Paint the World
Monday 29th June 1998
It took us only ten minutes or so to get from my street to Dakota’s “gaff I’m staying at”. Of course, me being me, I’d poked my head through the front door of my house to tell Mum I was going – and had to bluff that I was off to the park, an off-the-cuff lie I’m not certain she believed.
The walk was also a little awkward, as the five of us were all in matching clothing and carrying weapons while walking through the streets. It seemed like I was the only one who felt conspicuous, though. And thankfully, we reached our destination without issue.
Compared to my typical suburban home, Dakota’s abode was a little fancier. A gravel driveway led up to a detached house, an ornate metal gate blocking off a side path while a big, dark brown door guarded its interior. Plants crept up the front wall, while small flowerbeds brightened up the patches of ground beneath the ground floor windows.
“This is my auntie and uncle’s gaff,” our de-facto leader told us. “They have another house further north, so I’m staying here for the time being.”
“It’s wicked!” Kendal beamed, investigating keenly. Neither Bao or Zahid seemed impressed (I’m not sure if Zahid could be impressed).
“Are you… on your own, then?” I asked Dakota, maybe sounding a little too concerned. She flashed me another smile and I struggled to keep my heart in my chest.
“I’m coping. It’s only meant to be a little while. Oh!”
She swung her spear in front of herself, resting the blunt end on the ground so the glowing green head pointed to the sky.
“Turns out this is how you get rid of the battle costumes…”
Holding the weapon steady with her right hand, she brought her left hand to the circle where her butterfly-like emblem was placed and gave it two quick taps. Instantly her clothing burst away from her in the form of green droplets that dissolved into the air. Now her own ensemble was visible, a cute combo of stripy tank top and a skirt longer than her battle costume one, and clean trainers.
“It took a loooot of experimenting to figure that out,” she admitted, that smile of hers creasing up a little… I couldn’t quite decide if she was amused by or embarrassed about her confession.
“I’m glad you told us, cos I was starting to think I’d lost the clothes I was wearing forever and I’d have to morph naked,” Bao chimed in while, err, un-morphing. That was a mental image I didn’t need…
“And I bet now you’re all picturing me naked,” he added coolly. “Just- just don’t under-endow me, okay? And I’ve got a mole on my thigh-”
“Do any of you mind if I hit him?” Zahid grumbled to the rest of us. “One clean whack with the side of my axe…” All the while, he too dispelled his costume.
“I mind if you hit me…” the shorter guy whined.
I brought the sword in front of myself and did as the others had done – a quick double-tap on that ever-glowing emblem made my swashbuckling outfit jitter against my body for a brief moment, then burst into a neon blue spray. My own clothing was back. Kendal had done the same thing along with me and was now swinging her bow about excitedly. Zahid shuffled aside to avoid being struck by it.
“In we go, then,” Dakota declared; reaching past her necklace, she drew out a single key on a chain from under her top. She left the chain around her neck while inserting the key into the door’s lock. A quick turn, and- okay, you know how this works…
Key tucked away once more, the Irish girl stepped further down the hallway and slipped her trainers off while looking out at us. Kendal was the first to enter, somehow managing to nose around and take off her own trainers at the same time. I followed inside, immediately noticing a family portrait with an interracial couple and their son and daughter. Evidently these were Dakota’s auntie, uncle and cousins. Both parents had a look of strength about them, somehow, perhaps confidence in the way they held themselves. The kids – a boy and a girl, maybe twins – looked cheery. A happy family unit.
“Gonna give us the grand tour, then?” Bao asked, as he and Zahid joined us, the other guy shutting the door behind them.
“Ooh, yeah, show us around, Dakota!” Kendal agreed, grinning ear to ear. For the first time, Dakota’s smiling exterior was defeated, as she seemed taken aback by the request and unsure what to say or do.
“Err… sure, if you want…” she decided after a moment, earning a ‘sweet!’ from Bao and some whooping from Kendal. Zahid sighed behind me.
And so began our whirlwind tour of the house. Our dark-haired guide opted to lead us upstairs first, showing us the master bedroom (where her opened-yet-unpacked suitcase had its contents half-strewn across the floor), the two smaller bedrooms, and the bathroom. All as you would expect, really; the only noteworthy thing was that they – the smaller bedrooms in particular – were obviously not lived-in. Largely empty. The boy’s room had a big The Lost World: Jurassic Park poster on the wall, which Bao got unashamedly excited over.
We then travelled up a small flight of stairs to a loft conversion, a nice open space with the roofing bringing the ceiling to a straight line and a laminated wooden floor. Up at one end of the room was a large piano. Kendal let out another intrigued “oooh!”, and zoomed over to it, her big hair bobbing all the while.
“My auntie Cassie plays, and she used to teach,” Dakota informed us, while Kendal sat herself down in front of the instrument, opened up the fallboard, and began erratically hitting pretty much every key. The near-silence of the loft was broken by the loud noise it caused, and the rest of us winced even though we all saw it coming.
After about ten seconds of her performance, Kendal took her much-deserved interval and turned to us.
“Does anyone else play?” she enquired breezily. When none of us responded immediately, she focused in on me and pressed further. “Alex, you do Music, right?”
“Yeah…” I confirmed awkwardly. I was hoping I could avoid this, but it didn’t appear that I had much choice anymore. Kendal stood up, and I begrudgingly sat in her place in front of the piano. The others’ eyes were piercing into my back as I started to play a little improvised piece. At least that way, I could coast over any mistakes I might make – I’m prone to fumbling with mistakes when playing a real song.
Once I finished, there was a brief moment of silence in which my heart sunk. What? Did they dislike it? Had I made myself look dweebish in front of them?
“Dude! That was really cool! I wasn’t expecting that at all!” Kendal grinned at me, before giving me a hard, congratulatory pat on the back.
“You should teach me some time, maybe!” Bao added with a thumbs-up. Zahid simply gave me a slight smile and nod.
Dakota, meanwhile, took a couple of steps towards me, sporting another variation upon her smile – this time inquisitive, maybe… impressed?
“You’re really talented… how long have you been playing?” she asked, her eyes alight. Oh man, I couldn’t handle this. She was far too beautiful. I was going to melt.
“Err… since I was 9, I think…” I tried to recall while focusing on keeping my composure.
“Ah, that’s fierce!” the Irish work of art cheered, joy radiating out at me.
Nope, couldn’t take any more of this attention from everyone.
“S-So, uh, the tour…?” I pointed out. The moment I did, Kendal had sped off downstairs again.
“Right, good idea,” Dakota nodded. “I still need to explain everything.”
“Probably should’ve started with that…” Zahid shook his head, following after Kendal. Dakota, Bao and myself headed off in-turn (I made sure to close the fallboard on the piano before descending the stairs).
We returned to the ground floor, and Dakota presented to us the kitchen, the dining room, the downstairs toilet (or at least the door to it), and finally, the living room. Two fabric armchairs sat perpendicular to a three-seater sofa, one of them set against the window; a cabinet loaded with family photos and books guarding a reasonable TV next to it, with a bunch of videos stacked up on the other side; and a nice coffee table in the middle of it all, laden with coasters yet still bearing a tea-ring or two.
“Take a seat. I’ll get us some drinks,” our host guided us. “What’ll you have?”
“Tea, three sugars, please!” Kendal requested immediately, throwing herself onto the sofa as she did.
“Is that a good idea…?” Zahid asked her with a baffled glare, before turning to Dakota. “No sugars for me.”
“Got any fizzy drinks?” Bao queried while bobbing his knees. Looking exasperated now, Zahid shot me a look of dismay. Apparently, I was meant to be complicit in his frustration with Bao and Kendal’s energetic personalities.
“There’s some Pepsi… might be flat though,” Dakota pointed out. “Will squash do?”
“Sure, and I dunno why they even call it squash, or that tennis-like sport… squash is one of those words, isn’t it? Like… like ‘jam’. What is it with fruit products?”
Dakota was clearly unsure how to react to that, so I chimed in instead.
“Squash for me too, thanks.”
She nodded, flashed another smile, and departed for the kitchen. Kendal zipped back up again a moment later.
“Gonna grab my bow,” she informed us as she dashed out to the hallway. Bao stood up too, walking over to the cabinet. Not long after, Kendal returned, and did a double-take at the spot where Bao had been sat.
“Where did…?” she trailed off; Zahid pointed to Bao, and she turned to him, sighing in relief. “Man, you scared me! All this weird stuff going on has me on-edge.”
“Sorry,” he responded while browsing the books. “I’m looking for a dictionary. Wanna find other words with lots of meanings.”
“Nail?” I suggested. “Like… fingernails, metal nails, nailing something...”
“Sounds like you’ve got nailing on the brain, Alex,” Zahid smirked at me. Kendal tittered as she sat back down, bow in-hand.
“Huh?” was all I could muster in response because I genuinely wasn’t sure what he was getting at. His smirk grew wider and he waved the subject away in dismissal.
Not cool. You can’t make some kind of comment like that and then act like it’s nothing…
The sound of the boiling kettle died down in the next room, accentuating the silence that had now fallen. Bao let out a triumphant “aha!” as he found a dictionary, and he remained where he stood while beginning to thumb through it. Kendal inspected her bow, tapping at the translucent glowing segments. Zahid reclined into the armchair he was in, resting his head back and exhaling. On my part, I took to inspecting the coffee table and hoping Dakota would return immediately to end this awkwardness I was feeling.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a long wait; she steadily walked in, focused on keeping the tray of drinks she was carrying steady. Upon reaching the coffee table, she set the tray down.
“Here we go,” she finally declared, as though she was focusing so hard that she hadn’t been able to talk until now. We all thanked her and took our drinks… except for Bao, who still had his nose buried in the dictionary. Taking Bao’s orange squash, Dakota walked over to him. “Bao? Your drink…”
Still no response.
There was the briefest of pauses before he turned his head to her, like a delayed reaction.
“Huh? Oh, thanks,” he nodded, setting the book down on the arm of the other armchair before taking his glass from her. He then took to the chair, while Dakota walked around to sit in the middle of the sofa (I squashed myself further into the edge so we weren’t right next to each other, since I doubted she wanted to be that close to a complete stranger). She reached for her mug of tea, taking a sip and then placing it back down.
“Okay. I already said about Lokonessence,” she began. “It’s some kind of – and you’ll have to bear with me on all of this, because I don’t know all the details – some kind of force of creation, on the fringes of science. Weird and hard to understand.”
“That’s a good start,” Bao nodded, while Kendal watched Dakota with childlike wonder in her eyes.
“Back in the 70s and 80s, this group was trying to study it, and they wound up creating the Lokon weapons. Somehow, the weapons tap into Lokonessence and… well, obviously they’re split into colours, and I don’t know how that works…” Dakota continued, clearly struggling to try and give us a concrete explanation. “The point is that they’re really powerful, they could potentially do anything, and the guys who made them wanted to use them to their own ends. So my parents and my auntie and uncle… they were part of this team, kind of vigilantes-”
“Were they superheroes?” Bao asked in excitement.
“Noooot quite,” the Irish girl responded with a chuckle. “More like a hit squad or something. They came to blows with the other group and wound up taking the Lokon weapons from them…”
For a moment, her eyes glazed over. Her bottom lip crumpled a little. And then, just as quickly as she trailed off, she lifted her chin and continued.
“Mam took the spear with her back to Ireland, while my auntie and uncle – Cassie and Neil – kept the others over here in England. For the past ten years, they’ve kept them under lock and key somewhere in this town and lived here part-time to watch over them.”
“Did anyone else know where they were hidden?” I asked, trying to reconcile this with the fact that the sword I received was seemingly delivered in the post.
“Not that I know of,” Dakota replied. “The rest of the team did. I don’t even know if Pete and Anna- my cousins,” she corrected herself abruptly, “had any idea. Not that it’s their business, of course…”
“Top secret super-powered weapons,” Kendal summarised, grinning in awe. “And I thought I’d have to struggle to find fun things to do this summer…”
“They were hidden away for a whole decade,” Dakota continued, “but then a few days ago… they just vanished. Did a Houdini and went up in smoke.” A smile twitched across her lips after she said that. Pleased with herself… so cute… “The spear started going crazy at my place in Ireland. And then a monster appeared, I was home alone so I grabbed the spear and…”
“Morphed,” Bao concluded for her.
“Okay, let’s get this straight,” Zahid suddenly spoke up, leaning forward and glaring at Bao. “We’re not Power Rangers or whatever.”
“You’re not supposed to say that, you’re the Red one…” the other guy responded nonchalantly.
“Mam sent me over here to find the other weapons, since they can locate each other somehow,” Dakota marched on in spite of the interruption. “Cassie and Neil can’t get down here for another week or so, so it’s kinda fallen on my shoulders. Stroke of luck I found you all so quickly.”
“Hold on, though,” I spoke up. “I only just got the sword today. Literally about half an hour ago. What about the rest of you?”
“Found mine this morning,” Bao nodded.
“Snap, was with the mail,” Kendal added. “all wrapped up and addressed to me.”
“Same again,” Zahid rounded out the survey.
“Right… interesting…” Dakota mused, tapping her fingers on her knee. “Any ideas who could’ve sent them? Must be someone who knows you all, right…?”
“Possibly, but it’s not like we have the same social groups at school or anything…” I reasoned, not that it had to be someone we were close to anyway…
“I think we have about seven friends between us, Alex,” Zahid rightly pointed out. “There was never gonna be much chance of a crossover.”
“Okay,” Dakota nodded, “there must be something going on… we’ll put a pin in that right now and you can all think about it overnight. What I do know – well, Mam said this and she’s been researching Lokonessence on-and-off for the past decade – is that each of these is meant to match us, colour-wise-”
The moment those words left her lips, Bao snorted with laughter, rapidly dissolving into a fit of hysterics.
“Uhm…?” Dakota asked, looking to the rest of us like we had any clue what was happening.
“They… they gave yellow to the Chinese guy…!” our mess of a companion managed to get out between laughs.
“Err… match our personalities and temperaments. Not our skin…” the baffled girl clarified. “Like, I know I’m Irish, but I’m not green from head to toe.”
Bao nodded a little as he tried to compose himself, and wiped tears from his eyes.
… so, I’m supposed to be blue. How, I wondered? I’m hardly cool… and I’m not depressed or anything. I can feel down, but I guess not much more than anyone else…
Dakota cleared her throat a little to return us to the topic at hand.
“The other thing, and I guess this is more pressing… those monsters. Each of you got attacked by one once you got your weapon. And my one came straight to my gaff… they seem to know where the weapons are. So, it makes sense to assume that they’re after them for some reason.”
“Lokon… Hunters?” Kendal proposed, earning an approving nod from Bao.
“I think it’s best I stay over here until Cassie and Neil get here, at the least. We should try and figure this out together, as best as we can,” Dakota concluded.
“Sure,” Zahid shrugged. “I wanna get to the bottom of this. Sorry I’m not up for playing… X-Men, or Power Rangers or whatever, but I need to know who’s trying to mess my life up by sending me a super-powered axe. So, yeah, I’m in.”
“Woooow…” Kendal cooed. “And I thought you hated working with or being around other people!”
“Don’t push it, Kendal,” he growled, prompting her to stick her tongue out at him. “I mean, sure, I can think of a hundred better ways to spend my summer than running around with Miss Xtreme, the comic book club guy and the guy who asked Melody Hill out and got rejected.”
Whoa. Whoa there.
“N-No, wait, that’s not… 100% true…” I sputtered. That’s Zahid’s defining fact about me?! “I… didn’t ask her out… she just confronted me and…”
“Great, so even more pathetic,” he tutted, before turning to Dakota. “Melody’s the biggest trouble-maker in the school.”
“Wow…” she grinned, and then looked me dead in the eyes. “Ambitious!”
I squirmed so hard, I was practically convulsing. This was not what I’d signed up for…
For the next hour or so, with our Lokon discussion concluded, we covered all manner of topics. A few things I learnt about my new teammates:
- Bao owns every major game console of the past several years
- Kendal has (somehow) never broken a bone in her body despite all the activities she gets up to
- Zahid plays guitar
- Kendal now believes we should form a band
- Dakota is from a town called Dundalk; the Corrs are also from there, which she took immense pride in (how can a girl this adorable exist?)
- Bao’s parents both work for a huge company (which is how they could afford to get him so many consoles)
- Kendal has never been abroad
- Dakota’s family were definitely not superheroes, but they have had many surprising adventures
Bao’s efforts to find more words with plenty of meanings were fruitless. As we finally began to head off, he mumbled that there must be a dictionary in his house and he would find all the words.
Through pure chance, I was the last of the four of us to leave Dakota’s temporary abode. Zahid had been the first to leave, giving us all a brief farewell before slipping away. Kendal had made more of a song and dance about it, enthusing over the promise of the days to come. Bao gave a thumbs-up as he left, though he seemed distracted by the dictionary thoughts.
Ever the good host, Dakota waited as I put my trainers back on, though she opted to casually sit on the stairs.
“You didn’t say much. Not a big talker?” she asked me as I finished tying my laces. She stood up when I did.
“I can be, when you get me going,” I assured her. “It’s just hard to get a word in with Bao and Kendal…”
“I noticed,” the Irish girl giggled. “I’m the same, really. I go quiet when other people dominate the conversation.”
“You did well, though,” I reasoned. She looked downwards a little, which I took as modesty.
“I was getting interrogated, I couldn’t really go quiet,” she pointed out.
“True.” So I said, but she had indeed shied away from a few questions. I picked up the sword – my sword, at least for now – and took a few steps towards the half-open door before turning back to her. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
“That you will,” she smiled brightly. “And I look forward to learning more about you, Alex.”
“You too,” I smiled back, unsure whether her beautiful smile was infectious or if that sentiment just made me really, really happy. I headed out, giving Dakota a wave as I shut the door behind myself. It hit me only then that I now had to walk back home, alone, carrying a 4’-long glowing sword.
Conspicuousness, thy name is Alex Matthews.