Prologue: Part 5

                Her blonde hair was matted to her skull, the twin terrors of effort and heat covering the long strands in copious sweat. Alice shoved a section back, making sure she had a clear line of vision, and focused on the boulder. It began to wobble, then plummeted several feet down before its descent slowed to an eventual stop. Taking a deep breath, Alice turned the area’s gravity up even higher, and it began to wobble once more.

                Seated around fifty yards away, Mary was also staring at the same boulder. Unlike Alice, however, her job was to try and make the thing rise as high as she could. They’d been undertaking this same exercise since the first week of summer, Hank pitting them against each other to create a resistance workout. At first, Mary had easily been able to negate Alice’s gravitational warping, but with every passing the day the fight got a little harder. Now, with summer drawing to a close, the matches went on for tens of minutes. They both knew they’d grown in power, through without something outside the camp to test themselves against; neither was certain of by how much. The others were no help either, as Hank had them on their own training regiments that were getting exceptional results.

                Five more minutes passed before Mary was finally able to pull the boulder so high it seemed to be past the water tower, the marker they’d set for a telekinetic victory. Letting out a long sigh, she lowered it back to the ground while Alice rose from her seat, floating up from the ground rather than bothering to get up under her own power. The blonde walked over, meeting Mary just as the rock settled.

                “Thought I had you that time.”

                “You say that like you haven’t already won several of these,” Mary pointed out.

                Alice met her friend’s accurate memory with a shrug and a mischievous smile. “Doesn’t mean I don’t want to rack up a few more. Besides, you’re way ahead of me in terms of overall score.”

                “As one of our professors would no doubt say: where we were when we started is irrelevant, only where we’ve reached matters.” Mary hauled herself off the ground, using her actual arms and legs, and began heading back toward the cabins. Hank had made it clear that they needed to rest between bouts, at least ten minutes, and that rehydrating was always crucial. Going to fetch some water would fix both issues.

                “I feel like that’s an easier philosophy to embrace when you’re the one in the lead,” Alice said, falling into step next to her friend. “You up for two more of these before we start working on finesse?”

                “Let’s do one and I’ll see how I feel. Plus we need to see if Alex is free.” Mary scanned the area for Alex’s thoughts as they walked, quickly locating him amidst the relatively small number of other minds. Compared to life on Lander, this was like sitting in a quiet room listening to a refrigerator hum. Alex was training with Roy and Chad, a fact which was hardly surprising. Since they arrived, he’d been focusing almost exclusively on mastering his ability in melee confines. Alex had even declined joining them in the boulder matches. It was curious, given how hard he’d tried to catch Mary in terms of power before, but after what Alex went through he was entitled to a certain amount of curious behavior.

                “If he’s not, we should see if Violet is up for some aerial work,” Alice suggested. “I hate to admit it, but she’s nearly as good of a flier now as I was when I first got to Lander. The sparring has gotten downright decent.”

                “She’ll probably be with Thomas, but it’s worth a shot,” Mary agreed.

                From nearby, the crackle of electricity and blasts of exploding flame could be heard. Vince, no doubt training with Hank again. Mary had been a bit skeptical about their trainer’s claim that his shield could stop any attack, but after months of easily taking everything they could dish out without so much as a scratch, his words had turned out to be true. Everyone took turns working with him, having their progress and form checked, but Vince and Shane seemed to grab every available moment the man had when they could. Finally being able to attack without restraint must have been freeing for them in ways she could only imagine. It would be good for them, too. Knowing their limits would make them all the more effective combatants. Mary had only gotten a few stray thoughts about the state of Lander, but she was keenly aware that they’d need to be very strong if they wanted to make it through the next year.

                A set of knuckles rapping lightly on her skull pulled Mary’s mind away from the world of thoughts and speculation, bringing it back to the matter of the blonde woman knocking on her forehead.

                “Hellooooo. Mary? You in there?”

                “Where else would I be?”

                “Dunno. You were definitely drifting off though.” Alice finally ceased her light attack, though the gaze in her eyes had turned uncharacteristically serious. “Anything you might want to share with me?”

                “No news about the school, if that’s what you’re wondering. Aside from the fact that Dean Blaine and the staff are coming back, but I told you that weeks ago.”

                “And yet I can’t help but get the feeling that you’re still holding out on me.”

                “People are having their own fears and concerns, and I’m overhearing them, however I wouldn’t call protecting their private worries ‘holding out’ on you.”

                “Which I would agree with, assuming that’s all it is.” A mild sliver of accusation slithered through Alice’s words, but she looked back at the cabins they were heading toward and let the matter drop.

                Mary did her best to keep a neutral expression as Alice’s wheedling ended. The truth of the matter was that her friend was right; there were things Mary was keeping to herself. Most of them were just what she’d claimed: personal fears and thoughts of the others that she had no right to share. But some of it was a touch scarier, bits she’d gotten from Nick about how the world was taking the events at Lander.

                And the deepest secret she had, the one Mary hoped the hardest no one would see, was a worry that belonged solely to her. Sooner or later, she would have to tell Alice and the others. But not yet.

                Not while there was still so much work to do.