Devin sat on a large tree branch, as thick as he was tall. The Proie was full of these huge trees, but Devin was the only one brave enough to try and climb them. He sat over fifty feet above the ground, happy as he could be. His enhanced muscles let him climb high, and his cold heart wouldn’t let any fear into his system.
Devin had killed four people, and had neither enjoyed it or been disgusted by it. Devin liked girls but didn’t ask them out. Devin didn’t mind cooking his meat once in a while, to see exactly how good he could make it taste. Devin was an oddball.
Devin was more than an oddball. He was his own batch.
Two years after Darcy and her gang had been brought to the Loup, Devin was marched along. After Devin, order came to the Loup. All batches consisted of at least ten kids, half boys, half girls. Darcy’s batch had worked, Devin came along, and then things turned to routine.
The result was that for a few years Devin had been the equivalent of an only child; he got extra attention from the Master and was more “special” then Darcy’s batch. Then more kids were ordered, and Devin was just weird. Not cruel or knowledgeable enough of the Loup to hang out with Darcy, because by the time he came along the Master was full of secrets.
But Devin was too old for the next batch, containing Arnulf and Cala and Rafe, among others. Because real schooling was happening then, they were being taught to fight and Hunt and they were like the third and fourth children in a family. By then the parents knew how to change diapers and sing nonsense songs but were also tired enough to let them run along without a ton of supervision. Devin had already been taught other things, and was left out. Besides, he was a solitary person anyway.
Devin was curious. He liked climbing trees to see what was beyond his small horizon, and he was an unusually good student because he cared about gaining knowledge. Whether it was how to multiply ten by ten or how big a rabbit’s brain was, Devin wanted to know. He was fascinated by what he didn’t know. He’d already read everything in the meager library of the Loup.
Devin had glorious plans one day of walking away from the Loup, of just running off down the lane and finding other people. He knew there had to be others. The babies kept in the little huts weren’t children of the Master; they had to come from somewhere.
Devin also liked peace and quiet. That was why he climbed trees. To be away from the chaos of the school. It earned him the nickname Squirrel, from Gethin. Gethin had been the one ordered to get Devin out of the trees when they were little, and disobedient.
When Rafe attacked Raul, and a mild uproar was caused, Devin had fled. He hated running at the sight of trouble, but he was also glad he knew how to calm down. Devin had too powerful a punch to be running around nervous.
Nobody was ever really missed if they disappeared. Devin spent half his nights sleeping in trees, actually. But when he did, and reentered the Loup casually the next morning, Darcy’s gang was tense. He knew the Master was afraid of kids leaving, of running away, and so his little pets were too. But that didn’t stop Devin.
Dozing on and off, Devin fell into the reverie of pure bliss, where he could stay comfortably as long as it was quiet. Some people might call it napping, but it wasn’t. It was relaxation, a feeling most of the Loup didn’t know.
After a while, Devin’s stomach growled and he nimbly crawled down the tree. Hunting in the Proie when it wasn’t thundering was forbidden, something that bugged most students. After all, people wouldn’t hear miles and miles away. The Master was just paranoid.
In Devin’s opinion (which was never asked for) the Master had way too many secrets. What was the worst that could happen if they knew his name? The kids couldn’t rat him out, because they had no communication with the rest of the world, and wouldn’t know what to rat him out for, anyway. They learned no history at the Loup. No names of murderers, saviors, saints, ordinary citizens. The Master could be Jesus himself and they wouldn’t know who he was, since there was no religion or Bibles of any kind at the Loup.
But Devin avoided trouble like the plague, and it was fine by him to get food from the kitchens, just inconvenient. They had to power to morph whenever they could, they had super strong muscles and enhanced senses, and they should be able to use them. And yet Devin was a follower, and always would be. He headed for the Loup.
Devin had lots of time to contemplate, because he had no one to truly call a friend and talk to. He had heard the whispers about the army. That after decades of work, the Master would set them on the world and they would take over and live like kings.
Or that the Master would force them to take control, and then use them as slaves. Or that he would kill them all once they were done, keeping only a few like Darcy to keep order in his empire.
No one dared revolt for fear of the unknown, even though Devin knew that half the school could easily overpower the Master. He had the wand, but if they crept up behind him, knocked him unconscious and hid it, he’d be unprotected and would do whatever they said.
Devin could probably organize such an attack, but he was a mellow person. He’d never get up the energy and excitement it took to rile up the kids and tell them what to do. And he’d never ask Darcy for help.
Devin was taller than Gethin, stronger than Darcy and smarter than the two of them put together. The five in that first batch knew that if he had been born a few years earlier, and been brought to the Loup first, he’d be in command. But he hadn’t. He was only eighteen, at the most. And Darcy’s gang was twenty or twenty one. They had secrets. They had power.
The internal struggles of the Loup, and the power each individual held would be unknown to anyone who didn’t know how to look. Everyone’s age, strength, and Kill Count were precariously balanced. Devin could see it and think about it, but most just accepted it without thought.
Devin sat on a counter in the kitchen, chopped up some chicken, and tossed it around in a frying pan. Besides a few younger kids, he was the only cook at the Loup, the only one who bothered trying to eat food not raw.
Darcy then walked into the room, and grimaced at Devin and his cooking meat. “Classes are canceled tonight,” she said moodily, then swept out.
Classes were another humiliation for Devin. He wasn’t old enough to teach, apparently, even though Darcy had had her own class since she was fourteen. Devin was forced to study with the batch below him.
However, it was an interesting insight that classes were canceled. They were never canceled. In fact, they’d never even been postponed an extra hour. Devin headed for the common room, abandoning his cooking.
The common room was nearly empty, but kids were creeping in, and eyeing Darcy’s gang nervously. The four adults were huddled in their usual spots, whispering intently.
A burly fifteen-year-old marched up to Devin. “Go to listen to them,” he said, jerking his head at Darcy. “You’re the only one they’ll let near them.”
“Says who?” said Devin roughly. The younger kids always wanted him to eavesdrop on Darcy.
“Gethin broke a kid’s arm,” said the teen darkly, then walked off.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Devin sat in the chair closest to Darcy’s without looking intrusive, and studied a book on mathematics taken from a shelf. Darcy glared at him, but let him be. Devin heaved an inaudible sigh of relief, then settled in to hear what they were saying, not bothering to look at who was saying what, just listening to the anxious voices.
“We’ve gotta go outside the school. Something happened up there. JP’ll never tell us.” That was the rough, deep voice of Gethin.
“We need to steal his wand, then go.” The hiss of determined Darcy.
“Let’s boycott. Not do anything but lie in our beds until he says something.” said Tynan’s voice, higher than Gethin’s, and his ever-heavy breathing that sounded like he was running a race.
“No, he’ll just use magic again. The only solution is to leave.” Darcy’s mind was always on the Master’s wand, on his magical powers.
“We don’t know how far away civilization is. It could take weeks.” said Tynan, the logical one.
“Damn it, Tynan, we know how to hunt! We’d make it!” snapped Darcy, the one whose logic broke apart everyone else’s.
“We’d get lost. We’d spend our lives looking for food. It would be backwards evolution.” And Tynan would use his brain to contradict her.
“Evolution. JP had a book in his office on it. It was lying open, on the floor. I read a few pages while he lectured us. It’s like at the beginning of the world, there was no life. Then these really tiny, primitive bits emerged. And over a million years, as our bodies freaked out and grew weird parts, we became humans.”
“Whatever that is, forget it, smart ass. I’m not spending my time here looking after brats.” snarled Darcy.
“Fine. Then I suggest we send out someone else, first, to see what he can find. Tell him to find people, then report back. If he can’t find anyone in two weeks, come back anyway.”
“That’s not a bad idea…” Devin never knew why Darcy was the leader of the group. Tynan was smarter, and had plenty of strength. He had natural leadership, and good ideas. Perhaps he was just too easy to push aside. Maybe he didn’t fight Darcy enough.
“Who would we send?” Gethin had been silent most of the time, but now he spoke up. “We’re the only ones who wouldn’t break down, who’d actually find enough food, who’d have enough stamina.”
“Devin…” Zevi breathed, so quietly that Devin himself only recognized it because it was his name.
Four faces snapped to him, and Devin lowered his book guiltily.
“You’ve heard everything, right?” Darcy said pointedly.
“Yes.” Devin was never afraid of Darcy. He just let the leaders lead.
“Go. Tomorrow. You know what to do. Two weeks. Come back with or without the good news.”
“Go.” Darcy flipped back her hair and stood up, her height imposing. She stalked out of the room.
And Devin was left to search through the wilderness for people that might not even be there.