.the parting exchange.

1: soul-stealer

I stepped in the arcade with Adam. Immediately, the atmosphere changed. No longer was the air cool and refreshing, but merely damp and claustrophobic. Not that I had claustrophobia, or anything.

I pushed my hood back, as there was no need for it anymore. It wasn't like it rained inside. I ran a hand through my light brown spikes; they bounced straight back up into place when my hand left the strands. I sighed against the humid air and cast a glance at Adam. He was eight years older than me, but ages really didn't mean much to me anymore. Nothing did, except getting what I wanted.

He gave me one of his glowering looks. He hardly ever smiled. He was the leader of our little group—the oldest and the most selfless. He had already mastered "the look", which sent any of those who worked with him into instant silence. His black hair was done up in spikes similar to mine, although smaller and more numerous, and he wore a thick amount of black eyeliner that outlined his calm blue eyes. It didn't quite make sense to me, why someone like him would subject to something so girly, but whatever spun his wheel.

He placed a gloved hand on my shoulder and sunk his abnormally sharp fingernails into the fabric of my coat. "We'll each take one from here." He paused and looked over my head as he thought. "No, I'll take two. You take one."

Something heated up inside of me. "What? I can take two!"

"Without making it obvious?" The tone he used was doubtful, as if he was subtly trying to tell me that he wasn't stupid.

"It's 'cause I'm the youngest, isn't it?" I folded my arms over my chest defiantly and narrowed my eyes.

He grimaced as he looked me over. "Is that supposed to scare me?" He reached for my face as he said, "It looks like you've got a little twitch," and I batted his hand away.

"You're pissing me off!" I fiercely let him know.

For the first time in a week, I saw a hint of a smile play at the corners of his lips, but the evidence of it being there soon faded. He turned around and observed the room. I did the same, deciding to let it be. It was no use arguing with Adam; he always thought he was right. And I was really in no mood to try and prove him wrong. I had tried that once, and disaster had followed. I still got a sour look on my face at the thought of that night.

The arcade smelled of alcohol. It wasn't a place for kids—I was sure most of the people in here classified me as a kid, as I was fifteen. But it wasn't like I was going to stick around here for long. I continued scanning the place. The bar was at the far end of the room. Red stools sat before it. The bartender was too busy flirting with underage girls to notice Adam and I standing at the doorframe.

I thought it would be best to move. We were drawing attention. I stepped, casually, up to a group of people playing one of the arcade games. Pinball. The girl playing seemed a little too into the game.

When the ball was lost, I quietly said, "You suck," so only she could hear. She glanced at me, eyes wide in disbelief.

"Excuse me?" she frowned.

I blinked innocently up at her, then offered a cheeky smile. Her shoulders relaxed when she realized that I had meant no harm, and that I had simply been teasing.

"I'm Rise," I introduced myself, giving off a silly excuse for a bow. Her lips fought to keep straight, but eventually, she smiled and held out her hand to me. I took it. It was slender, and the touch of her warm flesh against mine made a shiver wrack up the base of my neck.

"I'm Teya," she said, pleasantly, but her smile soon fell and her gaze averted to my hand, still clutching hers. "Wow, your hand is cold."

I grinned good-naturally and dropped my hand. "I always have cold hands. I don't know why."

She returned the grin. "You're awfully young to be here."

I cocked my head and shrugged, exaggeratedly. A boy rudely pushed Teya aside and started up a game of pinball. When Teya turned around to flip him off, he merely sneered and told her to move her "fat ass". She scowled. I placed a hand on her shoulder and she jumped.

"Calm down, Teya," I said, using her name in a friendly manner. "Fuck'em."

She relaxed. "Yeah, whatever."

I smiled. "How old are you?"

She sighed out, "Twenty." She looked a little younger, but the age did suit her. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail that somehow managed to look cute, and her blue eyes were more or less pretty. She was a good-looking person in general, and it was almost a pity that I was going to take away the lively color in her cheeks, the lively spark in her eyes, and the lively quirk in her smile.

"I'm actually looking for my brother," I told her. "I thought, maybe you could help."

"Me?" she put a hand on her collar bone, then smiled. "Why?"

I grinned sheepishly and scratched at the back of my head. "Well, you see. . . you're the first friendly-looking person I've seen in here, so far."

She gave the place a look around. Most people were drunk. She apparently agreed, as she didn't comment.

"I actually think he might be a little ways down the street, just near the corner." I took a step back and spread my arms out a little. "I was hoping you could walk me to the corner of the street so I could take a peek around?"

She gave me a look. "You want a bodyguard?" she joked.

"Company," I insisted.

She set a thin hand on her hip. "Well you are too young to be wandering around here by yourself."

I nodded.

"You know," she continued, "I'm surprised you're even asking for company." She gestured towards the door, so I turned and led the way. She followed me outside. Immediately, the air was welcoming, and I breathed it in with a smile. "Normally boys don't ask for help. They just think they're tough."

I shot a glimpse over my shoulder at her. "I'm not like that." I jumped a little to the side so she could walk beside me, and she laughed at my energy. "And besides—I like feeling safe."

"You're smart," she said, observantly, "and you're not afraid of what others think."

I flashed her another cheeky grin. "You know me that well, just by the fact that I asked you to walk me to the corner of the street?"

She shrugged. "Or maybe you're just really good."

"Really good at what?" I took the moment to look puzzled.

"Trying to get alone with a girl."

I grinned as we neared the corner, and I lifted my hands up in front of myself as a gesture of defeat. "Okay, you caught me."

She laughed. "Shut up. You're way younger than me. You've got to be kidding."

"Maybe," I shrugged a shoulder. We reached the corner, and I took another step forward and peered around the building blocking my sight. The street was bare, just as I thought. I glanced back at Teya and waved her closer. She frowned and walked up to me.

"What is it?" she asked. She, too, peered down the street. "There's no one down there. I guess your brother ditched you."

I paused, the ferociously said, "I'm gonna get'chu!"

An awkward silence followed my sudden outburst.

She looked at me oddly before spluttering out, "What?"

"What?" I retaliated, somewhat violently. I suddenly grabbed her arm and pulled her out of view from the people standing outside or around the arcade. She screeched a little at the sudden movement and alarm, but was calm when I pushed her against the wall.

"You've got to be kidding," she wryly stated.

I grinned and leaned into her, pausing as my nose brushed against her neck. "You smell like life."

She was silent for a moment. "Excuse me?"

I lifted my head and hovered my lips above hers. "I want it."

"Want. . . what?" And only now did she seem to realize my motivations weren't what she had figured. I pressed my lips to hers before she could make another sound; she parted her lips against mine, probably to scream, but she made everything a lot easier for me.

I inhaled her.

I felt her drift inside of me, cold and almost painful.

And then I stepped away, and she fell to the ground, soulless. I felt it, cool and fresh, in the back of my throat—her soul. I exhaled, and it flittered out of me and drifted before me, silver and beautiful; precious and crucial. And then it sparkled and a black something dived for it and gathered it up in its claws.

I grinned, watching as the raven soared like a black diamond, off to where it was trained to go. I cast a mild glimpse at Teya, who was struggling to get back on her feet, her flesh sickly pale. She looked up at me, eyes empty, and I knew that she had no idea who I was—or even, who she was. I held out a hand to her, and she looked at it, puzzled, before placing her hand on mine. I pulled her up.