Nature's Kingdom

Secrets 2.1

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Return From Heaven

My sister and I sat down at a fairly empty table, placing our small lunch trays on its surface. I speared a nugget with my fork and popped it into my mouth, Tiffany eying me all the while. We ate in silence for a few more moments before she popped the question.

“So, you keep seeing this huge castle in your dreams?”

I swallowed before frowning. “Yeah. It’s been getting clearer.” Ever since we’d come across Kazuya, I’d been having dreams of that land and the castle where the dragon king resided—of the children who would play with us there. Two of them, a small black boy and a girl with Asian features, oddly reminded me of Nathan and Katherine, my classmates.

“You see anyone in particular?”

I paused for a moment, thinking that over. Kazuya had been there, with a group of Valterians together in a city of gold. “I saw another fox person too, a woman, like a female version of Kazuya. I think someone that looked like Shekhinah was there too—and some other Arcadians.”

“That’s so weird,” Tiffany mused while frowning. ” I haven’t had any visions or dreams like that at all. Maybe it’s a sign or something.”

“Maybe,” I muttered. “I remember our mom and dad—I think it was Mom and Dad—holding our hands, walking with us in a golden city. Mom had wings like the other Arcadians did. Somehow, though, I knew she was a Valterian, like Kazuya. But she was a different race or something, you know? Kinda like how Kazuya explained how he, PTE, and Nexus were each from different breeds.”

Tiffany nodded. “What did Dad look like?”

I pressed my lips together in contemplation.  “Not sure, it’s still kinda fuzzy. It’s hard for me to describe exactly how Mom looked too.  Dad wasn’t a Valterian, he looked similar to Shekhinah except he was covered head to toe in silver armor.”

“Huh, so Arcadian then. I wonder what that means.”

“That our parents are actually gods pretending to be human—and they never told us?”

Tiffany’s eyes met mine. “Should we ask them?”

“Do you think they would actually tell us?”

“It’s worth a shot. We’d probably get in trouble though. They’d find out we lied again.”

My head dropped in defeat. I really didn’t want to explain to my parents how we found ourselves entangled in the middle of a cape fight. How I nearly died. I didn’t want to tell them that we managed to stick a virulent god who threatened to kill us in our basement either. If we told them what happened and they weren’t really gods or capes, it wouldn’t have been worth it.

I sighed. “This is why I wish Kazuya didn’t disappear on us.”

Tiffany was about to say something else when I pointed at Terra, who was walking up behind her, to get her attention. She turned to look his direction. Terra sat next to Tiffany, quickly dropping his food tray down on the table. Tiffany automatically poked at his plate with a fork and stole one of his chicken nuggets even though she hadn’t touched her own. Terra’s lips quirked upward as he grabbed Tiffany’s unopened milk, ignoring her protests.

I grinned as Tiffany attempted to feed Terra his stolen food back. The nugget stuck on the end the fork she gently held while she stuck it in Terra’s face. Terra rolled his eyes before eating it.

“You’re way too stressed out,” Tiffany said, looking at me while she continued to prod the air around Terra’s face with her now empty utensil. Terra swatted her fork away. “That’s probably why you’re having these freaky dreams. You need a new boyfriend,” she glanced at Terra thoughtfully. “Maybe we should share this guy?”

I scrunched up my face and narrowed my eyes at my identical twin, seriously wondering why in the world she would suggest something like that. I didn’t want to be a walking stereotype.

“So I’m ‘this guy’ now?” Terra asked amused. He smirked as he saw my expression. “I don’t think Mercy appreciates that idea, Tiff.”

Tiffany hummed. “You’re right. I’m too selfish to share you anyway,” she jabbed a finger at the bridge of Terra’s nose. “You belong to me,” Tiffany paused, looking Terra in the eye with an enthusiastic grin. “For-ev-er,” she said enunciating each syllable of the word while she snapped her fingers in Terra’s face—obnoxiously snapping her head from one side to the other at the same time.

Terra rolled his eyes with a smirk but he said nothing.

“I think I need a break from dating, in general,” I said. I glanced at Terra, who was trying his best to keep Tiffany’s hand at bay, blocking the tenuous pokes of her finger; he had made her cower backward as he threatened her with a barrage of his own playful slaps. “Why are you sitting here instead of with Nathan and the rest of the boys?”

Terra let out a brief chuckle, removing strands of long hair from his face after he finished batting Tiffany’s hands away. “I’m just tired of watching Tim trying to run game on Ashley. Besides, you guys were sitting here.”

As soon as Terra had mentioned my ex, I unconsciously looked over at the crowded table at the end of the lunchroom. The one next to the entrance of the outdoor lunch area; a table full of popular underclassmen. Were we usually sat. I caught Timothy sitting next to Ashley. He was smiling and joking around with her, attempting to get more of her attention. A nauseous yet burning feeling of disgust crawled up inside my stomach.

Tiffany gave me a quick glance before she scowled at Terra. “Don’t talk about that asshole around Ems.”

I shook my head. “It’s fine, Tiff.”

“No it’s not,” Tiffany said sharply, causing me to frown. “He’s a fucking rapist and he hurt you.”

I bit my lip hard, feeling annoyed even though I knew my sister was just worried and looking out for me. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of what happened that night or draw more attention to it. It was something better left forgotten.

“I have half of a mind to tell somebody what he did. I wonder what Ashley and the rest of girls he flirts with would think of him then.”

“That would just make things worse,” I said. My fists—currently laid on the table—tightened. “Just—just forget it.”

Tiffany glared at me and Terra interrupted the two of us before we fell into an argument.

“Is that why you guys aren’t sitting at the normal table with everyone else?” Terra asked. “I passed by it on the way here. People are talking. Ashley wants to know why you two have been avoiding her all day.”

I frowned internally at his words. Timothy was only one of the reasons we had avoided sitting with our normal group of friends. The harassment and bullying that the girls had continued to foist upon poor Katherine had started to become unbearable to watch.

“Then let them talk,” Tiffany said. “Ems still feels a little bothered by the Katherine thing.”

I made a grimace in distaste, guilt and shame erupted in my chest as I looked down at my lunch tray. Katherine Willow used to be a friend of mine, since freshman year. Though Katherine was considered to be nerdy by most, Ashley Hawke had taken a peculiar interest in her and had her join our group. I wasn’t sure why, exactly. Maybe it was because she could help us with our math homework or something. Katherine and I became close, she became more attached to me than Tiffany. She would often wait for me at my locker before homeroom so we could talk about her interest in Starcraft or some of the new books she was reading.

Our friendship didn’t last. Katherine had a falling out with Rika, my soccer teammate. A girl that could’ve been considered Ashley’s right hand. Ashley soon involved herself and Katherine was unofficially excommunicated from us. Soon after that, the bullying started. Ashley didn’t do anything to Katherine personally, something like that was beneath her. But she still didn’t stop our friends from cruelly torturing the girl.

Spilling drinks on her clothing. Egging the boys on to knock her books down in the hallways between classes. Stealing her homework assignments.

Worst of all was the fact that I stood by and did nothing about it. For some reason, after everyone started picking on her, I stopped talking to her. Our conversations had died off. I had let our friendship go. It eroded into dust just like that. For a moment, I was reminded of her teary eyes as she looked at me, pitifully crumpled to the floor with her clothing in a mess. She was pleading and asking why I wouldn’t help her. Asking why I was still friends with Ashley, still apart of her bitch squad.

Terra’s smile thinned after Tiffany brought up Katherine. He looked away, his eyes scanning the rest of the cafeteria. “Someone needs to talk to Ashley about that. It’s fucked up.”

“I’ve been telling the boys to knock it off,” Tiffany said. “But they don’t listen unless someone punches them in the face.”

I mulled the thoughts of Katherine over in my head. I didn’t help her and didn’t talk to her anymore. Why? Was it because I didn’t like her actions upsetting the peace that us girls had among one another other? Because she didn’t stay in her place? Maybe it because I was afraid of Ashley and the power she held. Tiffany had an excuse. I didn’t. She wasn’t friends with Katherine like I was.

“That’s not the only reason we choose to sit here though,” Tiffany continued. “We wanted to talk about something important. In secret.”

“So I’ve heard,” Terra replied. “You mean talk about what happened to you guys that night after the party? When I talked to you before first period, you told me you guys were involved in a cape fight.”

“Oh. My. God. Terra, you wouldn’t believe what happened after you left,” Tiffany said, grabbing Terra’s arm and moving her face closer toward his, getting in his personal space. Terra remained still, allowing his girlfriend to drag his forearm around. “You should have come with us. It was insane! They weren’t just regular capes either. We met freaking gods.”

“Gods?”

“Yeah. Two types, they’re called Valterians and Arcadians.”

Tiffany went into detail, explaining the fight we were plopped into and how we had met Kazuya. What we had learned about the gods: the source of hallowed powers. How ruthless Kazuya was in killing Shekhinah’s subordinates. How I was nearly cut in half.

Terra took it all in silently. He looked between the both of us with his penetrating gaze. “Well, I’m glad you guys are alright but are you guys seriously hiding someone that powerful in your basement?”

“Don’t look at me,” Tiffany said. She nudged me with a lazy finger. “Ems’ the one that wanted him around. I think we should’ve let the angel lady take him.”

Terra narrowed his eyes at her but the corners of his mouth curved upward. “Is that true, Mercy?”

Sure,” I said, drawing out the word while giving my sister a look. Tiffany was the one that actually grabbed Kazuya from Shekhinah’s hands. She tilted her head and winked, giving me an exaggerated smirk. I faced Terra, ignoring her. “It doesn’t really matter though since he had left last night.”

“Which is a good thing,” Tiffany said.

I sighed. “I wish he actually stuck around to answer our questions. I wanted to ask him about that place with the dragon king.”

Terra shifted in his seat, ever so slightly. Tiffany, whose arm was still touching his, noticed.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, looking at her boyfriend. “You don’t believe us?”

“No, I believe you alright,” Terra said, giving Tiffany a cheeky smile. “You couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s too crazy to be a joke, even for you.”

Tiffany stuck her tongue out at him. “One of these days, if our parents are out late working you should come over and meet fox-boy.”

“I will if you don’t get caught with him in the basement first,” Terra snarked.

“Well, if he actually comes back,” I added.

“Of course he’ll come back,” Tiffany said, flailing her hands in exasperation. “He’s a useless freeloader. A bum. It’s in his nature. Ems, do you actually think will never see that hairy mutt again? Always so stupidly naive and optimistic. What am I going to do with you?”

I rolled my eyes, smiling despite myself. “Whatever.”

“Such a mean sister,” Terra chided.

Stay out of it,” Tiffany ordered, jabbing his cheek with a finger. “This is a conversation between sisters.” She looked him up and down with a scathing look. “You might look the part, but that’s not enough to cut it.”

Terra frowned. “Don’t touch me.” Tiffany continued to prod Terra’s face at an even more fevered face. Chuckling, Terra finally grabbed her wrist midway through another poke. “Keep playing, and I’mma have to do something to you,” he warned.

Tiffany bit her lip and narrowed her eyes, giving him a seductive smile. “Do something and you won’t get any pussy for a week.”

Terra’s lips twitched with barely repressed humor. “You’re grounded for a week.”

“Just because I say a week doesn’t mean I’m talking about this one.”

“Of course,” Terra said dryly.

We ate and talked a little bit longer before Ashley, the perfect sophomore queen herself, strolled up to us. We spoke in hushed voices as she approached, looking up at her silently when she arrived at our table. She had come alone. I glanced at the empty tray she had in hand, her lunch eaten. The only reason Ashley walked by us was to throw her trash away.

“Sup?” Terra asked.

“Hey Ash,” Tiffany said in a plain voice, betraying nothing.

Ashley glanced at us for a moment in silence as if she were trying to feel us out, to figure out where our heads were at. She smiled. “Hello. Any reason why you three didn’t sit with us today?”

“Not really, just talking about personal stuff,” Tiffany said, giving her a strained smile. A smile she would often give me during the times I genuinely pissed her off.

“Personal stuff?” Ashley’s gaze overlooked my sister and I, her pretty hazel eyes vacillating between us at a leisured pace. “I heard that you two had gotten into trouble.”

“Yeah our parents caught us trying to sneak back in the house after the party,” Tiffany said, her lips forming into a small pout. “Of all the days they chose to stay up late, it was that day.”

“It was a Friday night,” Terra commented.

Ashley hummed to herself. “It’s unfortunate, but I’ll put in a good word for you so you’ll be in decent standing when you come back to the team. It’s a relief that the two of you don’t start yet.”

There it is. I kept myself from rolling my eyes as the corners of my lips lifted a little. There she goes again, still rubbing that in.

“Did you find out we got in trouble from Coach Stephen?” I asked.

Ashley shook her head. “No. Rika and Nicole told me. Did you directly tell the coach you couldn’t practice?”

“Yeah. He’s not too happy about it.”

“Of course he’s not. I’m not either. You both are valuable assets to the team. However, I can’t blame you, I was at that cad’s party as well.”

Tiffany snickered at Ashley’s choice of words. “Not too fond of Tim, I take it?”

Ashley’s calm and demure demeanor changed as her slight smile thinned. She tilted her head and shifted her body weight, holding her hips with unrestrained attitude. Timothy must’ve annoyed the crap out of her. “He tries my patience like none other.”

Tiffany scoffed. “I can believe that.”

“It seems like everyone knows we got grounded for going to Tim’s party,” I said.

“You know gossip runs in this school like wildfire,” Ashley said. “Anyway, what exactly happened that night? You had disappeared and when I talked to Nicholas he said you three left early.”

“I had gotten sick.”

“What she really means is that boy that’s been fawning all over you since the start of the semester tried to rape her.”

Ashley paused. I let out a choked cough, my eyes flashing over to Tiffany—wide with shock. She didn’t have to bring that up now. I slowly turned back to Ashley, only to notice that she was already examining me with a careful glare.

“Really now?” she asked in a cold voice, her hazel eyes on mine. They almost seemed if they were glowing gold—freezing me in place. “Didn’t you two break up?”

“Don’t worry about it,” I mumbled, looking downward. I didn’t want her to see it—I didn’t want her to see whatever I felt, the emotional turmoil that raged deep inside me like an endless storm—threatening to swallow me whole.

“No,” Ashley said with a definitive voice, her eyes still inspecting me. “I’ll handle it. He should know better than to do something so disgusting and despicable to one of my friends.”

“While you’re at it you should tell Rika and the girls to knock it off. Get them to stop picking on Katherine,” Tiffany said while folding her arms. “It’s making us all look really bad.”

Ashley looked toward her table. Everyone was clamoring to get up, squeezing out of the seats that were stuck so close together. Students moved toward the garbage cans in droves, throwing out their trash while taking their empty lunch trays to the kitchen. People were cleaning up. Our lunch period had ended.

“I can agree with that,” Ashley said somewhat bemused. She gave my sister and me one last glance. “Anyway, Mercy. Tiffany. I’ll see you both in history class,” She faced the silverish-gray eyed boy next to my sister. “Terra.”

Terra leaned back in his seat; he nodded a subtle goodbye without speaking. Ashley left us and we had started to clean up our table so we could make it back to our classes on time.

After the lunch, the rest of the day had gone by quickly—surprising for a Monday. After we finished our last class of the day with Mr. Tate, Tiffany and I had split up. I went to my locker to retrieve my math textbook while Tiffany went on a small adventure in search of Terra. Packing my things at the locker, I waited a couple of minutes for my sister and her boyfriend to meet up with me.

They didn’t show. I checked my phone. The buses would leave soon. Tired of waiting, I decided to go look for them. What mess had Terra and Tiffany gotten into now? I almost sent Tiffany a text, but then I decided against it. I knew she wouldn’t answer me, or worse, answer back when it was too late.

I moved through the crowded hallways, bumping into various students that were busy trying to reach the school exits. Looking for Tiffany and Terra was more of a pain than I thought it would be, with people constantly blocking my path. I fought my way upstream, pushing past everyone; I went the opposite way of oncoming traffic. Soon, I found myself crashing into Diana, a friend of mine I had met through Ashley.

“Looking for Tiff?” she asked with a slight smile, looking like her usual perceptive self. “I saw her with Terra walking outside. Near the front of the school.”

What were they doing on opposite side of the building? It was time to go. I thanked Diana quickly before moving on, the hallways of students clearing up as I moved toward the other side of the school, toward the front. Eventually, I found Tiffany and Terra outside, sitting on the steps to the main school entrance.

“What are you guys doing?” I said after walking out the front door from the inside. “The buses are going to leave.”

Tiffany stood up and shook her head as she rambled toward me. “Terra got held up by some stupid bullshit. He has after-school detention.”

I clasped my forehead with a hand and leaned back in irritation, my head facing toward the sky. “Again? Are you serious?”

“It’s the damn assistant principal,” Tiffany complained, her eyes focused on Terrawho was still sitting on the concrete steps. “I swear he has a hard-on for you or something.”

Terra snorted at her remark, looking miffed.

“I’m going to stay with him for a bit. You hurry up and catch the bus,” Tiffany said.

I frowned. “If Mom and Dad get back early and you’re not home, you’re going to get chewed out.”

Tiffany glanced at me and giving me a careful smile. She placed a hand on my shoulder.

“That’ll be my problem, Ems. You don’t need to get dragged down with me all the time.”

“If you’re sure.”

“I’ll try come home as soon as I can.”

I left them both at the steps, going back inside the school. I hoped I could reach the school bus parking lot in time. It helped that I could run through the building now that it was practically empty, except for the janitors and a few faculty members. I was the last person to make to the bus lot but I had arrived just in time. Exactly when the first row of buses had started to leave.

The bus ride home was quiet as I sat in the front. The back of the bus was crowded, full of people I really didn’t talk to or associate with. It made sense. I was used to staying after school for soccer practice, with my sister. In and out of school we spent most of our time hanging around the girls on the team. Since practice would always end after the late bus had already left, our parents often picked us up unless we were offered a ride home from a teammate.

The bus ride back took longer than usual as our driver had to navigate around the area of roads that were blocked off by SIGMA and the police. Blocked off from damage caused by the fight between Kazuya, Shekhinah, and her Arcadian warriors. Warning signs along with SIGMA trucks littered the sides of the street while yellow caution tape could be seen everywhere between the roads and houses, obstructing specific areas. 

I had gotten off the bus with a couple students but we quickly parted ways, everyone going to their own places. The bus stop was relatively close to my house. It was only a five-minute walk.

Arriving home, I used my keys to enter through the side door, next to the garage. Our parent’s cars weren’t in the driveway. They didn’t get back from work yet. After locking the side door from the inside, I briskly climbed the small steps to reach the second door that led inside the house.

I paused. It was quiet. Too quiet. My gut started to sink after a nagging feeling of caution had overwhelmed me. Something had felt off. I couldn’t quite place it. Energy filled the air. A tense pressure I hadn’t felt since that fateful Friday night after Timothy’s house party. When my sister I walked back home alone. I shook my head. What was I afraid of? I opened the door and wandered inside. After locking the door I turned around, my eyes widened as I saw a flash of gold.

Shekhinah, the Arcadian warrior of Kairanna, the one who wielded the blood-colored poisonous lance that was able to wound Kazuya—was standing right in the middle of our living room!

I shrieked and fell backward, terrified—fearing for my life. Shekhinah, who was busy glancing at the family pictures hanging on the wall, turned to face me. As she took a step closer, her horned helmet evaporated, vanishing from her head into thin air—letting her long hair run free.

Shekhinah stopped as she saw me scramble away from her; I slid backward on the wooden floor, edging away slowly. She paused for a moment and the shining aura around her beautiful armor had dimmed a little.

“Peace, child,” she said while studying me calmly. “I only I wish to speak with you.”

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