B2 — 0. Is there Hope?
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Rean walked through a miasma of provocation, the pressure of the frigid apathetic atmosphere gnawing at her mind.  Low, malicious conversation echoed around a massive eating hall that held three levels of serving areas; the layers were evenly broken by ten-meter square terraces that showed the floors below; elevators were placed by each hallway extension and the three layers each held their own style.

The first layer had oak tables and chairs, themed wilder than the upper levels; animal pelts and monster skins covered the floor, the walls housing trophies of past faction occupants. This layer was the gathering place for the bottom-ranked SOP members of the Turquoise Faction

The second floor was designed for Captain to Colonels. This landing was comprised of glass tables with embedded microchips inside that connected to the WITCH network, giving the officers data to browse and coordinate with other team leaders.

The third and final eating floor was designed for Lieutenant Colonels up to Generals; the Prime having her own private level. The third layer comprising of hardened granite and marble tables that were somehow embedded with the same technology as the second layer; precious metals encrusted the floor, and jewels furnishing the walls.

Security feeds covered every floor of the complex and fed directly to the Prime’s personally assigned SOP security detail. Over three hundred stories of data continually feeding to the personnel; hidden cameras also covered almost the entire length of New Genesis; even if it was mostly governed by the Green Faction.

This building was located at the center and held a special significance to the city; this building overlooked the entire fog filled Capital of New Genesis, Sevilla’s homeTurquoise Faction Prime, New Genesis Overlord, Empress of Suffering, and a Terrakinetic. Rumors had spread to Rean’s ears over the past few days.

The Turquoise Faction, the Shimmering Fiend, had always been associated with torture, persecution, and prolonged deaths. Turquoise promotes torment and cruelty as a sign of initiation; all faction members going through cruel instigation to ensure unquestioning obedience to leadership sanctions; numbing them to what was expected. Showcases of this were held daily. One of these such incidents was accruing at this time; Rean, a new server and cooking instrument was making her rounds on the first floor.

Blood polished granite platforms spaced around the entire level. No cheers were called and no ecstatic bloodthirsty crowds; more than a third of the room was filled, but the only notable sounds came from the tormented. Hundreds of coldly amused expressions focused on the platforms, their gaze only broken by shadows of low conversation, whispered voices that only held cold entertained animosity.

Rean had stopped trembling yesterday after the scathing response it brought her. Hundreds of thin cuts across her skin still burned as her thick, tight clothes pressed against her body. Focusing on showing no emotion as she hauled scraps of meat down the aisles of tables; however, her eyes couldn’t suppress the fear she felt. Internally haunted, Rean passed men and women that were more callous than she could have imagined. She was kidnapped, taken to the City of Sin, the Esper capital, New Genesis. It was worse than she’d been taught, nothing could have prepared her for this trial, this is what she was, more than a sinner, she was damned, an esper, the same as these people.

Stopping as a man looked at her; she walked to the table and offered her tray up. She couldn’t see his face; she didn’t want to. She mentally blocked it with the image of a blank wall. She couldn’t breathe, her thoughts were choking her. She couldn’t even greave her own soul, because she wasn’t sure she deserved pity. The man’s fingers slowly came up to prod the meat on the tray, causing Rean to jolt out of her vision and back into the pressing atmosphere, which sent a shiver down her spine. The man’s passive irises darted to Rean’s green eyes as the tray shook for a split second, his emotionless expression shifting into a vindictive crease. She was petrified, her lungs locked in place as her heart seemed to freeze in place.

Rean’s lungs expelled the breath in a torrent as a heavy blow smashed against the right side of her ribcage. Flying sideward, the tray and food spread across the rugs, she slid a few feet before lying in shock, no air in her lungs. Drawing a breath slowly, she made sure not to let a sound escape her mouth. Shakily getting to her hands and knees, she bit her lower lip as a razor gash slid across her back. Swallowing the lump in her throat with difficulty, she grabbed the tray and began piling the food back on the plate. Her hands trembled, but she refused to let a tear fall. The last tear she shed cost her hundreds of micro cuts all along her skin.

Getting to her feet, she dropped to her left knee as pain shot from the back of her thigh. Locking her jaw, she got back to her feet and began making her way to the hallway that would lead her back to the kitchens. Her wounds burned with sharp attention, but she struggled to keep her face placid. No laughter followed her, only indifferent stares.

Getting into the hallway, she let a convulsion shake her chest, abdomen tightening, but she quickly got ahold of her emotions. Now, away from their vision, she let a tear drip down her cheek. Sniffing, she wiped it away, clearing her throat. Her lips were dry, her vision strained, and her right side pulsed with pain with the new cuts she’d received. Examining the back of her thigh, she found a thin two-inch long gash, blood dripping down her leg into her red-stained white shoes.

Vision hazing, her nose began burning, but she held her tears back. Is this really what I deserve mom? You always said that espers could be saved, but beings capable of this? Self-loathing pushed against her heart. How could espers be worse than I was taught? How can they be this cruel? I’m going to turn into one of these monsters … why did I make that deal … why?

Breathing for a moment, she let several quakes rack her body, almost causing a few pieces of meat to drop from the tray. Calming herself, she continued into the kitchens. Thirty other slaves were hustling around the large room, preparing food and getting items ready for serving.

The pudgy kitchen taskmaster, Boltis, came waddling over to her as she entered and looked over her gashes with a gleam in his green eyes. Rean knew better than to break away; the last time she’d tried running away had earned her a night on the freezing terrace. The chill, howls of the espers below, and compressing mist kept her awake the entire night.

Boltis snapped his fingers, and his personal attendant took one cold look at her and ran off. The boy returned with a bottle of water, handing it to Boltis. Rean stood perfectly still as he slowly unscrewed the lid and motioned for her to turn. Heartbeat pulsing in her chest, she complied; her hands were white as they clutched the tray. Closing her eyes and holding her breath, she tensed. The pain came as the strange liquid inside the bottle slid down her back. She breathed in, her lungs filling with air before catching again; her chest burning with her back. The liquid irritating her new wounds.

The liquid stopped. Turning, Rean looked into Boltis’ eyes; holding back the tears screaming to be let loose. She knew her face must be red and there were small quakes that escaped her control; she hoped it wouldn’t be enough to earn more torture.

He looked down at her with a hard smile and pointed toward the wine area, where several trays had already been prepared. Rean didn’t know why, but for some reason, almost no one talked in the Turquoise Faction; in the last few days, she’d only heard a handful of words from the SOP members. Five other servers had returned and were picking up their trays.

Going to the trays, Rean didn’t feel a glance of compassion from any of her fellow servants, which only made her want to cry more. Sympathy got you killed here; empathy made you a showcase for SOP entertainment. Every person had different variations in abilities, and they all used them in savage ways.

Setting down her meat tray, she picked up one of the platters of crystal cups. She hesitated, staring into the water at her dirty appearance. Her long brown hair was tangled and matted; her cheeks flaked with dried blood and dirt. Is this what my life is worth? Stomach shaking with silent tearless cries, she stared back into her green eyes with hopelessness. I’m worthless, no matter how many times I cried out for Deity help … don’t answer. Why … why am I so meaningless to them? Did I really sell my soul to the Reapers for this meager power? It’s worthless in the face of these monsters … no, they’re worse than monsters … they’re espers.

Rean cried out in surprise as chubby fingers snatched a clump of her hair and lifted her off the ground. Her tears finally started to fall as she kicked open air before a heavy blow slammed against her left ear, sending her flying to the ground.

World spinning in a nightmarish twirl, she saw Boltis’ repugnant face glowering down at her. In a deep disgusted voice, he demanded. “Back to work.”

Unsteadily getting to her feet, she shook as she caught every child, teen, and adult scowling at her. If she messed up, they could all be tortured, she knew she was in store for a beating tonight. Wiping away her tears hurriedly, Rean sniffed, saying, “Yes—I apologize.”

She closed her eyes as Boltis’ hand came out to backhand her, but the blow didn’t come. Opening her eyes in confusion, just as Boltis’ fist struck her stomach. She fell to her knees; gasp escaping her lips in a rush. Crumpling to the marble floor, she began to dry heave, stomach acid coating her throat. Shuddering with spots etched across her vision, she regained her senses as quickly as possible. She tried to stand, toppling over a few times in the process; vision clearing, she saw Boltis had already walked away, harassing one of the cooks.

One of the other servant girls in her mid-teens came over with a rag. She shoved Rean into the granite counter beside her. Grunting with tears leaking out of her eyes, Rean wobbled to her feet and grabbed one of the trays. Taking it out of the kitchen with trembling legs, she walked a little bit down the hall and set the plate on the ground. Slumping against the wall, she clutched at her stomach, a low cry hiccupping through her lips. Taking several shuddering breaths, she picked the tray back up and continued to the first eating hall, her throat continuing to burn with the acidic liquid she’d expelled.

Entering the hall, she examined the scene, looking for empty glasses. Licking her lips, she began making her way to a table that had a few empty glasses. Waiting beside the table for them to acknowledge her, they finally shifted their gaze and moved a little to the left for her to grab it. Expecting some form of brutality, she was shocked that nothing happened.

Pulling away, she almost dropped the dish as someone tapped her on the shoulder. Turning her head hesitantly, Rean looked into the hard green eyes of an SOP member. He had an odd grin on his heartless face and he motioned for her to come closer. Shakily, Rean stepped closer, and the man’s head moved to whisper in her ear. “Don’t drop that plate … got it?”

Leaning back with a catch in her throat, Rean nodded with terror. Nodding, the man glanced to the woman next to him, who nodded with a silent chuckle. Hesitantly, Rean broke away and continued to the next table, which had also finished their wine. A large hard looking man looked down at her with a twist to his nose and snatched a glass off her tray, handing it to a lanky looking teen next to him. The teen downed the drink.

Rean was about to turn away when the man’s hand shot to his throat, and he gasped, dropping to the table top. Rean’s blood went cold. That woman from the last table … she poisoned a glass while I wasn’t looking! The large man stood quickly and lifted the teen’s head to find white foam expelling from his mouth, vision blank.

Trembling with fear, Rean watched the scene with knowing trepidation as the man bellowed and turned to her. She closed her eyes, her body going numb as he snarled an intelligible phrase from a language she didn’t understand. Her throat constricted as the man’s firm grip closed around her neck and lifted her off the ground before throwing her back a few meters. Striking the ground with a gasp, the crystal glasses shattered across the floor, and she heard the sharp patter of the platter as it hit the ground.

Dazed, terrified, and numb, Rean watched dozens of elemental streams expel around her as abilities were fire off at different SOP members. Crawling under a table, she curled into a ball, soft whimpers escaping her throat as explosive sounds echoed around the area. During the skirmish she somehow got drenched in a jet of wine, it burned her closing wounds as it washed away the forming scabs.

As the noise died down, she shakily crawled out from underneath the table and found small ice crystals embedded in the oak. The area she was in had devastated table fragments, chairs ripped apart, and several dead bodies. More chilling still, the atmosphere was almost entirely silent as hundreds of people looked at the outcome with amusement. The man and woman that poisoned the wine, groaning lowly. A woman from another table got up and moved to the two with a dark grin.

Rean watched in stunned horror as she picked up a split chair leg and stabbed it through the man’s head. Next, she snatched a few smaller shards of crystal and began embedding them in the woman’s flesh. Rean couldn’t turn her eyes away as the woman played with the dying woman. The throng didn’t cheer but accepting the sight with silent entertainment.

After several seconds of low screams, Rean couldn’t handle it anymore and started walking slowly to the hallway. Tripping on the way out, she laid across the ground in disbelief. How can this be real? Nightmares would be better than this reality! Her eyes glazed as she heard her name called, but not in her ears.

Slowly, she looked up to find Peter on one of the platforms. Face bruised, body littered with cuts and gashes; he looked at her dully and again her name was called, from inside her own mind. “Rean … Rean is that you? It must be … yes … I recognize your brainwaves.”

Rean was speechless as she stared up at the boy, she’d seen in that black room. It was all a blur, and she only remembered small portions, but she did know this boy. What happened to him? Why’s he up there?

Freezing as Peter’s voice entered her mind again; she forced her throat to swallow. “There’s not a lot of time left, you need to get back to work before they’re done with their fun. When you’re done tonight, tell whoever’s over you that Jandith wants to meet with you. He’ll send an escort with you.”

She was completely bewildered. Why? Who is Jandith?

Voice becoming frantic as his eyes darted left, he said. “Get back to the kitchens now!”

Scrambling to her feet, Rean complied. She barely made it out of the room before another cacophony rocked the hall. Managing to work her way into cleaning dishes, Rean continued her work with only minimal abuse from Boltis. When the final clean-up finished, Rean hesitantly went to Boltis and told him Peter’s message. A pit shrunk into her stomach as Boltis’ mouth twisted into a wry nod and motioned his shadow to escort her. The boy continued to look her over as they walked through the maze of halls to an elevator.

Uncertainty shot through her chest as the boy hit the seventieth-floor key and the elevator shot upward. Shaking, she met the boy’s wicked grin with terror. What’s Peter getting me into?

Stopping, he led her out of the elevator and into a well-maintained floor. He gestured for her to follow, but stopped as Peter came into view around the next corner. His cuts had started to heal, and the swelling lessen. He now wore nice white clothes, clothes she’d seen other SOP members wear. His eyes were stone as he met her guide’s face, and he instantly looked down, nodding. Utterly bewildered, she found the cruel boy cower before Peter, bowing before leaving her and heading back toward the elevator.

Realization sinking in, she tried stilling her shakes. Is this a trick? Is he leading me into a trap? That’s what espers do. Why did I trust him? I’m so stupid! Espers are espers, I should know better by now!

She faltered in her thoughts as Peter smiled at her, not in the way she’d come to expect over the past few days, his face was warm. Something she thought she’d never see again. Motioning for her to follow, he brought her to an empty lounging room. Sitting, he offered her a seat. Obediently, she followed his action. Waiting with bated breath, she stared down at the red spotted carpet.

Peter’s voice entered her mind. “I was shocked to find you serving today.”

Swallowing, Rean began getting used to the conversation in her head. How can you speak in my head? You can hear my thoughts?

Shifting to a more comfortable position, Peter nodded. “I’m a Telepath. I can read people’s minds and project my own. I’d like to apologize.”

Confused, Rean asked, What did you do? Breathe catching, she thought. What are you about to do?

Shaking his head, Peter responded, “You’re misunderstanding my actions. I’ve been thrown into this life just as abruptly as you. I, however, was able to acclimate much better. No, what I want to apologize for is what I did in the Black Box incident.”

Black Box? Rean asked. Her eyes widened as her vision returning to the dark room.

“Yes, during that incident I managed to glimpse a little bit of your life; mainly your abduction,” Peter explained, his eyes staring at her neck front. “I understand why you guard that necklace with such passion. It must have been hard to keep it hidden the past few days.”

Rean swallowed, I—I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Peter sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. “I’m not here to take away your possessions. I want to help you … I think it’ll benefit both of us.”

Taken aback, Rean asked, Why?

A low hum shot through Peter’s throat. “Because I glimpsed an incident in your past that might lead to a significant find. You owing me a favor would work very well for me in the long run. A memory you have that some would kill you over, and that’s why I locked it away, tightly inside your skull. If everything I’m planning works out … this hell you’re in will be over.”