Five out of the six teens that were in the room jumped up from their seats around the area rug and rushed to the door, pulling Lizzie into a bear hug. Their auras were all bright and optimistic, though they were all overtaken by light green as soon as they saw the human.
“Liz! How’ve you been?” asked Gavin. He seemed to have thinned out–as well as bulked up. His face was more slender, while his arms were thick beneath his long-sleeve t-shirt. “Are you still on the border? Is your family okay?”
“What about our mom?” asked Tawni, mascara streaking down her face as she cried. Her chocolate brown hair was streaked apple red, and her thick-framed glasses were uneven. “Is she okay? And the Dimaculangans?”
“Everyone’s doing fine,” she assured them as she poked Benji affectionately. They were grinning from ear to ear and holding hands with Gabby. “What about you guys? How’s life outside the colony?”
“These past two months were the best of my entire life!” Kaine boasted. “Yeah, we have training and have to fight bandits, but we don’t have to go to school or worry about a thing!”
Lizzie frowned. “But how do you guys get food?”
“Every week a group of us volunteer to head out on supply runs,” explained Benji, analytical as always. “The supplies we gather normally last us for a couple weeks, but Dane has been having us go out weekly so we’re never hungry.”
“So… Is that all you guys do?” she asked, her heart sinking. They sound so happy, but it doesn’t sound like a very fulfilling life. “You train and fight and look for food and play videogames?”
“Well, yeah,” Koji admitted, with the other teens warily agreeing. “What’s wrong with that?”
“I don’t know,” Lizzie sighed. “But don’t you guys want… You know, more?”
“There’s nothing wrong with the lives we have,” Tawni declared in a firm tone. “What about you? You just stand on a border and protect a colony that doesn’t even want you. How is your life better than ours?”
Lizzie’s skin prickled. “I have my family, the halfway house, and Monty. All those things give my life substance–”
“We were your family!” Tawni challenged. The TV screen behind her flickered ominously. “Remember? We were the ones who stood by you when Monty wasn’t around, Mona smothered you, and your family was nowhere to be seen–”
“You’re still my family–” the human tried to interrupt, only for the demon to cut her off.
“No, you replaced us with your precious ‘substance’–!”
“Tawni–” Gavin and Fletcher cautioned their friend.
A voice abruptly broke through the rising tension. “Tawni, that’s enough.”
Tawni flinched and stepped back, hugging herself tightly. Gabby was by her side, rubbing her shoulder as a young man parted the angels and entered the bedroom. He was almost as tall as Monty, and his voluminous hair was the same blond shade as Fletcher’s. His eyes were dark, the color of soot, and he gave off an altruistic air. His aura was like an optical illusion; admiral blue and rose red were swirled together in a spiral pattern like paint that had not fully blended. Trailing behind him was Marilyn, her teal eyes peeking out from beneath auburn bangs, her once dark aura now a vibrant, fruity pink.
“Lizzie!” she gasped and ran to the human, pulling her into a tight embrace. “Holy shit, it’s been so long since I got to hug you!”
Lizzie’s frustration against Tawni evaporated as she returned Marilyn’s hug. “I know, right? It feels like it’s been years…”
She studied the man from over Marilyn’s shoulder, noting how he smiled and nodded at her while keeping a respectable distance. He doesn’t seem so bad.
“So you’re the Lizzie that everyone keeps talking about,” said Dane Ward, the chief of the demons from the Sun. “It’s nice to officially meet you–especially since our first meeting wasn’t under the best circumstances.”
That’s right–I was there when he recruited Gabby. “It’s nice to meet you, too. Thank you for keeping my friends safe and healthy. They all seem happy.”
Tawni fidgeted guiltily from Gabby’s side. “I’m sorry, Liz. I didn’t mean to get so defensive.”
Lizzie shook her head dismissively. “No, I shouldn’t have been attacking your way of life. You’re all happy, and that’s all that matters.”
Dane reached out and squeezed Tawni’s shoulder affectionately. “Are you good to attend this meeting? You can take some time, if you need it.”
Tawni smiled up at her leader. “I’ll be alright, thanks.”
The chief nodded and turned to address Monty. “Why don’t we move this meeting downstairs? The living room is much more comfortable.”
The prince acquiesced, stepping off to the side with a stony expression. “Lead the way.”