. The boys grumble and move into place for practice. Meanwhile, Josh jogs off of the court and over to his best friend.

“Hey,” Josh says as he grabs a cloth to wipe his sweaty forehead, “Not that you and your book club even get outside any from in that library, but I think you should be happy to hear all that crazy weather that’s been hitting Westpoint City will be over pretty soon.”

“Actually I have mixed feelings about that,” Vitani replies, “Take a look at this article in the newspaper we were reviewing in book club today.”

Josh gets a curious look on his face as Vitani hands him a newspaper article.

“Something about all the weird weather moving over a small town just outside of the city,” Josh muses as he glances over the article, “And apparently this particular town hasn’t seen a storm as big as this one in over sixteen years. Hey, isn’t that a little coincidental that -”

“Chad is also sixteen,” Vitani nods, “Yes. Not to mention that all this weird weather started around the time Chad first enrolled at SyndAcad. I’m thinking it must be connected to whatever evil is brewing now that they all know who the chosen one is.”

“And you think this little town is where Rick Hayes has taken Chad?” Josh asks.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Vitani quips, with a worried sigh.

= = =

A car drives out on the bridge of the dam located on the road back to Westpoint City. Chad and Rick are inside, singing along to some song playing on the car radio. However, the song is interrupted when a breaking news report comes on. Rick shuts off the car, turning off the radio in the process.

“Hey, what if that was something important?” Chad asks.

“There’s nothing more important than spending our last days together,” Rick sighs, sitting back.

“Just because we’re going back doesn’t mean it’s our last days,” Chad explains, with a little grin, “In fact it could be a whole new beginning for you and me. And we can finally get on with both our lives together this time.”

Chad leans over and plants a soft kiss on Rick’s cheek. Rick holds his hand and sighs.

“But what about everyone else,” Rick replies, “I don’t think I could handle them judging us.”

“How can they judge what they don’t know?” Chad says, “This is between you and me. And that’s where it should stay. At least until we’re ready for otherwise. Besides, with what happened with your father … we’ve kept bigger secrets.”

“That we have,” Rick nods himself, before turning and squeezing his boyfriend’s hand, “C’mon. I have one last thing to show you before we head back to town. I mean it’s only fitting that we end our time together here with something we’ll never forget.”

Chad smiles and gets out of the car on Rick’s lead. Rick grabs his hand and walks him over to the edge of the bridge dam. Chad and Rick look over at the rushing blue waters beneath them and then out to the setting evening sun just beyond the woods. Just then, Rick climbs over the rails to stand precariously on the edge of the other side.

“What are you doing?” Chad asks worriedly.

“Asking you to trust me,” Rick smiles, holding out one hand invitingly, “Come on over.”

Chad pauses nervously before taking cautious steps forward towards the rails. He tentatively climbs over until he is on the other side with Rick. Chad takes a deep breath of relief after placing his feet safely on the edge at the other side. Rick leans over to kiss him on the cheek.

“Isn’t it amazing?” Rick says with some sort of new-found excitement, “Feeling like you could conquer the world right now?”

“I’m not sure that describes this moment for me,” Chad jokes, nervously gripping onto the rails again.

“I know I’ve never felt better in my whole life!” Rick states, with a grin, “But you on the other hand have every right to be worried right now. After all, this is where it all ends for us.”

Chad frowns, “W-What do you mean?”

Rick uses one arm to push Chad back off the rails. Chad almost slips down the side of the dam in horror, but manages to hold onto the ledge where they were standing. He looks up at a snickering Rick in utter confusion. Just then, a chilling wind blows by, as a giant storm rolls over the area. The waters from the dam below pick up and get rougher.

“What are you doing?” Chad yells, “Aren’t you gonna help me?”

“You can help yourself by just letting go,” Rick suggests coldly, leaning down near Chad’s hands that are barely gripping onto the ledge for support, “It’s not like anyone needs you anyway. Trust me; you will be doing something to the world by letting go right now.”

“Omigod,” Chad sobs, his fingers losing grip, “Is this because of what I did to your father?”

“Yes. Thanks to you getting rid of him, I get to deal with you all by myself,” Rick replies, “Once I do the honor of getting rid of you, I’ll reap all the rewards of killing the chosen one before the auranades came together. That and a promotion to upper level, like my dad. Then the world as you know it will descend into darkness. And that’s all thanks to you, Chad Blackman.”

A lightning bolt flashes and thunder rolls behind it.

“I don’t understand …” Chad replies, as he struggles to hold on.

“Let me make it simple. I used you all along for this very purpose, so that I could hurt you and get access to your way-too-delicate emotions,” Rick explains with a devious grin, “And then break them all into pieces. Like you will be in a matter of seconds when your fingers slip …”

“If you want me dead then why don’t you just push me off this bridge?” Chad yells.

“That’s not my style. I’m the oscinade of manipulation,” Rick adds, “So my words do all the talking, if you know what I mean. If I could talk you into befriending me, trusting me and falling for me, I think I could talk you into letting go right now.”

Just then, a jeep pulls up onto the bridge amidst the overcast weather on set. Rick gives them a daring look that tells them that if they come too close that he would gladly have Chad fall down into the raging dam waters below the bridge.

“Chad, don’t listen to him, he’s an oscinade,” Josh yells, as he steps out of the jeep.

“A personified being of evil, sent to spread harm, loss and destruction in the world. They are the reason that evil is so widespread in today’s world,” Vitani explains, as she follows, “That’s the same evil that was Professor Hayes. The same evil that is Rick Hayes.”

“The same evil you fell in love with, Chad!” Rick yells.

Vitani and Josh look on in astonishment as they slowly step closer. Chad’s heart almost stops in embarrassment and his hands almost slip. Rick smiles down at an almost delirious Chad below him.

“That’s right. They don’t know you like I do,” Rick continues, “They don’t know about the passion we had together, that we shared every night up here for the past two weeks. Only I know you and I know that you’re going to let go. It’s time for you to let go!”

“No!” Vitani calls out, “That’s Rick’s manipulation talking, Chad. It’s time for you to be a hero now.”

“Me? Hero?” Chad moans weakly, “I just know I’m the reason we’re all here right now …”

And with that, Chad lets go and descends down into the waters below. Vitani and Josh grab each other and gasp in horror as they hear a deep splash below that is swallowed up by the surges from the brewing storm. As if on cue with the moment, rain begins to fall. Vitani and Josh break down into themselves.

Rick turns around to face them both with an elated grin on his face as another bolt of lightning flashes.

“I did it,” Rick states, “I stopped the auranades from uniting. Now you won’t be able to banish any of us oscinades. We are now all free to come up into this world and fill it with our influence. Darkness shall descend on this entire earth and unite it with the realm of darkness from whence I came. It all will start right back in Westpoint City.”

An eerie roll of the thunder that follows seemed to almost agree with Rick’s proclamation.

“We will never let that happen,” Vitani sneers, angrily, her blue eyes staring at him coldly.

After a cold wind blows by, the falling rain around them mystically freezes to a halt in midair. Vitani raises her hand to her mouth, takes a deep breath and blows forward, which sends the beads of frozen rain right toward Rick like a barrage of bullets, knocking him right back into his car.

Josh huffs in anger as the skin on his arms turn into a silvery metal. He raises them in the air, and a small bolt of lightning shoots down from the dark clouds and into his arms in a burst of light. Josh yells in might and flings his hands forward, sending a bolt of electricity straight into Rick and his car. Rick’s car then explodes in a ball of fire. Vitani and Josh watch intently as the car lands overturned in a blaze.

However, Rick in tattered clothes, walks right out of the fire.

“No matter what you two do, you can’t banish me without Chad, remember?” Rick teases them.

“Then it’s a good thing I’m still around,” comes a familiar voice from over the side of the bridge.

Vitani and Josh look up in hopefulness as they hear a whirring sound. To their surprise, a whirlwind ascends up to the side of the bridge, with Chad sitting comfortably at the top. He climbs off of the spiraling winds with a smile.

“But you let go …” Rick stammers in disbelief.

“I let go of you,” Chad replies, “But I never let go of your words telling me to face the truth. And the truth is that I, Chad Blackman, am the auranade of air and wind. And I vow to make sure that I rid the world of the darkness that oscinades bring upon it. Starting right here. Right now.”

With that, Chad then directed the whirlwind up and over to Rick’s burning car, sending it over the bridge and into the waters below. Rick then looks up in terror as he sees Chad walk over to stand between Vitani and Josh.

“How do we banish him?” Chad asks.

“Repeat after us,” Vitani nods, and Josh smiles and joins her in saying, “Evil spawned from darkness core, Walk this land you shall no more, Wickedness be rectified, Let your face be now denied.”

“I always liked poems,” Chad giggled, “Ready.”

And with that, the three auranades repeat the banishment verse in unison.

“Evil spawned from darkness core,

Walk this land you shall no more,

Wickedness be rectified,

Let your face be now denied!”

  A bright light emerged and then drafts of energy blew out, making the wind pick up. Chad, Vitani and Josh watched as a portal opened up beneath Rick’s feet. Rick felt the intense pull drawing him inside and tried to fight it.

“Help me, Chad! You love me, remember?”

“I do love you for teaching me to overcome evil like you,” Chad said and promptly slips off Rick’s jacket and throws it into the portal with him.

“Noooo!”

Rick’s body stretched and distorted as it was finally drawn inside the portal, simply leaving the echo of his screaming in the air for a few moments. Then it sealed shut and faded away with a blast of air billowing outwards. Chad, Vitani and Josh turned when the morning sun now began to peek at the horizon. Chad’s smile, however, dropped and he fell to his knees in complete exhaustion. To his surprise, Vitani and Josh kneel down beside him and hug him tightly. Chad takes a deep breath and smiles weakly to himself. They all notice that the storm suddenly became less intense and seemed to be fading away.

Chad looks up at the sky and sighs, “The darkness is gone … for now.”

 

Epilog

At Josh’s condo about a week later, it’s Friday. Chad comes inside and drops his backpack on the floor at the door before walking in and smiling, “Something smells pretty nice in here. And I know it can’t be Josh.”

“Thank you, Chad. I made a celebratory lunch for the three of us,” Vitani said, as she placed a plate of baked chicken on the table, “Everything’s on me. Although Josh ate the extra slice of cake I made for you earlier.”

“Hey,” Josh said, “I didn’t know if he would take our invitation today or not. And I couldn’t just let your wonderful cooking go to waste, could I?”

“No you couldn’t,” Chad replies, as he seats himself at the table, “But I could never turn down your invitation today. I know we all have a lot to talk about after everything that happened last week. I guess I’m still having trouble understanding some of the things that went down. And you guys might be having some trouble with what you learned about … me and Rick.”

“It’s okay, Chad,” Vitani smiles warmly, “We understand. And we’re totally cool with it.”

“It would’ve helped if he wasn’t an oscinade and all, but hey,” Josh quips, earning a slap in the shoulder from Vitani. He clears his throat and continues, “But yeah. I mean it doesn’t change the fact that you are a true hero to us and the rest of the world, whether they know it or not. What we know is that we’ll take you for who you are, squirt.”

“Thanks guys,” Chad says with a small grin, “It means a lot to me. More than you both know.”

“We’re gonna be getting to know each other better real soon,” Vitani tells him, as she puts an arm around his shoulder, “As, unfortunately, there are a lot more people like Rick out there and it’s gonna be up to the three of us to stop their evil once and for all. Are you gonna be up to that?

“I made a promise,” Chad nods solemnly, “And I’m gonna keep it.”

“That’s good squirt. Now I got me some tickets to the football season opener tonight back on campus, so we all better finish up here,” Josh states, as he stuffs his face with some food, “I promised this really hot chick I would go with her and if I didn’t show up we wouldn’t even have a chance.”

Just then, Chad looks up and a little smile grows on his face. Vitani and Josh look over at him.

“Chad, do you have plans for tonight too?” Vitani giggles.

“Yup,” Chad replies, “That’s if I’ll keep all my promises.”

= = =

Chad has a soda in his hand as he steps down through the bleachers to get near the field, looking for any sign of Ray Torres before the game begins in a few minutes. He spots Ray down by the fence and runs over to him, surprised to see him talking to Rita Allen.

“Hey C.K!” Ray turns and says with a huge smile, “I’m so glad you could make it!”

He goes forward and hugs Chad tightly. Chad is a bit surprised by the hug and feels a bit awkward being so close to someone after how things had ended with Rick, but he let it pass just because it’s Ray, and to him that was enough of a reason. He puts his arms around Ray’s body and closes his eyes. However, he soon notices that Rita Allen was staring at him when Ray breaks the hug.

“I’m just keeping my promise,” Chad smiles, “I’m gonna be cheering you on tonight.”

“Thanks. I’m gonna need all the support I can get, although with you here I feel ten times surer we’re gonna win already,” Ray tells him, patting him on the shoulder, “And Rita Allen here was offering to do a personal recommendation for me in the school paper if I gave her your ticket. She kept telling me that you weren’t gonna show. But I kept telling her that having my friend here to support me now in achieving my goals meant more to me then getting a recommendation.”

“So I’m your friend, huh?” Chad smiles bashfully.

“Oh c’mon. You’re more than that,” Ray states, “You’re my hero, remember?”

Just then, the coach’s whistle blew and Ray quickly hands Chad the ticket before saying he had to go do his stuff. Chad and Rita Allen both wish him good luck with a smile before he jogs off onto the football field.

Chad turns to the reporter with a frown, “Why were you so convinced I wouldn’t show?”

Rita Allen folds her arms and replies, “I mean, you hadn’t shown up at any of your science classes for three weeks and any of your classes for the last two weeks, both you and Rick Hayes. That was around the time Professor Hayes disappeared and the school board here discovered he was involved with some kind of legion of evil or something. So with Professor Hayes and his son running and you following, I was convinced you wouldn’t be finished aiding and abetting those criminals in getting out of the country yet.”

“W-What?” Chad scoffs, “I didn’t help either of them do anything you think they might have done!”

“I know Rick Hayes was behind all those attempted suicide cases I was looking into in the very beginning. When I showed the victims a picture of him and that black leather jacket he gave you, the fear in their reactions were enough to tell me that he was, in fact, behind coaxing all those innocent girls to their demise like that,” Rita Allen states, “But you can still disregard all my thoughts that you were helping them out right now.”

“How?” Chad asks.

“Tell me where Rick Hayes is right now,” Rita Allen demands.

“I-I can’t,” Chad sighs, “I honestly don’t know where he is. You have to believe me.”

“No, you have to believe me when I say that I will not stop until I find out exactly how you’re really connected to Rick and all the other weird things that happen around SyndAcad,” she replies, “And when I do, I won’t hesitate to tell the whole school who you really are, Chad.” And with that, Rita Allen storms off and disappears into the screaming crowd back up in the bleachers.

Chad sighs heavily and turns to the watch the game. It was close for the whole game with each team having scored one touchdown. Then, with only seconds left to play, Chad watches and sees Ray carrying the ball through the other team, and score a touchdown, the winning touchdown for SyndAcad. The crowd erupts in cheers and all the other players hug and congratulate Ray. While Ray is on their shoulders and waving at the crowd, he looks at Chad and puts two thumbs up happily.

Chad smiles back and put two thumbs up into the air, glad that happy endings are still possible.

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