At first, Fara had tried to fight it.
The reality was that her small dorm room, shared with Denise, had one television, and that necessitated certain compromises. Denise tolerated Fara’s obsessive sports watching. (This was PLAYOFFS! This was the year the Thunderbolts would finally bring the cup back to Egmont!) But in return Fara had to concede the television for a certain number of shows, and the show Denise absolutely refused to miss was Project Design Star.
Fara initially dismissed Project Design Star as reality show drivel. The show featured twelve up-and-coming fashion designers competing in a variety of challenges; Denise, a rabid fashionista, never missed an episode. At first, Fara had tried to study when it was on, or surf the swordfighting forums on the omninet, but the show exercised an almost hypnotic draw. Maybe it was the drama between the aspiring designers, maybe it was the vicious wit and wisdom of co-host Michel Bors, or the long stream of increasingly outrageous themes (“Formalwear for Dark Moogles in a time of Light”, “Early Great War Baronion Ducal Dress”), but Fara slowly found herself getting addicted. By the time Bertha Javelins appeared as guest judge, it had become a true roommate ritual.
It was during the first commercial break that Denise offhandedly mentioned to Fara, “So I met someone from Egmont the other day…I was wondering if you knew him?”
“Egmont is quite a big place,” said Fara. “I mean, you don’t know everyone from Centwerp, do you?”
“Yeah, but Egmont is smaller.”
“…actually, that’s not true,” said Fara. She was already digging out her phone to run an omninet search to back up her claim. “See? ‘Egmont is the second largest city in Tasnica, and the fastest growing.’”
“That was probably written a while ago,” Denise teased. Fara clenched her fist.
“It was NOT written a long time ago! This was accurate for just before I came to school here! Egmont will probably be bigger than Tasnicaport soon, like almost as big as Albrook!”
Denise was laughing. “Fara, I know how many people live in Egmont…but it is fun to see you get angry…”
Fara couldn’t help but smile a little bit. Even though she could be a pain at times, it was nice to have a friend who was…relatively normal. It grounded her to have someone in her life who was not a super soldier/former spy/smuggler/mythical being.
“Ok,” said Fara, “so you met someone from Egmont…what makes you think I would know them?”
“He said he knew you,” Denise said. “In fact, he actually specifically asked me if I was your roommate. I figured he must’ve been a friend from home.”
“That’s…incredibly strange,” said Fara, racking her brains. Most of her friends from home had stayed home, or gone to other schools, mostly in Tasnica. She was trying to remember; she met so many people during orientation, it was possible that there was another Egmonter in the mix. “I don’t really remember anyone?”
“Oh, you’d remember him,” smiled Denise. “He was gorgeous . Long flowing blonde hair, a dapper red outfit…
“You catch his name?”
Fara felt the blood drain from her face. She sat upright in her chair. “Marcus?” she asked.
“So you DO know him! I guess Egmont’s a small town after all!”
“…where did you meet him?”
“Oh,” said Denise, “at a sorority party the other day. I started chatting with him because he’s really, really ridiculously good looking, and he mentioned he’s from Egmont, and I was all like ‘Oh, my roommate’s from Egmont!’ And then he said, ‘Fara Somers’?”
“…and that didn’t strike you as creepy?”
“Well, it does NOW!” said Denise. “At the time I was pretty drunk. It made PERFECT sense to drunken-me that he would know you.”
“So what happened?”
“We chatted for a while, but he kept asking about pyra, and where he could get some, so eventually I bugged out,” said Denise. “Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a tall frosty glass of OJ now and then…”
“Yeah, you need to stop with the pyra, Denise, it’s actually a solution of nanites designed by an evil organization of androids from the future in order to induce mind control on a massive scale as part of a massive plot for global Web domination. I mean, I’m not being captain judgey here, it’s your body and you can do with it what you want of course, but you need to be responsible so you don’t end up laboring in the string cheese slave farms for the robot overlords.”
Denise giggled. “Fara, you crack me up!”
“…but yeah. Seriously. Pyra’s bad news bears.”
“I know the line between fun and addiction,” insisted Denise. “And this Marcus guy, he was gone . He had the orange tinted eyes. He kept asking everyone where he could get some…it was sad, really…”
Fara frowned. What the hell had happened to Marcus that had made him turn to pyra? And how had he come to Albrook?
“Well, Fara,” asked Denise, “You know him?”
“Yes, I do,” said Fara. “He’s my ex-boyfriend.”
Fara broke the awkward silence. “Did you get his number, by any chance?”
“No,” said Denise. “And trust me, Fara, getting back together with your ex is a bad idea.”