Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Blue Nexus #87 - A Toxic Relationship

Previously on "Blue Nexus": Kyle helped an alien girl named Ven fight off some rogue government agents bent on capturing her for nefarious reasons. They hit it off fast, forming a good friendship with signs of blossoming into something more. Meanwhile, Kyle and Andreus have been preparing for the upcoming lacrosse season, though their magic-fueled feud has created an ugly stain on their reputation. And Kyle, after the battle with the Starlan, still has a broken, useless Nexus bracelet. 

            The Adelita Mall could probably be equated to something more along the lines of an awkward meeting ground for many people. It was almost impossible to not run into someone you knew because of the size of the mall and dwindled size of the town’s population. It came as no surprise to Kyle, then, when he and Ven, out on a errand-running night for Ven, came across Kip and Dani on an actual date.
            The town, it seemed, was quite abuzz with shopping, though mostly to buy loose clothing or food stocks for the game tomorrow. It was the season-opening lacrosse game and everyone was getting ready to high-tail it over to school for the big night. Kyle had been mentally preparing some for the game, but mostly for the barrage of questions he would be getting tomorrow ahead of it from the TV production staff (who were going to live stream several interviews as well as the game itself) and the newspaper staff, who, Kyle heard from Luke, would have their pre-game articles written ahead of the game to get everyone else caught up.
            Ven, though, couldn’t really care less about the game besides Kyle being involved and Dani going because Kip was going, and she knew Andreus. Everyone knew Andreus, but, that was a good thing. Everyone should know Andreus in Kyle’s mind.
            He and Ven galivanted across the mall in search of peach-scented candles that her mother help her stay relaxed and focused in the burgeoning springtime warmth. Ven’s race of aliens didn’t do too well in the spring because of the pollen mixing with the warmth; in the summer, where just the heat took over, she was okay. Now? Apparently the candles did quite a bit to relax her senses. Ven’s father required a much stronger substance.
            Ven claimed to know a good spot but figured Kyle, knowing she was an alien, would want to know all about it. Smart girl. Kyle followed Ven throughout their adventure, getting looks from other students, alumni, and adults from around the town. Kyle was used to getting them because of the viral video that went out of him fighting Andreus, but now he probably got them because he wasn’t with Kip or Luke.
            When Kip did arrive, with Dani, the looks dwindled. Ven spotted Dani before anyone else and rushed away from Kyle. “Veronica!” Kyle heard Dani exclaim from several scores of feet away. Kyle still wasn’t too used to someone calling Ven by her Earth name since he used it so liberally with her. Kip and Ven greeted each other and Kyle caught up with them, also catching Kip by surprise.
            “Ah, good, someone’s got him on a leash,” Kip said. “About time someone takes you out. Though it looks like you just crawled out of bed.”
            Kyle grimaced and nodded. He wore a loose-fitted grey t-shirt with black basketball shorts and flip-flops. Matty hair was covered up by a hat just a size too small. And, of course, there was the now-dormant Nexus bracelet dangling on his wrist. He couldn’t feel any energy pulsing from it at all.
            “Got nothing else to do tonight, may as well have some good company,” he said, folding his arms, making sure Kip could see the still-dry Nexus bracelet. Kip eyed it and nodded, but his expression didn’t change.
            “So, what, a dinner date, then?” Kip asked.
            “Running some errands,” Ven said.
            “Jeez, Veronica, can’t believe you had the balls to call Kyle up late at night before the big game,” Dani said. She laughed. “Like damn, girl.”
            Ven shrugged. “Figured I would ask, I didn’t think it would do too much to him.”
            “Not like I’ve never played a lacrosse game before,” Kyle said, though nerves wracked his voice when they came out. It was his first game where everyone knew one of his secrets, and all eyes would be on him and Andreus. More eyes meant more chances of being scouted. Kyle’s face must’ve flushed a little, because Dani said,
            “Sorry, just messing with you, Kyle,” Dani said. “The whole girls’ team is going out tomorrow to watch; well, most of us, anyway.”
            “Who isn’t going?” Ven asked.
            The conversation droned on and Kyle caught the eyes of some of the wandering adults, staring him down as if he had done something wrong. In reality he knew it was the black marking running down his elbow. Nobody at school ever brought it up, but it would no doubt be a topic of fun conversation for tomorrow. Kyle rubbed his right arm absent-mindedly, staring at the floor, appearing to be lost in some sort of thought.
            “Yes, Kyle, right?” Kip’s familiar voice sang somewhere in another world.
            Kyle snapped his head up. “What? Sorry.”
            “No big deal,” Dani said, her voice silent. Kyle smiled at her concerned expression but felt a heat rising off his arm. He removed his hand and saw the black Demon mark wriggling, ever-so-slightly, along his shoulder and bicep. He’d accidentally rolled his sleeve all the way up, too.
            “We need to get going,” Ven said, smiling back at Dani and Kip. “Text me where you guys are sitting, okay, Dani?”
            As if nothing happened Dani hugged Ven. “For sure.”
            The two groups separated after Kyle and Kip did their handshake and Ven and Kyle continued through the mall, though at a slower pace. Neither of them spoke before they entered another shop, and even then it was Ven pointing out the candle to Kyle.
            “There’s a great plain on my world where people could vacation up to fifty days out of the year and just stay there to recharge,” Ven said. She peeled the lid off the candle and wafted the smell in. Her skin momentarily shimmered to its natural state before she exhaled and was back to normal. “It’s beautiful.”
            She handed it to Kyle, and to him, it smelled of peaches. He took it from her hand, though. They were soft, and didn’t tremble even against his own, against an arm tainted by evil.

            Kyle slid his hand into his glove and strapped it tight around his wrist. The crowd stood silent behind them. Andreus stood next to Kyle, stick slung over his shoulder. They were at the front of clump of their team. Kyle stretched his arm and exposed his Demon mark to Mira standing next to him. She raised her eyebrow.
            “You know, if it weren’t a source of dark magic, I bet that’d be just a sweet tattoo,” she said. “Water?”
            Kyle shook his head. “Thanks though. Nervous?”
            “Why would I be nervous?”
            “I don’t know, what if a ball comes and hits you in the head?”
            Mira grinned. “Then I know a guy that better get some revenge for me, am I right?”
            Kyle grinned. “Sure do.”
            “Oh, and you’re going to the thing after this, right?” Mira asked.
            “The thing?”
            The ref blew his whistle. Mira waved Kyle off. “Halftime.”
            Kyle went to retort but didn’t bother. He and Andreus started across the field toward the referees as well as the other team’s captains. There wasn’t a coin-flip or anything, but the district did have a weird thing of having the captains come on the field last to introduce themselves and for the refs to basically tell them not to kill each other.
            Adelita High was already all set up against their opponent, D. Walker High. They came from probably a good forty minutes out to the west, a school with a bigger academic reputation than their athletic one. Adelita didn’t have much to show for in either regard; well, they had Kyle and Andreus.
            The two captains from D. Walker stood taller than both of them, though Andreus was probably more muscular than the two. The three officials approached both sets of captains and stared down Kyle and Andreus the longest. They went through their usual speech about how great it is that lacrosse is back and to not look to harm anyone and to play the game clean. They won’t go easy, even if it is the first game.
            Kyle shook the first captain’s hand and he just stared at Kyle’s arm. “Cheaters.”
            “The use of magic has been strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated in the slightest,” the head official said.
            “No worries,” Kyle said, and the other captain was already walking away before Kyle could move to shake his hand. Kyle moved out to his position on the defense while Andreus took up his place as forward. Andreus had been practicing as their face-off man, the one who tried to take the ball at the start of the game, quarter, or after a score, but Coach decided against it.
            Kyle heard his name cheerfully called upon and then booed seconds before the whistle blew. He twirled his stick and could only react when the ball came hurtling his way. He stood still for a moment, surveying the field, then faked out one of the coming forwards and passed it up ahead to a midfielder. Kyle followed the forward, tagging him as his own.
            “Don’t try anything you damn weirdo,” he said.
            “Wasn’t thinking about it ‘til you said it,” Kyle muttered, and he probably heard that and scampered into a more viable position. Kyle followed, keeping his stick along the back of his leg as a taunt more than letting him know where Kyle was. When their offense caught a break, he tried to turn but Kyle stepped in front of him. They stumbled over one another and he was instantly taken out of the play. He shoved Kyle’s helmet into the ground. Kyle rolled onto his feet and sprinted after him. He swatted out with his stick and blocked him from getting the ball. It rolled behind both of them.
            Kyle slid to a halt but a shoulder still slammed into his chest and sent him sprawling to the ground.
            “Magic!” one of the D. Walker players exclaimed.
            Kyle hopped back to his feet. He was aware of the Nexus bracelet in his glove and aware of the Demon marking on his arm. D. Walker retained possession of the ball and Kyle and the other defenders took up their positions, blocking sight of the goal from their forwards as they passed the ball around.  
            One took an errant shot that pinged off the crossbar and toward another defender. Kyle moved himself into position and caught the pass before a D. Walker player almost hit him across the shoulder again. Kyle stepped one way, feinted the other, and committed to the first step, tripping up his blocker and getting an open lane to pass the ball.
            The D. Walker forward stood up and nudged Kyle with his shoulder pads. Kyle just chuckled.
            “Better be glad I’m not on offense,” Kyle said.
            He scowled back at Kyle, who gestured ahead, telling him to pay attention. Kyle swung his stick around once and then gripped it with two hands and braced himself behind the forward.
            The ball came their way, loose and on the ground. Kyle broke into a sprint before he could, scooping it up and taking a few more steps before launching it all the way across the field toward a wide open Andreus, who dodged two defenders in a single move and scored. The roar of the crowd was instantaneous, but the boos lasted just a second longer.
            They headed out of the first half with a 5-2 lead over D. Walker, and none of their players, despite Kyle and Andreus actually only being a part of that initial score. Everything else came down to the other players; in fact, for the last three goals, Kyle and Andreus weren’t even on the field at the same time. Kyle’s defensive line came back out for the final minute to ensure another stop, and they just barely held the line.
            Coach tried not to be too conspicuous about pulling and Kyle aside, but it utterly failed. A student with a camera rushed by them, standing behind Coach so he couldn’t see the boy capturing the moment. Kyle eyed them, tried to gesture them to leave, but just waved it off. All Coach wanted was to check on how they were doing and to see if they needed help, as if he could understand their situation. Kyle glanced at Andreus in his peripheral. He looked just fine; probably better than Kyle, in fact. The Power Mage abilities granted him longer endurance and there was nothing he could do about that. It’d be like turning on and off an exhaustion level.
            When Coach was satisfied with his answers, Andreus and Kyle stood together to survey the field. D. Walker headed back out there now, stretching while music blared overhead.
            “So are they bugging you as much as me?” Andreus asked.
            “Yup,” Kyle sighed. “At this point I’d really hate to use my magic, if only because it would prove them right.”
            Coach signaled for them to get back on the field. Andreus clapped Kyle’s shoulder pad and they clinked lacrosse sticks.
            “Let’s just give them the human kind of hell, then,” Andreus said.
            “Sounds good to me,” Kyle said, and they jogged back onto the field.
            Kyle and Andreus came on and off the field for the majority of the game, thought the game continued to flow in the direction of their team. Each time Kyle came on, he had four D. Walker students gunning and eyeing him. It was as if he were the forward each time he came on the field, and it forced him to get a little more creative with his plays. When Coach sent him in for the final time in the middle of the fourth quarter, Kyle got the ball almost instantly, and had two forwards sprinting his way.
            He had an open passing lane for a second before a lacrosse stick came into his field of view. He cradled the ball and narrowly avoided an intentional swipe at his right arm. He switched grips to his left hand and side-stepped the second forward, then back-pedalled a bit to get a little space and moved to the middle of the field. Two teammates hollered his name but they had people right around them. Kyle didn’t have the arm-strength to make that kind of a throw.
            Kyle shifted hands back again and had to spin around another forward. He braced himself, and thankfully another one of his defenders came wide open on his right-wing. Kyle tossed the ball hard as he could at the other defender and watched him catch it then pass it back downfield. He and Kyle changed positions. A D. Walker played managed to break up a pass and the ball slid back toward Kyle, who slid to pick it up, then sprung onto his feet thanks to a technique Phoenix taught him during their combat training almost a year ago and tossed the ball to a wide-open man way downfield.
            Adelita entered a power-play for a minute and managed to go up two points to ice the game, finalizing the score at 9-5 and leaving a bunch of bitter, angry D. Walker students and fans headed out of the stadium while Adelita hooted and hollered for the boys team. Coach gathered them up and gave them a pretty stirring speech, and never once made eye contact with Kyle and Andreus, though Kyle sensed this was deliberate.
            He and Andreus were actually looked over, for the most part. Andreus was popular and cool enough that a large crowd formed around him pretty fast, but Kyle was left to his own until Kip and Luke leapt at him, yelling about how well they played for their first game. Kyle had almost forgotten the feeling after a good lacrosse game, how excited Kip and Luke would get.
            The town really came together after a good win, and even more after a loss. They wanted to console the players and give them a reason to keep fighting. Kip and Luke were plenty, but when Ven brought over the girl’s team and they all knew Kyle’s name he felt even better. Ven hugged him, stretching just a bit to wrap around his pads, and told him he did a great job.
            Another person clapped him on the back. Mira tussled his hair. “Sure looked like you were having a good time.”
            Kyle blushed. A sudden awkwardness flooded his mind when Mira and Ven made eye contact. Mira smiled and nodded, forcing Ven to do the same. Oh, boy.
            “So you’re coming, right?” Mira said. “I know it’s like right after the game, but, like, that’s the point, right?”
            “Yeah, sorry, what are you talking about?” Kyle asked.
            Mira raised an eyebrow. “I told you a few days ago, everyone’s headed cliffside to hang out. You in? Veronica, you’re going, right?”
            “I know Dani’s going,” Ven said, gesturing at Dani, who was caught up in conversation with Kip and Luke. “Kyle, are you?”
            Kyle shrugged. His shoulders were sore and he wanted to sit down. “Yeah, but, nobody wants us to change or anything? We smell like…”
            “Just put your deodorant on in the locker room,” Mira said. “You’ll have to meet us there, though.”
            “Who do you think is putting this all together, dumbass?” Mira asked. “Meet us there when you can, okay?”
            Kyle just nodded and Mira jogged off with the other athletic training students, following by some of the lax boys. Kyle sighed and put his helmet atop his head, balancing it.
            “Guess I better get changed, then,” he muttered to nobody.
            “We don’t have to go,” Ven said.
            She stepped up next to him and looked him in the eyes, some resentment swelling within. She wanted to go, and, Kyle knew he needed to go. He needed to figure out this awkwardness. He swallowed the lump in his throat.
            “You…can you drive?” Kyle asked. “Like could you drive us there?”
            “Sure,” Ven said. “No problem.” She grinned. “But if that’s the case you better be smelling like my mom’s candles before you get in the car.”
            “Oh, relax, just roll the window down,” Kyle said, picking up the pace and forcing Ven to follow after him.

            The two arrived alongside Dani and four of the other girls. Kip couldn’t make it and Luke headed straight from the game to a dinner date with his boyfriend, and Luke was just excited because he didn’t have to pay for anything. It was their one-month, after all.
            The party must’ve been hopping since Kyle left the locker room. Several trucks were backed up to the edge of the cliff but with the beds facing a bonfire in the middle of it all. Several boys and girls were sitting in blankets watching the bonfires either in the beds of the truck or just in front. Music blared from one of the trucks.
            Several of the lacrosse team members were there in their day clothes. Kyle rubbed some sweat off his drying-skin face. It was still pretty warm outside; at least, warm for an early April afternoon. Dani’s girlfriends hollered at some people. Dani gestured at Ven who let her go. She twirled her keys in her hands.
            Kyle wiped sweaty palms on his hands. Nerves for being with Ven sprang up. Nerves for possibly seeing Mira sprang up. Nerves about being in a large social group sprang up. Kyle tried and failed to swallow a much larger lump in his throat.
            “Time to party,” Ven said. “You know anyone here?”
            Kyle spotted Andreus across the bonfire surrounded by a crowd of people. He was in one of the truck’s beds with a red cup in his hands.
            “Yeah, two, maybe three people,” Kyle said, following Ven to a nearby table.
            Something cracked in front of him and Ven sighed as she gulped something down. She spat it back up almost immediately. Kyle smelled something odd and looked to it.
            Beer spilled down some of the nearby grass and trickled Kyle’s shoes. He panicked, for a moment. Beer, here? But everyone was underage!
            “Ven, where’d you get that, did you bring that?” he asked.
            “No, they’re on the table,” she said. “Gosh Earth beverages really are the worst.”
            “Well, yeah, and we’re not—” Kyle stopped himself when Ven took up a solo cup and dipped a small ladle into a bowl of red liquid. She slid this liquid down her throat with ease and smiled after it’d been drunk.
            “Now that is better,” she said. Her grin widened. “Oh, come on, Kyle, live a little! You’re only a teen once.”
            Kyle just shrugged and took the cup she handed him. She started drinking out of her second cup, but slower. She led Kyle away from the table toward the bonfire. At least he knew which of the two would be driving him.
            A crick in his leg made him sit down on one of the unoccupied logs. Ven started telling him about something going down in the stands. Kyle listened in as much as she could, but with each passing word, her inflection changed. Kyle didn’t notice until she mixed up “confidant” with “confident.” It’d only been ten minutes since they arrived.
            “Ven, are you drunk?” he asked. “It’s been literally ten minutes.”
            She shushed him. “It’s Veronica around the humans.” She smiled and chuckled. She was still adorable, but boy if she hadn’t screamed that across the way. Thankfully their voices were practically drowned out by the music.
            Before she could get up, he told her about the first goal, how excited he was to see it happen. It gave her pause, and within the same amount of time, Ven was back to normal. She blinked twice at him, as if she didn’t realize what’d happened. He sighed.
            “What is it?” she asked. Her sweet voice had no slur in it whatsoever.
            “Nothing, just a little worn out,” Kyle said. He stretched out his legs, reaching out to touch his toes. “Feeling a bit cramped.”
            “Then get up, we don’t have to sit here all night,” Ven said.
            Kyle begrudgingly agreed and she helped him to his feet, heaving up him. Kyle straightened out his back and smelled a rather pungent cologne waft behind him. He checked over his shoulder to a clean-shaven, well-dressed boy followed by his own little entourage headed toward Andreus. Kyle looked to Andreus, who was deep into conversation.
            “Veronica!” someone called out.
            Ven squeezed Kyle’s hand, a signal for her return, then whisked herself away. Kyle followed the shadows back to the drinks table, where a few of his teammates were cracking open another beer. Part of him wanted to reprimand them for being idiots, but another look around told him that there weren’t nearly enough cards, and not nearly enough drinks out at the time, for everyone to be drinking and driving. Not to mention he knew a few people that would happily ferry a few drunken teenagers home should they decide to get a little carried away.
            Kyle dipped the ladle just into the bowl and poured a smidge into the cup. He got the barest taste upon his tongue when an arm grabbed his and pulled him along, spilling the cup on the floor. Ven was there, on the other side, with two of her friends, neither of whom Kyle recognized.
            “You’re driving me home, aren’t you?” she asked. She rolled her eyes, grabbed his cheeks, and planted a kiss right on his lips. Kyle froze, and barely heard her say, “You can be so dumb sometimes, Kyle, I swear.”
            She jumped right back into her conversation with her friends, and Kyle stood motionless as the trees that surrounded them.
            He stared at the dirt ground at Ven’s feet while she spoke. Weird, random thoughts shot across his mind: the kiss was so good because it was part of her alien DNA; she’s the one, she’s your one true love!; it’s only strange because it’s not Mira; did you really agree to drive her home?
            Ven turned back to Kyle with a freckled smile and just wrapped an arm around him. Somewhere along her conversation she must’ve picked up a cup and started drinking out of it, but this time it was much quicker.
            Those odd-smelling boys came by and Ven’s friends changed places with them, it seemed. One boy in particular grabbed a beer with one hand and opened it; the well-dressed one, and one that Kyle somewhat recognized but not because any of them went to school.
            “Have we met somewhere?” Kyle asked. Ven gasped.
            “So you do know other people here?” she asked.
            The boy, probably a year older than Kyle, gestured at his friends. They took drinks and hollered at some others.
            “No,” he said. “I just have that face. I get this a lot.”
            “Yeah, I guess so,” Kyle said.
            The boy’s eyes darted about cautiously and he took a sip of the beer. Kyle, though, noticed the faintest tattoo along his forearm, one he was all-too familiar with. He made no note of it besides,
            “Where’d you get the tattoo?”
            Ven eyed it as well. The boy looked at Kyle, who had the Demon mage mark showing in the firelight.
            “Friend of mine,” he said, and brushed hair out of his eyes. “Downtown.”
            “We don’t have a tattoo parlor downtown,” Kyle said. The well-dressed boy set down the can and shrugged.
            “Then you don’t want to know,” he said. “If you know I’m afraid of what I’ll have to do to you.”
            “You can’t do anything to him, he’s a wizard,” Ven said, and wrapped her arm around Kyle again.
            “And he’s a Toxic,” Kyle said.
            The boy just glared at Kyle, and Ven looked between Kyle to the Toxic. “A what?”
            “Ven, you should really get in the car,” Kyle said. He nudged at her but she resisted.
            “Don’t tell me what to do, I take care of myself,” Ven said.
            Kyle just reached down and held her hand, holding her steady. What a great night, indeed. “What the hell are you doing up here?”
            “None of your business,” he said. He didn’t seem tense, or likely to make any sudden moves.
            “You’re a bit young for a Toxic, aren’t you, though?” Kyle asked.
            “My dad ain’t,” he said. “Damn chems been getting to his head.” He swiped more hair away. “Can’t even work with the crew; I have to do it.”
            “You don’t have to, you can find another way,” Kyle said.
            “What the hell do you know about the Toxics, kid?” he asked.
            Ven sensed the hostility and stepped in the way, but Kyle blocked her. He put his arm up and tried to stop her, but she smacked him across the face.
            The Toxic laughed. “Can’t even control someone else. What the hell do you think I’m here for, man?”
            “You won’t kill anyone,” Kyle said.
            “Wait, Toxic?” Ven finally asked, her voice shrill. Still, it was nothing against the music. “Like the criminals?”
            “Ven, stay back, please,” Kyle said, this time with much more urgency. He tried to step between them, but all hell broke loose.
            Ven shoved Kyle into the Toxic and the two spilled forward, knocking the table over. She then leapt toward them but was caught by someone else. Kyle groaned and saw the Toxic slink into the shadows. Kyle followed him around to the back of the truck.
            “Please, don’t do anything stupid,” Kyle said.
            “I just need a little cash,” he said. “Then I can help my dad. Come on, man, just a little. What do these kids need it for? Beer? School?”
            “They haven’t done anything to you,” Kyle said.
            Ven screamed and rushed around the truck. Kyle tried to stop her but she shoved him against the truck and punched out at the Toxic. She’d freaking lost it.

            The Toxic side-stepped her with ease. Kyle darted toward him but he, with a single punch, knocked out Kyle, sending him flipping and tumbling down the cliff-side without anyone even noticing he’d been there besides a manic, drunken alien girl.

Next time: Kyle seeks out Ven to discuss the outburst and where they stand in "Blue Nexus #88 - The Shore." 

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