Chapter One: Sibyl

“Three!” The entire crowd shouted with one voice.

“Two!” The energy in the room was electric, a thousand voices oiled by alcohol turning into a chorus. I let a smile spread across my lips as I focused on the holographic screen behind the DJ, and held my flute of champagne up in the air.

“One!”

The whole crowd went nuts.

The retractable ceiling started sliding back to reveal a starry sky, and the whistle of a hundred fireworks climbing up into the night blended with the chorus. When the first fireworks went off, an explosion of light pushing away the darkness in the sky, I joined the others and cried out at the top of my lungs.

“Happy New Year!”

The room, which had its lights dimmed for the countdown, was now filled with the bright colors of the fireworks. They went off for almost ten minutes, covering the sky in colorful teardrops, and every single person in the club watched the show with a kind of wide-eyed amazement.

It had been a while since Kaster had seen such a celebration and, after a couple of rough years, I figured the entire city needed something like this.

I knew I did.

“Let’s get this party started,” the DJ screamed into his hovering microphone. He pushed a few buttons on his control panel, and the holographic screen behind him lit up once more.

The neon colors there ebbed and flowed with a rhythm that matched the music, the pounding bass making my chest vibrate.

Placing my empty champagne flute on the counter, I headed into the dance floor and brought both my hands up. Running my fingers through my hair, I swayed my hips to the rhythm. I whipped my hair back and forth, enjoying the vibrancy of the night, and let a wide smile take over my lips.

There was nothing better than a good party.

“Enjoying yourself, aren’t you?” Someone screamed into my ears, but I still had a hard time making out the words. I turned to see a handsome young man stand beside me, the sleeves of his white button up shirt rolled up his sleeves.

He had the kind of grin that meant trouble, and there was a glint in his eyes that told me I had snagged all of his attention.

“What?”

“Enjoying yourself, aren’t you?” He repeated, and this time I replied with a wink. Facing him, I ran my hands down the side of my body and dragged my teeth over my bottom lip.

I kept my eyes on his as I danced, and it didn’t take long before he closed the distance between us. My father would’ve hated to see me dancing with a stranger, but what the hell.

Some dancing and innocent flirting never really killed anyone, right? No harm in living life and having some fun.

“What do you say we grab some shots?” The guy screamed again, doing his best to talk over the loud music. He pointed toward the corner, where a group of five or six guys was busy downing shot after shot, and I gave him a quick nod.

Grabbing my hand, he led me through the packed dance floor and, somehow, we managed to make our way to the place where his friends were. He motioned at the bartender for two shots and, just a couple of seconds later, I had a small glass pushed into my hands.

“Bottoms up!” I laughed and, without waiting for him, threw my head back and drank it all up. I grimaced as the alcohol made its way down my throat, but I didn’t let that stop me. Once another shot somehow appeared in front of me, I reached for it and drank it up.

“Slow down,” the man laughed. “You keep that up and you won’t last the night.”

“I can handle my liquor.”

“I can see that.”

“Are these your friends?” I asked him, pointing to the group of twenty-somethings surround him. He replied with a nod, and then started naming his friends. They all winked and nodded at me as my new friend introduced them all, but I wasn’t really paying attention to any of it. I couldn’t hear what their names were and, truth be told, I didn’t really care.

All I wanted was to dance.

“Sure feels good, huh?”

“What does?” I asked him.

“Look around you,” he smiled, waving at the crowd. “Notice anything?”

“Not really,” I admitted.

“Not a single alien in here,” he laughed. “I can’t remember the last place I walked into a party without having to see one of them. Feels great, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t get it,” I frowned. “Are you one of those anti-alien guys?”

“Well, wouldn’t you say that it’s high time we—”

“I’m gonna dance,” I cut him short and, without waiting for his reply, I turned my back to him and slipped back into the crowd.

It seemed all everyone wanted to do nowadays was dabble on politics and talk smack about the aliens.

Why ruin a good party with such boring conversation?

“Who’s your friend?” I heard someone laugh right behind me, and I spun on my heels to see Aman, one of the girls that had come with me. She was rocking back and forth on her heels, her eyes already turning glassy. Still, that didn’t seem to stop her from sipping on whatever cocktail she had on her hands. “His friends are cute. Care to introduce me?”

“Nah,” I laughed back at her. “They’re boring as hell.”

“Really?”

“They just wanna talk about aliens and whatever.”

“Ugh.” Rolling her eyes, she then shook her head. “Let’s get out of here then, before this entire party turns into a snooze fest. I know of a club just around the block, and a friend of mine told me they’re partying hard in there.”

“What are you waiting for?” I grinned. “Lead the way.”

We stumbled onto the streets a few minutes later, the chaos of a New Year’s celebration punctuated by loud chants and the laughter of people drinking outside the bars. I followed after Aman as best as I could, but it didn’t take a genius to see that I would have to put an end to my night.

I was already swaying like a boat during a storm, and the world around me seemed to be spinning too fast for my eyes to keep up.

“You go ahead,” I finally said, hands on my knees as I tried to catch my breath. “I think I’m gonna call it a night.”

“It’s not even two,” Aman protested, but I just gave her a sheepish smile. “C’mon, you’re not gonna leave me alone, are you? I can’t handle all the cute boys by myself, can I?”

“I’m sure you’ll manage.” Standing straight—at least as much as I could—I ran one hand through my hair and scanned my surroundings, trying to remember where I had left the car. “I think I’ve just drank too much.”

“You’re a disappointment, Sibyl,” Aman laughed. “C’mon, I’ll walk you to your car.”

The two of us went through a side avenue, and it didn’t take long before I spotted the turquoise sports aircar parked in front of a club. I unlocked the door with my fingerprint, and then climbed inside awkwardly. Sprawled on the back seat, I waved Aman goodbye and told the computer to close the door.

“Take me home,” I said, doing my best not to spill dinner all over the leather upholstery. My dad would kill me if that happened.

Destination set as: home,” the car’s AI droned in its monotone voice, and the engine came alive with a growl. “Estimated arrival time: 25 minutes.” I bounced in my seat as the car pushed its weight off the pavement, and I quickly buckled myself up.

I spent the entire journey with my eyes closed, and I only dared to open them when I became certain dinner would remain in my stomach. I looked out the window to see the quiet suburbs underneath me, the brightly lit centre of Kaster just a flash in the distance, and I rested my forehead against the glass.

A few minutes later and the car started its descent into the gated courtyard of a stately manor. It stopped right in front of the imperial staircase that led the way to the front entrance, and jumped out of the car as silent as cat.

A very drunk cat. Even though I was pretty sure someone must’ve heard the car, I still hoped I’d manage to get inside my bedroom without anyone noticing me.

I held my breath as I opened the front door, but my father’s voice immediately boomed from the entrance hall. “Do you have any idea what time it is?” He stood just a few steps away from the door, both hands on his hips as he stared me down.

He was wearing a tailored suit that somehow managed to hide the weight he had put on these last few years, an outfit he must’ve chosen for whatever boring party he had to attend.

You’d think that the Mayor of Kaster would be livin’ it up, but that wasn’t the case.

More often than not, all my father had to do was take infinite administrative meetings and attend functions so boring I could fall asleep just thinking of them.

“It’s…huh…two in the morning,” I mumbled, trying to pretend I was sober.

It didn’t work. Every word I tried to push out of my mouth was as mellow as a caramel that had been left under a summer’s sun.

“Are you drunk?”

“It’s New Year’s,” I said. “I’ve had a few drinks. So what?”

He didn’t say anything. He just stared at me, eyes narrowed, and he clenched his fists. He started to shout at me, but I was so damn drunk I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying.

“I’m going to bed,” I merely said, and turned my back on him. He kept on shouting as I stumbled up the stairs that led into my bedroom, but I just ignored him.

There was something odd about him. Even though he didn’t really like my partying habits, my father wasn’t really the kind of man to act as angrily as he was right now.

Whatever.

Stepping into my bedroom, I made a beeline straight toward my bed and collapsed on top of the mattress.

I was so drunk I didn’t even fall asleep.

I straight up passed out.

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