What I want is not of this world.
Trinity thrummed her fingers on the arms of her chair; she adjusted her thigh cut qipao dress after folding her legs while studying the four long screens that enclosed her workstation. Her eyes shifted at a careful pace from screen to screen as she viewed three of her seven assassins on various missions, making sure they stayed on task. Blood Crippler, Death Blade, and Reaper—each of her silent agents moving through enemy territory like ghosts, they were invisible yet efficient killing machines as they slew rival targets for Raikou and other high-level outlaws.
Things were hectic for a while in the multiversal space, ever since one of the most powerful outlaws, Skull Knight, was killed by Raikou’s son. The Tainted boy, Ruko Savannah. The hero, Lightspeed. The boy responded to a challenge by the skull warrior after his armada gang nearly obliterated the city of Newark, last July.
Though he was engaged in a brutal and bone-crushing battle, Ruko managed to slay Skull Knight alongside his father. Though she didn’t know him personally, she respected for a young fighter not only because they were the same race but because he was spawned from such a dominant bloodline. His father being the outlaw king along with his grandfather running the Galatic Federation, a man of considerable influence. Trinity smiled. In general, Tainted were hard to come by in this galactic sector and though she would never admit it, seeing Ruko and his friends do well warmed her heart.
Trinity frowned, remembering that she needed to perform her daily scan of the eastern seaboard to continue searching for stragglers from Skull Knight’s gang. Those that were not captured by SIGMA and the Galactic Federation… and the Galaxy Police. Trinity was tasked with eliminating them by the rest of the Outlaws since most were avoiding Earth for the time being.
She sighed and uncrossed her legs, getting up from the command center. She walked across the bridge that led to the other side of the underground cavern, the in-ground lights on each side of the bridge allowing her to see with ease.
Trinity made her way to the end of the bridge, revealing a stairway that led deeper into the secret base. She leaned on the stair railing, peering over the edge. Below, her two other assassins, Wolf and Slasher were shouting at each other while they played cards, busy gambling away their cut from the last mission they completed. Both of them were seated at the mission table in the center of the lower cavern, surrounded by the dim blue fluorescent lights which pointed at the middle of the slick platinum surface—enhanced by radiant designs of symbolic runes at the edge of the metal disk, runes that represented each member of the Seven.
Trinity wasn’t amused. What was the point of making money just to blow it all on something so frivolous? Greed would do that to a person. Trinity licked her lips in thought. She was no better than them, really, often risking her life and the lives of her subordinates on a whim for any mission that paid—if the price was right.
Her lips lifted into a faint smile as her mind wandered to the youngest and newest member of the Sinister Seven, Terra Eatos. It should have been around the time the young Arroyan was getting out of school, something that seemed completely pointless to Trinity now since he failed the mission to kill Nathan Blackwood. Dusk refused to even talk to her when she tried to relay the news. The fact that Terra’s refusal to kill his friend lost her a well paying and influential client made her blood boil. Still, she couldn’t remain annoyed at Terra forever, it was a long time since multiple members of the Seven were in the vicinity each other like this. It felt nostalgic in a way.
“Trinity! Ya want in?” Slasher called from the oblong table looking up toward the inner balcony.
Trinity shook her head. “As much I would love to whip your ass, I can’t. Someone has to actually work around here.”
“Whaddaya mean, boss?” Slasher tilted his hand downward but then shifted it the last second, to keep Wolf from taking a peek at his cards. “‘Ain’t shit around for us ta do.”
“One of you should be guarding the entrance to our lair. Or at least be helping me with hourly surveillance. I can’t keep watch and observe the team at all times.”
“Though’ ya was excellent at multitasking,” Slasher said, a smile visible under the metal part of his mask.
Trinity gave him a pointed look. A feeble amount of spiritual energy in the form of killing intent, leaked from her pores.
Slasher raised his hand and his cards hid his face from view. “What? I was just saying!”
“Slasher,” Wolf said while he leaned back in his seat as he adjusted his dark hooded cloak. “It’s best to be aware of how your tone comes off to other people.”
“Oi, nobody asked ya, ya giant furball,” Slasher said. “How am I the only one with a sense of humor in this joint?”
Trinity rolled her eyes and turned away from the balcony, right as Wolf and Slasher started to get into another argument. She made her way back to the command center and reclaimed her seat. After rechecking the status of her deployed assassins, she browsed the obsidian mirror for reports of Eternalists movements and acts of terrorism from remnants of the Maker cult. Acts that were specifically being ignored by the Avalonian media.
A low echoing alarm sounded throughout the cavern base, causing Trinity to stiffen. With a click of the touch-pad, a screen showing the viewpoints of multiple cameras outside the hideout popped up. The cameras were blurred out, foggy and wet with drops as if the view was being blocked by bad weather.
Trinity narrowed her eyes as she sensed the vapor from her surroundings; she could feel the spiritual energy of intruders from outside the base. She stood up at once but before she could call her assassins, lightning struck the building with force, the roaring thunder causing the building to shake.
The lights went out with a flicker. Trinity could even hear some of them explode and shatter as they fell to the ground. That was to much force for an average lightning strike. A cape was controlling it.
Trinity broke into a run across the main bridge as the backup generators around the base started to kick in. The air was getting warmer. Really warm. She skidded to a halt as she reached the stairway, feeling the sweltering heat from large towers of flames in front of her, burning the remains of the mission table where Wolf and Slasher were gambling to ash.
“Fuck,” Trinity muttered.
They were compromised. She surveyed the pillars of fire for any signs of her allies. She couldn’t see them but she could sense them, they were in there somewhere covered by the flames. Trinity hopped onto the railing of the balcony and crouched, preparing herself to dive into the blaze.
Trinity took to the air and was blinded in a flash. A piercing bolt of lightning struck. Her body seized up, a tingling sensation traveled through her skin and bones as she flew backward, her head colliding with the top of the cavern. Her body broke through stone with force as she was tossed up like a ragdoll. Trinity hit the monitors of her command center shattering them in the large crash as large rocks pelted her from above. She landed on her side, her arm crumpling the metal desk as it broke her fall.
Stunned for a moment, Trinity shook it off and then roared, erupting from the pile of electronic scrap with vengeance, ready for a fight as her vision oscillated between different directions—scanning the area for her would-be enemy. That lightning attack didn’t really hurt, however, it did help confirm her suspicions. Their rude guests were probably low-level capes… But if that was the case, it should have been impossible for them to find the hideout.
Trinity’s heels clacked against the polished metal as she ran across the bridge once again, stopping when she noticed Wolf impeding her way. “Wolf, are you alright?” she asked. “Where is Slasher?” There was a slight hesitation in Trinity’s step as she approached her colleague. Wolf’s spiritual energy felt off. Instead of expanding and taking up space like it normally would in a strong but controlled wave, his spirit energy was wrapped around his form in a tight bubble. Visualizing it with her eyes open, Trinity could see the moving sphere of energy eating and then regurgitating itself, as if it were trying to hide the origin of its true nature on the inside. “What the hell is wrong with your vapor?”
Wolf paused. “You don’t have to be so worried, we’ve got it covered.”
That wasn’t an answer. Trinity folded her arms once she was an amiable distance in front of him. She would stand closer, maybe to get in his face a little and intimidate him a little, but his wonky spiritual energy made her cautious. “Oh? Who are our little hallowed guests?”
Wolf’s maw curled into a smile. “It’s the new gang, the Inheritors. Those runts thought we were just a pack of greenhorns like them. Probably decided to get rid of the easy competition and make a name for themselves.” Wolf chuckled. “They were given a rude awakening.”
“One of them attacked me just now with lightning. According to our information, the one with weather-like manipulation abilities was Apsara. Where is she?”
“Isn’t it obvious, I crushed her—just like the rest.”
“You killed all of them? I’m tired of reminding you that we always leave one or two alive for questioning.”
Wolf’s smile widened. “I believe I’ve gotten better about that. Slasher is in need of more correction than me.”
Trinity allowed herself to scowl. “Mm-hmm. Is Slasher with them now?”
“Of course. They’re all incapacitated, Slasher is locking them up in the cellars while he waits for us.”
Trinity hummed and took a glimpse at the destroyed remnants of her command center. She made a sound of annoyance. “It will take forever to get that replaced. How the hell did some weak shitty trash even know we exist?”
“We can figure that out later,” Wolf said as his clawed hand took hold of Trinity’s shoulder in a firm grip, causing her eyes to cut back to him. “I have some Phalaxian and Vivian connections that could probably help with the computer system.” Wolf was silent as he looked at his hand; foreign energy started to pulse through Trinity’s body, giving her the slight tingling sensation of pleasure.
“Ah… ha,” Trinity said, almost in a sing-song voice with her malevolent smile.
Her fist launched forward at an undetectable speed smashing right into Wolf’s nose before he could react—making it burst with blood. Wolf cried out in agony as he was launched backward on the metal ramp, his fur soaked with vital fluid. The distorted spiritual energy around his form began to spiral out of control like a sine wave, the energy changing shape along with the body that was slumped on the floor.
Fur changed to blonde hair, large claws to gloved hands. Wolf’s body was shrinking. His werewolf visage to that of a human woman. Sitting up gingerly, the short woman covered her bleeding nose with a hand. Trinity recognized her at once, recalling the footage she collected from Terra when he was spying on the Inheritor group. The girl was the hallowed known as Secret Bliss—a shapeshifter. Blood ran down Secret Bliss’s white bodysuit, painting her chest with a nice scarlet color. “F-fuck! Shit!” she cursed while panting. “That freaking hurt!”
“It’s about to hurt a lot worse, my dear,” Trinity said, inching closer.
“Wait!” Secret Bliss raised her hands while edging away on the floor, her bottom and white boots scraping against the metal. “Don’t you want to find out who we are?”
“I know who you are,” Trinity hissed. “And I’ll find out who sent you after I beat you within an inch of your life.”
“How?” Secret Bliss whispered.
Trinity glanced at her hand, opening and closing her fist tight. “You’re not bad for a human infiltrator, but you would never fool a Tainted warrior like that. We can sense the differences in the vapor between people. Not knowing that was your first mistake. The second? Was not researching your target thoroughly enough. Wolf would never touch me without my permission. And your third mistake… your third mistake was finding yourself in the unfortunate situation of being my opponent.”
Trinity took on a traditional karate fighting stance and Secret Bliss’s expression turned fearful, her eyes widening under her domino mask.
“Keymaker, Prodigy, We need to retreat!”
“Running away? Is that all the fight you have, is that’s the extent of your preparation?” Trinity didn’t give chase as Secret Bliss stood up and scampered back toward her teammates. Trinity shook her head. “I almost feel insulted.”
Trinity waited for Secret Bliss to meet her other two teammates on the main deck below before jumping down in a long vault. She hit the floor with a loud clamp, kneeling on one knee before regarding the three Inheritors who seemed too shocked to respond. Trinity scanned each cape within a second making mental notes about any particular features she didn’t remember from Terra’s reports.
“Bliss!” Keymaker hissed, worried. “The key is finished.” Golden and green cape lifted a golden metallic hand, his fingers holding a small shining key that vibrated within his fingers. “Let’s get the fuck out of here!”
Trinity blinked, intrigued by the masked cape’s power. There wasn’t much to see about him from the footage. What did his power do? With a smirk, Trinity focused a growing pool of spiritual energy to her feet. She launched.
“Move!” Prodigy grabbed the boy and pulled him by the arm, out of the way of Trinity’s shoulder tackle.
Everyone froze, Trinity now standing were Keymaker was a moment ago. She glared at Prodigy and the girl tensed, even more, holding Keymaker’s forearm like her life depended on it.
Trinity paused and analyzed Prodigy over, the young girl dressed in her usual school girl outfit: A white shirt and black tie, with a plaid pleated skirt with glasses over her domino mask. “Prodigy,” Trinity uttered. “Enhanced senses… and a danger sense, was it? Impressive. For a human.”
“Key, now!” Secret Bliss yelled.
Keymaker tossed the shining key at Trinity and she swatted it. Her fingers grazed glowing device it exploded in her face. Trinity was blinded by the light, stars and incomprehensible swatches of color flashing before her eyes leaving her stunned. She closed and opened her eyes the fuzziness from her vision dissipating.
She looked around. The cavern was completely empty. The Inheritors disappeared only leaving the burning flames to tell the story of their appearance. It shouldn’t have been possible for them to escape her vapor sense. Even if Keymaker’s powers were able to stun her for that long of a period of time, her assassins would have come to her aid. If they were able to… Trinity scoffed, not allowing a moment of doubt. There was no chance in hell those weaklings could fight off her team, even if they received the help of the Elder Gods themselves… Thinking of her subordinates, Trinity realized she couldn’t sense them either.
Trinity stilled herself and let her energy and awareness expand outward. A faint smile graced her lips. She could feel it now. A barrier of Keymaker’s spiritual energy surrounded her. Keymaker’s key must have crafted an illusion of some sort, a world where he and his little friends effectively didn’t exist. An unbounded eternal realm? The brats were probably still in the hideout, using Keymaker’s power as a distraction to buy time. It wouldn’t work.
Trinity growled and raised her spirit energy with force, it pulsating through her body. Vapor pressurized the air around her—the flames that enclosed her were mushed to the ground. The floor cracked and the world started to distort itself as Trinity’s body started to glow with condensed spirit matter. She yelled toward the ceiling as golded armor started to form an envelope around her clothing—the golden material covering the cleavage that was visible before.
With another charge of energy, Trinity roared and stomped the ground, causing Keymaker’s barrier to shatter at once. She could sense the vapor of everyone in the hideout once more. Trinity exhaled before lowering her spiritual energy, her golden armor turning to dust. Using that form to deal with a couple of hallowed pests would be overkill.
Back to normal, Trinity took to the air. She flew through the base on a beeline for the only exit that someone could enter or escape out of whenever the lockdown protocols were set. All five Inheritors were near the elevator that led to the main apartment. Keymaker was fiddling with the door while under the duress of Secret Bliss, Prodigy and the cape in the red motorcycle jacket, Ignition, were messing with the controls. A blue-skinned woman who wore a traditional white and gold sampot dress kept watch. Trinity scowled, ticked off. That was Apsara.
Apsara’s large necklace jingled when she turned to catch sight of Trinity. “Guys, trouble.” Apsara pointed at the Tainted assassin with an open palm and electricity shot outward.
Trinity dodged with a barrel roll maneuver before zipping past Apsara, grabbing Secret Bliss by the neck. Trinity bashed the short woman into the wall and she cried out in pain. “Where’s is Wolf?” Trinity asked, squeezing Secret Bliss’s neck tighter, her windpipe being crushed by second. “Slasher?”
Secret Bliss responded by coughing up blood.
“Bliss!” Ignition panicked. “Fuck!”
Apsara charged another blast of electricity Trinity’s direction but before she could move loud explosion was heard from the ceiling above.
Terra! Trinity could sense who it was, immediately. Like a missile, he aimed straight for Apsara’s head at the speed of sound, smashing her straight into the ground. Apsara let out a gargled shriek as blood gushed from her face—her golden headdress trampled; She didn’t know what hit her. Terra’s claws of death reached for her neck and flames erupted from Ignition’s hands. Terra backflipped and landed next to Trinity, avoiding the scorching beams of flame.
Ignition yelled and shouted to the rest of his gang as Prodigy helped him pull up Apsara who was implanted into the floor, unconscious. He let go once Keymaker took hold of Apsara’s other side. With both hands, Ignition created a wall of flame around Trinity and Terra, trying to keep them at bay. The Inheritors slithered away from the elevator door, moving further back into the cavern, their escape plan foiled.
“Terra,” Trinity said while facing her young smirking assassin. “It’s good to see you. Nice for you to be on time, for once.” She yanked Secret Bliss out of the wall and tossed the knocked out cape to the ground like a useless sack of flesh. “How was school?”
Terra looked at Secret Bliss’s pitiful form before facing Trinity and tilting his head, apparently finding the scene funny. He adjusted his hair, clearing brown locks away from his face. With a shake of the head, the strands were removed from his eyes. “Fine, I guess. Didn’t get detention today, so that’s a first.” He waved a hand backward, his thumb pointing toward Secret Bliss. “You gonna kill her?”
“No… not yet.” Her face blank, Trinity stared at the dancing flames surrounding them. “Let’s capture the rest first. Then when can decide who to eliminate.”
“Sounds good, thought you were getting soft on me for a sec.”
Trinity gave Terra a look. “Shut up and get moving.”
Terra mock-saluted. “Aye aye, captain.”
A glint of silver shone from the corner of Trinity’s eye. Slasher strode through the flames with one of his ruby twin blades in hand, his plated armor unaffected by the heat as he aided Wolf, helping him walk—the Avalonian werewolf’s arm was behind Slashers neck hanging around his shoulder. Wolf was breathing hard like he was weakened.
“Oris, my man!” Terra said while sounding obnoxious, his voice full of fake cheer. “What happened to you?”
“Fuck off,” Wolf spat. “Fuck, I knew I smelled that bitch over here.” He shrugged toward the fallen Inheritor with his muzzle. “Runt got lucky.”
“You let a little girl get the drop on you?”
Trinity slapped the back of Terra’s head, hard. “Stop.”
The boy flinched and ducked his head, he chuckled knowing Trinity wasn’t that serious.
Wolf growled. “I’m going to rip that girl apart.”
“No. You’ll do what I’ll tell you to do,” Trinity warned giving Wolf a pointed glare.
“It’s ain’t like ya can move anyhow,” Slasher said to Wolf. “That bitch sucked all the life out of ya, and not in the good way.” Slasher’s glowing crimson opaque eyes deviated to Terra. “Ayeee! Well if it isn’t my little Arroyan friend! I haven’t seen ya in foreva’. How are you doing—ya pretty young thing, you?”
Terra rolled his eyes with a smirk and shook his head. “Hey, Slasher.”
“Trinity.” Wolf wheezed in pain and exhaustion, he would’ve keeled over if Slasher wasn’t holding him up. “The plan?”
“You’ll stay here with Slasher.” Trinity beckoned Terra with a nod. “We’ll take them out. Terra, with me.” She oriented herself toward the cavern darkness. “They couldn’t have gotten far. They can only exit from here.”
“I know,” Terra said. “I can sense them further inside.”
As they both took to the air, Trinity led the way into the lower cavern with Terra close behind. They spotted the Inheritors from above, Keymaker and Ignition attempting to hide behind rocky walls while Prodigy held Apsara’s unconscious body.
Terra shot forward, a wave of sound and air reverberated from his body like a clap of thunder, but before he could reach the concealed capes, a thick brownish-black sludge burst out from the ether. Using a flash-step technique in midair, Trinity mentally let go of her body—trusting the force of her will, her spirit, to lead her point in space faster than the eye could see; she teleported before Terra and held him back. The molten dark corruption oozed out from invisible vents in the ground, the corruption corroding everything it touched. The blackened the fiery lava-like substance started to reject gravity as lifted up into the air forming a dome—a protective shield—over the four Inheritor capes.
“What… is that?” Terra asked.
Trinity opened her mouth to respond but closed it when something writhed and twisted itself up from the primordial muck. Venus, the corruption goddess, slowly pulled herself out of the lake of contamination. Molten rock and sludge seeped from her face and long fur coat until she stood on top of the ocean of liquid fire, spotless.
Smiling, Venus adjusted her sunglasses with a gloved hand, pulling them from her eyes and nestling it in her thick hair.
“Venus…” Trinity kept her face impassive as she wasn’t sure what to think. “What the hell is this?”
Venus’s face brightened once she caught sight of the Tainted woman. “Ah, Ms. Trinity! What is with that dour expression, hmm? Have you no love for an old client? A wealthy one that treats you quite nicely I might add.”
Trinity’s lips thinned. “Not when that client is trashing my place. Why are you here? How did you find this location?”
“You know I have my ways. I thought you’d like to see me in person, as you have spent so much time watching me from afar.”
Was Venus annoyed because the Sinister Seven kept tabs on her? Trinity knew it would have been impossible to spy on her in secret for long. Instead of risking her ire by acting in a covert manner and losing valuable contact as a result, the Seven agreed to watch her openly as she stayed in Ravensworth.
“You led the Inheritors here?” Trinity asked.
“I’ll answer that in a moment.” Venus turned around, facing her warm rotting orb of corruption. The orb of sludge came apart, oozing downward and forming a large ring around the Inheritor capes that were protected inside.
“Are you alright, my children?” she called.
“Fuck no!” Ignition said. “You didn’t tell us we were going against two flying bricks and a team of strong-ass capes. They fucking killed Bliss!”
Terra snorted at Ignition’s indignation. “Trinity didn’t kill her. I can still sense her vapor.”
Venus chuckled. “I let you fight them because I trusted you would survive, which you have. And so you would understand. This is a good experience for you to gain a feeling for the types of enemies you will come up against in the future. Is my trust in you misplaced, Ignition?”
Ignition hesitated. Even with Trinity’s expertise in reading body language, it was hard for her to read him with his face covered by a motorcycle helmet.
“Well, you’ve surpassed my expectations at least.” Venus continued to speak while fiddling with her necklace, cutting Ignition off before he could respond back. “Not many capes would be able to last as long as you have against a team of S-Class warriors.”
Ignition and Keymaker stiffened.
“…They’re S-Class?” Prodigy uttered.
Terra shrugged, his grin widening. “Some of us may be ranked higher than that.”
Keymaker was stunned. “What? Are you serious? Then this wasn’t just a little gang fight, fucking some newbs out of terrority they think they got.” He spun around to glare at Venus. “This was fucking suicide!”
“Elder Gods…” Venus said with a hand on her hip, not taking her eyes off of Trinity. “Calm yourself boy. You’re still alive, are you not?”
Trinity skin prickled with irritation as the natural urge to kill—the curse of the Tainted race—rose within her. Her fists tightened and her eyes shut while she bit her lip, clamping the urge down. Fighting Venus now wouldn’t be the wisest decision.
Individually, Venus was probably stronger than every member of the Seven, excluding Terra. Though there was no telling who would be favored if every person from both sides fought each other at the same time, it wouldn’t be worth the risk. There would be a high probability that their hideout would be destroyed in the ensuing conflict, the aftermath attracting attention from all sorts of unwanted sources.
“State your business, Venus,” Trinity barked. “I’m losing my patience.”
“So testy! Though this little excursion was a simple assessment for my young pupils, I really wanted to visit you!” Venus waved her arms in an animated fashion like she was offended. Her brow was furrowed, worry and pain in her eyes.
Trinity paused, not buying her act. “You’re sponsoring them?”
Terra whistled in admiration while observing Keymaker, Ignition, and Prodigy. “Right now it may seem like you guys have been dealt a shitty hand, but if you got one of the most powerful Valterians training you up… you’ll have this gangbanging stuff in the bag.”
“We’ll… see,” Ignition muttered.
“Still, there are other ways for gangs to gain territory, instead of fighting established ones,” Terra eyed Venus. “If that’s what you’re trying to do.”
Venus chuckled with mirth. “No.” Her amber gaze shifted from young Arroyan to Trinity, her smile cutting through Trinity’s soul. “I’m here to offer the Sinister Seven a job.”
Curious anticipation crackled in Trinity’s chest. “What would you need all of us for?”
“Not so much need,” Venus corrected, raising a finger with a smile. “But I would like your help. There is a war coming and I always enter battle prepared. In the memory of the hallowed named Elsa, I’m going to do what she could not. I’m going to assimilate the gangs in this city.”
Deborah shivered, awaking from a deep slumber as a firm hand—cool like polished steel, caressed her cheek.
“Are you awake, Zaccarin?” Shinobu, her mentor, asked.
Shinobu’s soft voice was calm and sensual, teasing Deborah’s ears. A tingling sensation ran down Deborah’s spine as Shinobu continued to run her hands up her cheek, brushing away some of her braids.
Deborah grumbled with her eyes still closed, turning her face away from the Valterian shark goddess, curling up into a ball underneath the warm white sheets of their luxurious bed. “Don’t pick at my hair, you know I hate that.”
“Mmm…” Shinobu hummed while getting closer, her face only inches away from Deborah’s. She ran her fingers down Deborah’s back, seeming unimpeded and unbothered that the bed covers were so tightly bonded to the person of her affection. “You know I can’t help it. How else would I force you to wake, my little Zaccarin?”
Deborah felt a prick of irritation. “Must you call me by that name? I am awake, alright?”
Shinobu hummed again and kissed her, Deborah opened her eyes and began to sit up. Shinobu moved without complaint; she sat on the edge of the bed while facing Deborah, smiling.
“I’m serious,” Deborah said. “Don’t call me that name anymore. I hate it.”
Pain and bitterness pricked at her heart as she was reminded of her failure to her great-grandmother, Apis. The Legendary God Monster, ancestor to the Canceon royal family.
Shinobu jumped back into the bed landing right beside Deborah, causing Deborah to squeak in surprise. As Deborah turned to face her, the shark goddess pulled at the sheets. Deborah yelled, the coolness of the air piercing her bare skin. Shinobu chuckled as Deborah wrinkled her face, displeased.
“It’s too early in the morning to make a face like that, little bee.” Shinobu took hold of Deborah’s hands and played with them, running ambiguous patterns across her palms and arms, her ash-colored skin polishing Deborah’s bronze. “You might as well get over it. As it is what Apis named you, to me, you will always be, Zaccarin.”
Deborah closed her eyes in exasperation as Shinobu’s hands slithered around her neck. Shinobu urged her to turn around and Deborah did as asked, facing the opposite direction. Shinobu then went to work—massaging Deborah’s neck and shoulders, with a hand combing through her long braids.
“You can’t help but tear at old wounds,” Deborah muttered, through gasps of pleasure.
Shinobu huffed while ruffling her hair. “I am a shark after all.”
“You are way more than that, Sharkblade.”
Shinobu giggled with short merriment before crawling off the sturdy but comfortable mattress. Deborah watched as Shinobu fixed her elegant kimono, adjusting the chest so that her breasts were not practically falling out like a moment ago. The style of dress was strange to Deborah, the design of thousands of cherry blossoms adorning the perfect silk. But it was striking and beautiful all the same, like Shinobu.
Shinobu moved to the closest dresser in the room, picking an ornamental hairpin from a small assortment of them on the wooden surface. Shinobu tied her glossy black hair into a bun and then used the hairpin that was covered in flowers and pearls to hold it. Exiting their shared closet, Shinobu slipped on a pair of white tabi before attempting to leave the bedroom.
“You’re going to that meeting already?”
Shinobu stopped from opening the door and turned her head. “Better to be too early than too late. I’m going to explore a bit to prepare myself. Meet with a contact and discuss the best way to approach talks with the Assembly.”
“A contact?” Deborah asked, puzzled. “Why haven’t I heard of this mysterious ‘contact’ before now?”
Shinobu gave a brief laugh. “Mostly because I wasn’t sure if she would still be here. The Council is truly wise. I must remember to thank Sibyl and Akasha when I see them again.”
Deborah blinked with surprise as Shinobu mentioned two of ten oracles from the Council of the Wise. Valterian prophets that mastered the art of divination, well-known and highly coveted for the advice and prophecies they provided. Deborah saw them as an inspiration, she hoped she could become part of the Council one day. It seemed Shinobu was able to get in contact with them after all.
“That would be why they are called that,” Deborah drawled as she uncovered herself from the bedsheets. Her eyes full of pink lace, Deborah pulled back the drapes of the large canopy bed to get a better view of Shinobu. She sat on the edge with one leg on still on the bed while the other dangled, listless.
Shinobu tutted. “Don’t get smart with me, little bee.” She paused, giving Deborah a pensive glance as if she wanted to say more but the cat caught her tongue.
Deborah knew there was something Shinobu wanted to say but had trouble verbalizing. Seeing Shinobu linger by the door, Deborah decided to tease it out of her.
“Why did we come here? Was it not for your lost descendant?
“Why ask questions you already know the answer of?”
“Because you’ve been hesitating like you don’t think you can find her. Like you think she has already been captured or killed.”
Shinobu frowned at that. “I don’t think the oracles would have guided me here if that was the case. Dusk has been cautious when it has come to treading on this planet, even amidst his last fiasco. I’m finally at the cusp of finding the one worthy to pass my power and will onto. I won’t allow Dusk to get his claws on her before me.”
“I have been… a bit withdrawn for lack of a better word,” Shinobu admitted. “But that is because I know how much work all of this will be.”
Deborah nodded, finding out that girl wasn’t the only reason they came to the underwater city known as Oddessy. ” Do you think the Assembly would have Monitors to spare?”
“Of course. I don’t have the need for many, just a couple to investigate a few key areas here on Earth and on Avalon. The Duskanian Empire. Oceanus.”
“Oceanus?” Deborah asked, wondering why she Shinobu would mention the isolated Avalonian continent surrounded by many islands.
“I want to keep a closer eye on Dragoon. I’ve heard there has been some interesting developments there as of late.”
“Ah,” Deborah said with quick understanding.
Shinobu talked about him before. The story of a boy that changed into a sea dragon. A man that grown to become king of the of the high seas. He was powerful, backed by a powerful army. Shinobu mentioned how he was strong enough to defeat Kimba and Dusk centuries ago, strong enough to take the arm of a Valterian ruler from the Sky Kingdom.
“Yes, depending on what is found, I might pay my old friend a visit,” Shinobu said.
Shinobu met Dragoon once, back when he first started to gain power. Though it was almost seven centuries since they first met, she was fond of the deep-sea terror. Sometimes, she would tell Deborah stories of her first meeting with him—of eating, training, having communion with one another, fighting battles together. How they often fought each other.
In a way, Deborah felt that Shinobu viewed Dragoon as more than a friend or pupil. Perhaps more like a little brother or son. Deborah wasn’t so sure Dragoon viewed their relationship the same way, however—if he even remembered the shark goddess at all.
A hint of jealousy pierced her heart as she thought of Shinobu speaking about Dragoon in a wistful tone. The feeling was irrational and she knew that, but she still couldn’t help it. She knew Shinobu still had feelings of love for the sea dragon. But it was a familiar love, a sisterly love. For Deborah, Shinobu had that too… but also something more. Shinobu said as much. Before Deborah, Shinobu hadn’t taken a new lover in eons.
“What’s wrong?” Shinobu asked.
Startled, Deborah shook her head. “Nothing. Just thinking about things.”
Shinobu grinned and walked back to the bed. She stretched out her arms, placing her palms on the mattress while leaning forward with hungry intent, her deep-blue eyes zeroing in on every micro-movement. “What things?”
“It’s not what you think,” Deborah said, exasperated as Shinobu’s gaze became lecherous. An image of herself walking hand-and-hand with Apis when she was just a child flashed through her mind. When she was brought before Shinbou for the first time, outside of the Canceon hive—the heart of Avalon. Was her intent to groom me to be her plaything from the very beginning? Deborah shuddered with her eyes closed not willing to think about the implications.
“Oh—fine,” Shinobu said, her voice reluctant.
Deborah opened her eyes grateful that Shinobu decided not to be pushy and force herself upon her, this time.
Shinobu’s hands were on her hips as she contemplated. “I should be off.”
Deborah stepped off the bed carefully to avoid the lace drapes. Standing up straight she fixed her robes, covering up so she wasn’t half-naked. “How can you be so sure that the Assembly will allow you to borrow their Monitors so easily? You need something valuable to force their hand.”
“I have the most valuable thing of all,” Shinobu said. “Information.”
“The Assembly won’t be quick to dismiss what I have learned from the Council of the Wise. Since most of the members of Oddessy’s government hail from a future time, they should be able to confirm the prophecies of Akasha and Sibyl.”
“More time travel and temporal paradoxes,” Deborah grumbled as she rubbed her temples. Just thinking about the standing contradiction which was this city was enough to give her a headache. “How does this even work?”
“Who knows?” Shinobu asked. “That knowledge is only beholden to the Elder Gods and Irregulars.”
Most of the inhabitants of the underwater metropolis came from the future to escape a cataclysmic event in the thirty-first century, they built the city-state from scratch in only a few years. The founders were of the Alliance or Evo-Alliance as they called themselves since they were Alliance members from the future.
Shinobu moved closer to Deborah, closing the distance between them. She expanded her arms in a hug like motion, waiting as sleeves of her kimono hung in the air. Their bodies almost touching, Deborah took in Shinbou’s watery scent. She enjoyed the subdued nature of it as her lips tickled Shinbous’ neck, grazing a curved line from the side to the edges of her nape. Shinobu enveloped Deborah in a soft but firm embrace.
“The real reason I woke you was only to tell you that I would be gone,” Shinobu said. “You need rest.”
Deborah’s lips lifted into a faint smile. “That’s kind of you.”
Shinobu grinned. “I know you’re tired from last night’s ‘training’ session. It’s been a strenuous week for you, but something tells me you’ve enjoyed it very much.”
“Mmm.” Deborah tilted her head as she peered at Shinobu with half-lidded eyes in an accusing stare. “I think all be alright as long as I don’t wake up tied to the bed again.”
Shinobu chuckled. “If you don’t want to sleep you could take a tour of the city. Perhaps the Odyssey strip or shopping districts? I have left money for you on my nightstand.”
“You can’t help spoiling me can you, Sharkblade?”
Shinobu kissed her Deborah’s forehead, only moving downward slightly as she was the taller one of the two. “Anything for you Zaccarin.”
Deborah cringed and flinched away from her. “Anything but calling me by the name I wish to be called by.”
“The right to call you that name belongs to me and me only,” Shinobu murmured. “Besides, I can’t spoil you too much.”
“Whatever,” Deborah said breaking away from the hug.
“Be good,” Shinobu ordered, amused. She exited the bedroom at a slow pace, eyeing Deborah with her peripheral vision, a teasing smile spread across her face.
Hearing Shinobu walk downstairs to the second floor of the suite, Deborah decided to take a bath and clean her teeth, getting ready for the day. Shinobu was gone by the time she finished. She dressed in one of her finest robes then headed downstairs, taking the time to enjoy the extravagance of the apartment. There was a lot of space, filled with beautiful decor, furnishings, and paintings that attracted the eye. Deborah opened the sliding glass door that led to the balcony, taking a gander at the city of silent towers that reached for the domed heavens—most buildings covered in a large array of neon lights.
She spent some time roaming the city’s neon blue streets exploring among the populace like Shinobu recommended, somewhat in awe at the marvel that was Odyssey. Not due to how futuristic and technologically advanced the city was but because of the number of races living together in peace. Hallowed and Avalonians, Valterians and Arcadians, Tainted and more. Odyssey was a utopian dream, reminiscent of the mythical city called Atlantis. What was so terrible in the future that drove all these races—some that were constantly at war with one another—to live as a collective?
Deborah’s evening stroll was cut short as she was contacted by Shinobu; the Valterian shark invited Deborah to a restaurant close by along with her contact. Deborah left the shopping district with haste, anticipating the meeting between the three of them. She caught an ocean-car ride, reaching the designated meeting place within a half-hour.
Entering the restaurant, she observed and took in the quiet ambiance, the muted colors of blue and orange. It was a decent crowd, most talking in hushed voices. Deborah glanced at the bar but before she could move she was approached by a short Spiritpixie hostess. With her aid, Deborah was soon brought to Shinobu’s table.
Shinbou’s waved once she caught sight of Deborah. The woman sitting next to her was much more reserved, careful not to be too expressive. She was dressed in thin hooded body armor, tight-fitting, but probably shielded with spirit energy. Her vibrant russet-colored face the only skin Deborah could see.
“Come, sit.” Shinobu stood up and pulled out the chair that was across from where the hooded woman sat at the table. She motioned toward the woman with a hand. “This is the contact I was talking about. Felicia Khalil, she is a human Monitor and recon-infiltration specialist. She knows everything about this city. ” While glancing at Felicia, Shinobu placed at hand on Deborah’s shoulder. “This is my pupil; I’ve told you about her before. Deborah Canceon. She’s been in my care for the about the last two thousand years.”
Pretty much my entire life…
Felicia mouthed the word ‘wow’ before she brought her focus back to Deborah. Deborah favored the woman a nervous smile but before she could sit down, the hooded woman stood up from her chair and extended a hand.
“It’s an honor to meet the Prophet of Ilios,” Felicia said as they shook.
“You’re well informed,” Deborah said, while the three of them sat at the table.
Felicia smiled and Deborah tensed, tightness forming around her lower back and legs as Felicia’s hazel eyes bored through her. Though her smile was a simple gesture without enmity behind it, it felt threatening. Considering how it was coming from a woman less than half of her age, the fact was commendable.
“Sorry,” Felicia said, noticing Deborah’s worry before the Avalonian could school her expression. “Shinobu has told me so much about you. I’ve heard good things.”
“I wish I could say the same.” Deborah glared at Shinobu who looked impish, she gave Deborah a quick wave in jest.
“What’s with the attitude, little bee? Should I not speak of things I’m proud of?”
Deborah shook her head, unable to keep herself angry at Shinobu’s words as pleasant warmth rose in her chest.
Felicia laughed. “Shinobu didn’t tell me anything bad. Just about how pleased she was that you have been taking huge strides forward in your mastery of the mental arts.”
“No, I understand. I am not bothered by it.”
Their conversation paused as a waiter arrived to bring the trio menus. The man introduced himself and placed them on the table, Shinobu snatched the first one from the pile. The three ladies ordered their drinks and the waiter left to fetch them.
“You know Felicia,” Shinobu said while browsing, “This restaurant seems to be of exquisite taste. You know of the most fantastic places to visit.”
“Of course,” Felicia said, pleased. “I’d love to give the Shark in the Oceans of Blades a good show—you too Deborah. I pride myself on being an excellent host.” She picked up a menu. “But I don’t think I was invited out to dinner to be a glorified tour guide.”
“No…” Shinobu agreed. ” For the next seven months, I want you to scout a few areas for me, including Oceanus. There is something that Dragoon is searching for there, I want you to observe him and find out more about it.”
Felicia tilted the menu down in a deliberate motion, she placed it on the table. “Making a trip to Avalon now would be a hassle for me,” she said, dissatisfied.
“You’ll be compensated well.”
“I know,” Felicia said, putting her elbows on the table with her hands folded in front of her lips, “That’s why I agreed to this.” she was silent for a moment. “Twenty-eight million. That’s how much it’ll cost. That rate might be in flux, depending on how many agents I need to prepare and how many arms from other Monitors I need to twist. Half up front, a fifty percent deposit with the rest in increments over the next two to four years. All that’s based on when the job is completed and you’re satisfied. Wanna talk about payment plans?”
“Later,” Shinobu said. “USD or OC?”
“Odyssey credits—ahhhh—it really doesn’t matter in the long run but you know I prefer digital currency.”
“OC it is then,” Shinobu said. “There’s something else I would like you personally take a look into though before you go to Avalon.”
Felicia perked up—skeptical as the waiter returned placing the drinks on a table from a server’s tray. Shinobu took her glass of water and thanked the waiter, telling him something about everyone needing more time to pick their orders. With a smile, the tall man backed away promising to return within the next few minutes.
“You know that will add to the rate, right?”
“It’s important. An intriguing series of have been unraveling on this planet ever since Dusk arrived here last month. An enemy of mine was seen being chased by Arcadians. Kazuya of the Valterian Fox Clan.”
“Woah-woah—woah,” Felicia said, her hands up in protest. “You didn’t say you were sending me on a suicide mission!”
“That’s not it.” Shinobu’s reply was curt. “I kept an eye on him, for a little while. It led me to notice a girl the city he was located in. One that is of the Waverider bloodline.”
The Waveriders, another Avalonian royal family, the one Shinbou was directly responsible for birthing as she was the direct ancestor to that lineage.
Deborah was shocked. “You didn’t tell me that you found her.”
“I’m not sure if she’s the one I have been looking for but I trust Akasha’s words.” Shinobu faced Felicia.”That girl is the only lead I have and the Council guided me toward you for a reason. I believe that you can bring me what I desire.”
“And what is that? Why is this girl so important to you?”
Something in Shinobu’s eyes shifted, her eyelids closed as she sat in silence. The air around them became fridged, as cool vapor radiated from her pores—causing Deborah and Felicia to freeze with alarm. The moment passed. Shinobu calmed herself as she peered at Felicia.
“I don’t think that’s something I need to explain to you.”
Deborah knocked the over her drink and it fell off the table. It hit the ground and shattered, creating a large spill—disturbing other patrons. “S-sorry!” Inwardly, Deborah cursed. Her hand was shaking. “We should call a waiter over here.”
Shinobu grabbed Deborah’s arm before she could get up to wave someone over. Deborah seized up.
“Relax. Someone will come.”
Deborah eyed Shinobu carefully, before sitting and adjusting her seat. She couldn’t understand what caused Shinobu to react that way. After all this time, was Shinobu still hiding things from her?
Shinbou favored her a smile before glancing at Felicia. “Like I was saying, I want you to bring the girl before me to see if she’s worth being of my blood.”
Felicia hummed. If she was bothered by Shinobu’s show of spiritual force, she didn’t show it. “Does this girl have a name?” a holographic armband formed around her wrist. She tapped it and five holographic screens jutted into the air, spreading to the middle of the table. “Files?” Felica scanned the pages of data feed that her portal to the Iridescent Mirror gave her—news, current events, and her contacts. People of importance. She moved a floating page from the from the top to the bottom of the group, seeming disinterested in it.
“I will have a dossier prepared,” Shinobu promised. “And I agree to your terms.”
Felica waved the screens out of the way so that she could see Shinobu clearly. “Then we have a deal.”
Deborah yawned as she stretched—leaning back her seat tired from waiting. It was still dark, early in the morning and she wasn’t able to sleep. Deborah studied a specific house on the street, the technology of Felicia’s dimensional spacecraft-turned-van allowing her to see through the metal from inside, like a transparent screen. Created by Tainted and Vivian tech, the ship was able to transform into any almost vehicle imaginable, from land to water and spacefaring.
The door of the driver’s compartment opened and Felicia who was dressed in a black sleeper slogged outward, hunched to avoid hitting her head on the roof. Without a hood covering half of her face, Felicia’s black hair revealed two buns, both pulling the majority of her hair back. Felicia looked different now—less like an experienced spy and more like a young maiden. She sat in the other seat beside Deborah and cracked open the laptop that lied on the mini-desk in front of them both.
A ringing tone echoed through the van from an undetectable source. Felicia rolled out a pad from beneath the desk and she pressed something. A window appeared on the transparent screen, Shinobu was on camera.
She greeted them briefly before asking about their reconnaissance. Deborah began her lengthy report, going over everything she and Felicia learned. The findings on Shinobu’s descendant, findings on Terra Eatos, Audrey Genia, Andros Valki, and Myadin Sagittaria. The hybrid twins and the two other children that once resided in Dusk’s castle before the Bloodstained Festival. Kazuya’s return.
“Sibyl’s children…” Shinobu was thoughtful as she mentioned the twins. “This could turn out to be a problem with that damned nine-tailed-fox close by. I didn’t expect so many interesting faces to be near my treasure.”
“Orders?” Felicia asked. “I can tell you right now if we end up in a situation where we have to confront him, the job is off.”
“No, continue as you are. Have you made contact?”
“I have,” Deborah answered. “She was getting suspicious and nearly found the DSC even though it was cloaked. She’s getting better at sensing vapor, not sure if that has to deal with us or her being in constant contact with beings higher than S-class. Felicia thought it would be best if one of us introduced ourselves, lest she finds our ship.”
“I see. Good. Keep watch and take care of her well, Deborah,” Shinobu said. “Once I’ve finished business with the Assembly, I will come to join you.”
“I will,” Deborah said, giving Shinobu a slight bow.
“That’s my little bee. Be patient a little while longer, do this for me and I promise I’ll take care of the Canceon family. I owe Apis that much.”
Deborah felt waves of gratitude ebb from her chest. She placed a hand on her heart. “I will,” she repeated.
Shinobu wished the pair luck and cut off her side of the video call, the window vanished from the screen.
“So are you ready to meet the Waverider brat again?” Felicia asked, the both of them resuming their observation of the girl’s house.
“…I’m not so sure, she was adamant about wanting me to meet her new boyfriend.”
Felicia halted. Then she laughed while leaning back in her seat. “Teenagers.”
“Why are you so worried though?”
“Is that how I seem? The girl holds resentment for one of the hybrid twins, I believe that boy was courting one of them.”
“Wow, you managed to stumble into something worse than teenagers. Teenage drama.”
“That’s not the worst of it. She still plans revenge, I can see it in her mind.”
Felicia groaned. “And they’re being protected by Kazuya. Shit. This could be worse than I thought.”
Deborah agreed, feeling grim.
“Can’t you rewrite her mind?” Felicia asked. “I’m sure you could learn her true name if you tried hard enough.”
“No. Shinobu would never accept that. I wouldn’t do that anyway, I don’t like influencing people beyond their will.”
“You might have to.”
Deborah frowned as she thought about meeting with Rika Mizushima, the girl Shinbou was searching for. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Return From Heaven II
“What do you mean?” I asked, feeling uneasy. Was she referring to the research I was doing for our paper?
“Don’t be coy now.” Ashley’s voice was soft making me fidget with my hands. Her eyes shifted from me to Nathan and Tiffany. “I know you three have been curious about us ever since you have learned we are not from this world. However…”Ashley overlooked me. “If you want to know more about Arcadians and Valterians, more about me, all you need to do is ask.”
My face contorted in confusion. Where was this coming from? Ashley rolled her eyes at my puzzlement.
“The thread on The Hallowed Eve posted a week or two ago. Asking questions about a dragon girl and nine-tailed fox? Specific descriptions of ‘angels.’ That was you wasn’t it?”
A hint of fear crept up my spine as I stared at Ashley, sitting still. I did make a thread on THE’s local board around the time we had learned that Ashley, Terra, and Ms. Frazzle were capes. After what happened to us with them and with Kazuya, after what was revealed, I wanted as much information on the gods as possible. I wanted to know if others had noticed us with Kazuya and the Arcadians from that night. If anybody else knew about Avalon. I even searched for any info regarding the Terra and Sinister Seven but of course, nothing came up.
“That could have been anyone,” Tiffany argued, taking a glimpse at me before shifting. “How do you know it was Mercy?”
Ashley glanced at her side-eyed. “I have my sources.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“No, she’s right Tiff. Not sure how you found my username, Ash, but it was probably me,” I said, causing my sister to turn my way in surprise. I still focused on Ashley. “After everything that’s been going on lately, you can’t blame me for wanting to know more. You can be intimating to talk to sometimes.”
“That’s fair I suppose,” Ashley mused.
“Mercy, even though Ashley is a spoiled princess, she’s still a big softy at heart,”Terra said, teasing. “You should know that by now.”
Ashley glared at him. “I’ll remind you not to overlook my grace and kindness, Terra.”
Terra leaned over and put an arm around Tiffany, corralling her in a tight half-hug—forcing her head to rest on his shoulder, much to Tiffany’s annoyance. “I’d never.”
Tiffany pushed Terra off and broke away from him. “No, don’t even. That joke is terrible and you should feel terrible.”
I shook my head, knowing what Terra was hinting at.
“To get back on topic,” Ashley said, quieting the two of them. “Mercy, though you tried to be discrete with your online presence, those in the know can infer things. Those with the power and resources to find you, and me through you. I would prefer it if most don’t know I’m away from Artisans for an extended period time and who knows what Arcadia will do if rumors about their warriors on appearing on Earth start spreading.”
I nodded, thinking back to Kazuya’s words about the threat of the Arcadian kingdoms.
“That sources of yours,” Nathan said while judging Ashley with narrowed eyes. “It’s Ms. Frazzle is it?”
Ashley smiled with amusement. “No. As if I would rely on that witch. You’ll learn Nathan that I have eyes and ears everywhere. From various governments of Avalon and this world to SIGMA.” Ashley placed a hand under her chin and pondered. “Or more accurately, one could say the Forum.”
Terra smirked. “How does King Arden feel about you fraternizing with an enemy of the Valterian government?”
“It’s irrelevant,” Ashley said unperturbed. “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I’ll get rid of them once I reclaim the throne from her.”
Terra hummed to himself, doubtful. Ashley appeared displeased by it.
“So, I guess the Forum is another gang from Avalon,” Nathan said unsure, his statement almost sounding like a question.
“Nah, it’s more like a secret society that runs things behind the scenes.”
Nathan scrunched up his face as he frowned at Terra. “Like one of those fake-ass conspiracy theories?”
“Oh, it’s very real,” Terra said, still smirking.
“Indeed,” Ashley agreed. “Anyway, I’d prefer it if you all would take care when using the internet.”
Tiffany folded her arms. “We were planning on using stuff from that battle you guys were talking about for our English papers. The New York one.”
“Searching events that everyone is aware of should be fine. I’ll let you know more about my history and powers at a later date. Perhaps I’ll even explain more about the gods.”
“Kazuya gave us a quick rundown after we met him,” Tiffany said. “What’s the need for all the secrecy?”
Ashley paused. “Really now? No matter. You will learn the reason for my silence in due time.”
“Maybe… it has to deal with Nathan?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Nathan said. “I would like to know if you know anything else special about me.”
Ashley frowned and stood up, turning away from us. “Not as much as I’d like too.”
“The hell’s that mean?” asked Nathan.
Ashley ignored him.
“Uh, Earth to Ashley.”
She refused to turn around.
“Ookay.” Tiffany studied the blonde. “So what is the endgame here? You and Ms. Frazzle simply want to protect Nathan?”
“I don’t know of the intentions of our teacher, “Ashley said, facing Nathan. “But I suspect that she knows more about your hidden potential than she lets on, like my father.”
“And you?” Tiffany asked.
“I simply want full control of my abilities and to get them back I must keep watch over Nathan for a full year. Presumably, my father’s seal should wear off by then.”
“Only a year?” I asked. “Do you plan to return to Avalon… or Valteria?”
“That’s a good question, Mercy,” Terra commented. “I’m curious too. Do you intend to lead another rebellion?”
My brow furrowed at Terra’s question.
“I’m not too keen on fighting another war against my sister, not right now.” Ashley’s voice was laced with a surprising bitterness. “All I care about is doing what is needed to regain power.”
Terra nodded, dropping the subject. He turned to Nathan and his best friend looked him in the eyes in turn.
“Have you manifested any hallowed abilities?” Terra asked him.
The edges of Nathan’s lips lifted into a reluctant smile. “Yeah. I’m a healer.”
He lifted a hand and waves of energy pooled around it, a soft tea-greenish aura forming. Pulsating with warmth one moment then coolness the next.
“I’m not really sure how it could help in a big cape fight, but it’s better than nothing,” Nathan muttered.
Tiffany fell into a fit of rapid eye blinking, before pausing. “Are you serious?” She glanced at us. “Better than nothing, he says.”
“What?” Nathan asked.
Ashley chuckled. “It’s a useful power.”
I agreed. “It’s important to have healers since there aren’t many. It’s rare powerset.”
Nathan shrugged. “I guess I was expecting something cool or flashy. Like a warrior or powerhouse power. I’d even take infiltrator type over this.”
“Healers can fall under the infiltrator class,” Terra said.
“Really? Still, it feels kind of lame though.”
“Don’t say that,” I admonished. “It’s freaking awesome. Do you know how much I’d love to have a power like that? How powerful is it?”
“Not sure. I do know it works wonders for Ms. Frazzle’s headaches though.”
“Mmm…” Tiffany smirked while leaning over her knees, her face and hands resting on the top of them as she peered at Nathan. “Don’t tell me you’ve been feeling up our English teacher—you rascal, you.”
“Of course,” Nathan drawled in good humor. “I couldn’t resist running my hands up and down her body.” Nathan ran his hands across an invisible body in the air, accentuating some parts of the female form.
“Ew…” I shivered, trying the purge the image of Nathan groping Ms. Frazzle out of my brain. Nathan could never help himself when it came to taking a joke too far.
Ashley huffed and scrutinized Nathan, her sour look notable. “Please. Nathan knows better than that.”
“I bet,” my sister said.
“Well, I think it’s cool that you have powers,” I said to Nathan. “You should be grateful and more excited that you’re a cape.”
Nathan mulled over my words, tilting his head from side to side. “I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.”
The five us talked a little bit more before Ashley led us back to the cafe. Though we spent the majority of our lunch period on the roof, Katherine never showed up to join us.
Tired from soccer practice and homework, Tiffany and I spent the most of night in the living room sprawled out on the couch like the living dead. Our bodies were entangled into a pile of limbs as we watched TV with our parents.
Mom had the channel on the local news since she was the first to arrive home to take command of the TV, much to the rest of our detriment. Well, it really only bothered Tiffany and me.
I spent time alternating between the television and scrolling through my iPad. I checked some of my social media accounts, looking and ‘liking’ pictures from my teammates and friends with Tiffany peering over my shoulder like a mischievous little devil, whispering thinly veiled insults and juicy gossip she heard about various girls in our clique.
Annoyed at her constantly talking in my ear, I switched webpages to read some fan-fiction while checking to see if any new readers commented on my own writing. She stopped soon after that, rolling her eyes at me and sitting on her side of the couch with a thump. I glared at her as she pretty much sat on my legs. She ignored me, playing with her phone. I kicked at her, causing her butt to shift on the seat so I could sit up straight.
The woman on the news said something about capes, causing me to perk up and view the TV as I adjusted how my back felt against the sofa, my toes touching the floor. A new gang, the Inheritors, had been terrorizing the boardwalk for the past few weeks, finishing off their lucrative crime spree today with the robbing a popular casino called The Scarlet. The reporter continued talking about the increase of cape crime plaguing the boardwalk and waterfront, interviewing victims—civilians and the store owners that were directly affected by cape burglaries and fights.
With their last stunt, the Inheritors aroused the ire of the racist gang, Albatross, getting to a skirmish with the group of white supremacists capes around the beach. No cape was killed and luckily since people were out of the way, no one else was hurt. The fight was a pretty even matchup since not all of the Albatross capes were involved.
As the reporter continued to talk over video footage of the cape fight, My twin and I had our eyes glued to the screen, absorbing everything.
Though they were criminals, the Inheritors were an intriguing group of capes, mostly because they were new on the cape scene and no one knew much about them. The boards of The Hallowed Eve were littered with speculation about Ravensworth’s new costumed crooks; the gang was active since January but they didn’t start any large scale operations until recently. Tons of threads with posters discussing who they are, what their aim was, people theory-crafting about their powers. Others claiming that they were a team that rebranded and moved from a bigger city to a place with less heat. All things considered, most of the information online pointed to the leader of the group of five being their flying pyrokinetic who went by the name Ignite or Ignition.
On the other hand, almost everything about Albatross was public knowledge except for their secret identities. It was a family gang, one that had hand been around since the nineties. They were stable, able to avoid being taken out by flourishing rivals such as the Spades and Noroi and the local heroes groups—like the Watchkeepers. The fact that they had a high number of capes, maybe about twelve in all, along with manpower of a few thousand gang members, kept them on top of the Ravensworth’s underworld for years. They were led by the enigmatic Swan, a cape that could project metal blades from his skin at high speeds. His powers reminded me of Ashley.
Mom sighed sounded exhausted. “These gangs are nothing bad news.”
“The new policies the SIGMA and the Watchkeepers are implementing; the increase of manpower toward the nasty side of the town,” Dad said. “That should hit the operations of the gangs pretty hard, if not take them down.”
“Can only hope,” Mom said.
The news program showed a quick interview with the leader of the Watchkeepers, Vitiate as she surveyed the wartorn beach that the Inheritors and Albatross, trampled only a few hours prior. The space warper cape had on silver and blue armor and was positioned in front of the camera, surrounded by some of the teen heroes from NextGen. SIGMA agents and cleaning crew members were in the background removing rubble and taping off wreaked areas of the boardwalk.
Vitiate gave her spiel about renewing efforts to stop gang violence and our mom switched the channel to the national news when she finished. It seemed like each station was still talking about the ramifications of the invasion by the Avalonian forces. Heroes were still helping with the cleanup.
Tiffany squealed with glee when her favorite hero, Crow Valentine, appeared on the screen from an aerial view. His dark wings cast a huge shadow below as he flew from wreaked building to building, helping workers move and get rid of debris. Members of the Alliance and the Quixotic Quartet were also seen helping from the helicopter footage.
Tiffany squeed again once Crow Valentine was back on screen.
My eyes nearly rolled out of my head. “Your hero crush is way too edgy for his own good,” I said, pointing out the ridiculousness of his wild ‘all-over-the-place’ hair and his outfit: the red leather coat and pants, covered under belts full of weapons with a cape too large to be practical.
Tiffany scowled at me. “I don’t want to hear that from a girl that gets hot for a guy in an orange fursuit.”
“Tiffany,” our mom warned, already sensing an argument brewing.
I could feel my face turn a shade darker, burning as irritation rose deep in my chest. “Stop it. It’s not a fursuit, it’s skin-tight!”
“Like that’s any better,” Tiffany said, she tilted her head glancing up in dramatic fashion before taking stock of me. “Oh, I forget that you’re into looking at ample butts.”
Okay, saying that in front of Mom and Dad? Now she was just being obnoxious. I waved her comment off in a frivolous manner. Fine, I can play at that game.
“Like you’re not?” I asked her.
Tiffany grin widened but before she could speak our dad cut in.
“Alright, this conversation is taking a turn for the worst,” he said. “Knock it off, you two.”
Mom shook her head. “Really.”
“But seriously, Ems, your favorite hero is so lame,” Tiffany said. “Why not someone cool like Nexus or Lightspeed?” She gave me a pointed look. “What’s with your fixation on foxes?”
I narrowed my eyes at her as I caught her double meaning, but with our parents her I couldn’t really confront her about it. “Magnificent isn’t lame,” I said, mentioning the name of the fox based cape. “He’s probably the most popular hero in the country.”
My sister shrugged. “I guess. His costume is good for merchandising since it’s not overly complex. So it doesn’t count because he’s popular with kids by default. That reminds me—are you still talking with Catwhip?”
“Catwhip?” Mom asked.
“Tiffany and I exchanged numbers with the Unity triplets when we met them at the mall, remember?” Since my Ipad was connected to my phone, I could read at my text messages on it; I scanned my contacts until I found the Catwhip’s name, Marissa. I swatted at my sister. “She wants to know why you stopped texting her.”
Tiffany gave an overdramatic sigh. “I have way too many people to keep track of.”
“Excuses, excuses. Anyway, I talked to her on the phone yesterday. She said something about us meeting with her sisters this weekend. I think she wants us to go to her book club thing.”
“I really don’t want to spend two hours going over terrible fanfic.”
I gave Tiffany a light punch to the shoulder. “Do you always have to be so obtuse? We’re reading classical literature.”
Tiffany frowned. “You know that’s not my thing, but I’ll I go since you’ll drag me there regardless.”
“Yup. You’re coming whether you like it or not.”
“When are you going to meet with them?” asked Mom.
“This Sunday,” I answered. “Around the afternoon. We’re gonna meet them at a bookstore in the Emporium.”
“Do you need a ride?” Dad asked.
“Mm-mm, we’ll take the train.”
Dad’s gaze shifted toward Tiffany. “Your boyfriend going?”
“We’ll probably meet him there.”
Our dad’s attention had returned to the TV as he was satisfied with our answer. Somehow, without us noticing, he swiped the remote from the center table like a thief in the night and began to swap through the channels. He paused when Mom told him to stop the on ‘The Golden Wheel’—a game show that our parents would often watch together during the week.
After our parents retired for the night, we spent a few more hours on the couch relaxing and watching reality TV before going to bed. Sleep was nice and peaceful for once as I didn’t really have any strange dreams. I woke up early in the morning since I felt a bit hot under the covers.
My throat parched, I slid out of bed almost falling flat on my face, I broke my short tumble with a hand and pushed myself off the floor. I stood up straight with a grunt, still stiff. I yawned and dragged a hand across my face as I attempted to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Mm. It was a poor effort but no one could blame me I was tired and felt like going back to bed. The only thing kept me awake was the feeling that I’d croak if I didn’t get water soon. I scrunched my face with a cough, the nasty feeling of stagnant saliva was stuck in my throat.
I exited my room in my eyes adjusting to the darkness as I opened the door. I headed downstairs at a slow pace until I reached the hallway leading to the kitchen. Dawdling past the basement door I heard a loud thud. My head cut around to face the door, toward the source of the sound. Nothing happened. I must have been imagining it.
I entered the kitchen and made a beeline for the fridge. Opening it, I nabbed a bottle of water and started to drink, quenching my greedy thirst. Another thump echoed from the basement, I could hear it from the middle of the room. I frowned, tense as I walked toward the door. Creaking it open, I heard soft muttering of someone that sounded like my sister … and another voice. Terra? My sister giggled. Don’t tell me he snuck inside our house during the middle of the night again.
The muttering stopped for a moment and my breath hitched. My sister screamed.
“Tiffany!” Saying her name a loud whisper, I ran down the steps in a frantic pace. My jaw dropped as I turned the corner and flicked the light on.
Kazuya had returned in his pompous golden glory, an aura of strong energy enclosing his form, his imposing tails covering the lower part of my sister’s body as he pressed into her, his hand pinning her wrists to the carpet. He was busy was staring at Tiffany with his open mouth hovering near her neck revealing his fanged teeth as he was in the process of clawing my sister’s shirt off with his other hand, revealing her bare chest.
He titled his head up and leered at me. “Ah, Mercy, care to join us?”
I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even talk. I was stunned as Kazuya fixed me with his predatory grin, my arms and legs wobbling like they were made of jelly. I was reminded of the absolute terror, the agonizing fear I’d felt when we first met the sadistic Valterian as he crouched over my twin.
“Ems…” Tiffany mumbled, her voice off. She leaned her head back, her eyes catching mine. Her expression seemed almost guilty as she wavered. “…this isn’t what it looks like.”
Bae, Ask About Me
At my words, Rika’s frown twisted into a defiant scowl.
“What’s going on here?” Ashley’s voice called out, cutting Rika off. It felt ominous as she sauntered toward us with Terra in tow. The crowded hallway became quiet, the loud chattering of our classmates turned into quiet whispers as Ashley passed by them, only the clap of her boots against the ground could be heard. “What are you guys doing, making a scene out here like this?”
I shivered a little, a hint of fear rising within me. Ashley’s aura, when turned on me, made me feel tense—even though I could tell she was constricting most of it to her body. Making a scene were we? If anything, Ashley’s appearance now would exacerbate the conflict. No one was really paying attention until she shouted from across the hall.
Tentative, Rika was the first to speak. “We were just—”
“Finishing something that should have been handled a while back,” Terra cut in.
“What?” Ashley gave Terra a questioning glance.
“We’re tired of you guys picking on Katherine,” Tiffany explained. “This has gone on long enough.”
Ashley frowned. “If you had a problem you should have come to me, privately,” she said. “We don’t air out everything in front of the entire school. You know that.”
Entire school? People were watching, but it’s not like the everyone would know of our group’s infighting. Well, not yet. That would change by the start of the next class period.
Tiffany gave a dry laugh. “Yeah, too late for that. If you handled shit like promised, we wouldn’t be here.”
“What’s your problem?” Lorie asked, stopping when Ashley raised a hand.
Ashley evaluated Tiffany for a minute before her gaze shifted to me. “Are you sure you’re talking about Katherine?”
I bit my lip. I knew what she was getting at. Pain started to bubble up inside me, as I thought about my ex.
Tiffany glared at her. “Who knows? After how many times you’ve given us your word, I’ve lost count.”
“We were getting Katherine’s diary back from Rika,” I said, speaking up—more than happy to move on to something else. I didn’t want them to bring up Timothy. Not here. Besides, there was no telling what Ashley would do if Tiffany pissed her off enough.
Ashley gave Rika a look. I could tell she was angry but she kept her emotions tightly under control, her expression mostly blank—the only thing revealing her dissatisfaction was her deepening frown and thin lips.
“She stole it from me,” Katherine spat, her voice filled with resentment.
“It was a joke, we were messing around,” Rika said, annoyed. “She dropped it with her book bag earlier. We were going to give it back.”
Ashley’s gaze slowly changed from annoyance to disappointment. “You lied to me, Rika.”
Rika wanted to say something else, but before she could defend herself, Ms. Frazzle made her way toward us.
“Shouldn’t you all be headed to class?” Ms. Frazzle asked, impassively glancing at each of us. Observing the hallway, she gave a stern look at some of the other students that were eavesdropping and hanging around nearby. She shooed them away. “That goes for all you, go to class!”
“Now,” returning her attention to our group, she asked, “What’s all the commotion about?”
Everyone was quiet, most of the girls sneaking worried glances at each other before turning to Ashley, hoping she would come to our rescue.
“Don’t tell me you girls were harming a student again,” Ms. Frazzle said. “After I explicitly warned you.”
Ashley sighed, moving from away Terra to stand in front of us and the rest of the girls—shielding us from Ms. Frazzle’s growing wrath. “We… were in the process of returning Katherine her diary.”
Ms. Frazzle seemed mildly surprised. “Oh really? I wonder about that, Ashley. Considering how I’ve seen you and your friends treat Katherine before, I’m hard-pressed to believe it.”
“Believe what you want.”
“You’re always sticking your nose in student affairs. I’m handling it.”
“Sounds like you wouldn’t mind handling a detention, either.”
“It’s true, professor,” I said, getting their attention. I didn’t want Ashley and Ms. Frazzle to start arguing in the middle of the hallway, where everyone could see. “We were just handing it back.”
Ms. Frazzle paused at my admission, briefly looking me, Tiffany, and Nathan over. She noticed the book in Nathan’s hand. “Alright… Fine. Give Katherine her diary and get to class.” She evaluated the others. “That goes for all of you. No lollygagging.”
“Aye aye, teach,” Terra said with a smirk, as Lorie, Brittany, Diana, and the other girls scampered away—getting out of dodge. Ashley remained in place though, giving Ms. Frazzle a calculated look.
Rika shoved me as she elbowed past, bashing into my arm. She didn’t do it hard enough to knock me over, mind you, but it still hurt. “This isn’t over,” she whispered.
“Wanna bet?” Tiffany whispered back with a snarl. Before she could chase Rika down, I grabbed her wrist, holding her in place. Though she looked back with a frown, I simply shook my head.
Nathan took the time to give Katherine here diary back, being gentle with the book as he handed it to her. “Sorry about that. Here you go.”
Katherine accepted it from him, holding it close to her chest. “Thank you… Thank you.”
Ms. Frazzle eyed her, carefully. “Are you alright?”
“I am… now I am.”
“Good.” Ms. Frazzle gave us all one last look before she left, telling off Ashley about her attitude and urging her to go to class. She warned the rest of us that we better be seated in her class within the next five minutes.
“Thanks.” Katherine faced us, sniffling. “For sticking up for me.”
“No problem,” Nathan said.
I put a hand on Katherine’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “I wanna give you a hug. Can I do that?”
Katherine huffed with the hint of a smile and then nodded in acceptance.
“C’mere.” I wrapped my arms around her in a tight embrace. Katherine let out a choked sob. Tiffany stood by my side, rubbing Katherine’s back in support. After a moment, I let go, Katherine removing herself from my grasp. I could see tears welling up in her eyes.
She wiped them away, giving me a broken yet happy smile. I smiled back.
Tiffany smiled as well. “Well, I’m glad that’s been dealt with.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Nathan said. “This is probably gonna cause a huge shitstorm during lunch.”
Terra chuckled. “It’s nothing Ashley can’t handle.”
Ashley seemed amused. “What makes you think I’ll do anything at all?”
Nathan snorted. “If Rika and the others start some bullshit, it’s going to cause hell for you. Trust me. And I know you wouldn’t allow anything to ruin your ‘perfect and pristine’ social image.” Nathan smirked. “What would you do without your group of followers?”
Ashley waved him off. “Please. I was getting tired of the little status games we play here anyway. Most of the people that associate with us are absolutely boring.” She sighed. “It might be fun to watch as our little clique implodes on itself.”
Tiffany made a sound annoyance and folded her arms. “You know, that’s just like you. To have such a shitty personality.”
Ashley gave her a nasty smile. “I could say the same for you.”
Ashley didn’t wait for a response. Instead, she left us, walking to her homeroom. I frowned as she strode off, all of us looking at her back in silence.
Done with math class, I found myself in the girl’s restroom washing my hands as I prepared for lunch. We agreed on doing something a little different today; we were inviting Katherine to eat with us at our secret spot on the school roof. Okay, it wasn’t a secret, but we really weren’t supposed to be there and the forbidden element of it added a little excitement. Nathan wanted to walk there together, but I told him to go on ahead. Hopefully, he along with Terra and my sister would nab some food from the cafe before I met with them. I dried my hands, the soft paper from the dispenser feeling pleasant against my skin as I rubbed them dry. With a flick of the wrists, I removed the access water from my hands and made my way out.
“Mercy,” Ashely called out, spotting me exit the bathroom as I entered the hallway filled with students heading to the cafe. She was alone, our other friends nowhere to be seen. “Walk with me.”
Was she waiting for me? I didn’t see her around before I entered the bathroom. “I was planning on eating with Tiffany and the guys, on the rooftop.”
“You know we’re not allowed up there.”
“Yeah… but we wanted to eat with Katherine and she doesn’t feel comfortable eating in the cafeteria yet.”
“That’s understandable…” Ashley trailed off. “I think I’ll join you then.”
I hummed, thinking of the reactions of the rest of the girls. “What about everyone else?”
“They can live without me for a day.”
We walked together at a slow pace, with me leading the way slightly.
“Say, Mercy, what do you think of me?”
“What do you think of me? You can be honest.”
“You mean personality wise?”
I wondered if she was thinking about what Tiffany said.
Ashley nodded. “Do you think of me as a sociopathic tyrant, one that doesn’t care for those that she presides over?”
“Not really.” I frowned as we continued to walk, glancing up and away in an aimless manner to buy some time as I thought of the best way to answer her. “I mean… you can be kinda arrogant at times. I get it, with you being a ruler of a nation and a Valterian dragon god of the world and all, but…”
“I’m not the god of this world. Here, I’m only a simple girl.” Ashley chuckled. “But I understand what you mean. My older sister would often say the same.”
“Is that the same one you were talking about before, the one that learned from Kazuya with you?”
“What’s she like?”
Ashley took in a deep breath while looking up in thought, away from me. It was hard for me to guess what she was feeling. “Arden is… courageous, dutiful, a being with the strongest will I have ever seen. The current king of Valteria.”
“Wait a minute. King?”
“Shouldn’t she be the queen?”
“It’s a traditional title, bestowed upon her by father because he acknowledges her strength. Her power. She is only the second person to ever receive it. She holds that title out of respect, regardless of its masculine nature.”
I gave Ashley a thoughtful glance, warmth budding in my chest. I’d never seen her talk about someone in such a heartfelt way before. “You sound pretty fond of her, you must love her a lot.”
Ashley scoffed. “Don’t speak of something you know nothing about. Do I love her? Love… hate… those words are too simple to describe the relationship we have. It’s not like yours with Tiffany.”
We talked for a little while longer, the hallways and stairwells now empty making the school seem like a ghost town. We reached the roof, our friends sitting down near the fence at the edge. Both Tiffany and Nathan both held a lunch tray in their lap, Terra had his sandwich in hand. Someone important was missing.
“Where is Katherine?” Ashley asked as we moved closer to the trio.
Nathan shrugged. “I told her where we were going to have lunch here, but I guess she didn’t want to come. I couldn’ t find her anywhere after class.”
Tiffany glanced up from where she was sitting, next to Terra. “Ems!” She handed me an extra turkey sandwich from her tray along with a bottle of water. “I can’t believe you managed to drag our perfect queen all the way up here.”
I sat down next to her Indian style before digging in.
“I was in the mood for a different kind of atmosphere,” Ashley said, curling the end of a strand of hair with a finger. “Besides, now I can talk to Terra seriously.”
Terra took a bite of his sandwich. “What up?”
“Let’s talk Avalon matters. The witch told me about your cousin, that he had a Fallen Star and used its power to go to Avalon during the battle between the Guardian and Duskan forces in New York. Are you still in contact with him?”
Irritation flickered in my the chest at the way Ashley referred to our teacher. Supposedly, Ms. Frazzle was a witch, but I didn’t like the venom I heard in Ashley’s voice.
Terra paused from eating, unassuming. “All know is that he made it out of the battle, okay and that he’s safe and sound with Guardian.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “How about you?” he asked, his mouth full. He swallowed. “How’s Artisans?”
“My country is fine. Doesn’t that woman keep you up to date?”
“Trinity isn’t really focused on your country at the moment.”
“Hmm, that’s debatable.”
“Seriously, you have bigger problems down south. BRIM is making moves, they might make a big one soon.”
“I’m well aware.”
“I’d expect you to be. Just saying.” Terra’s lips cured into a smirk. “I have another cousin on Avalon, you know.”
“From BRIM, I presume?”
“How perceptive. His name is Roman. Roman Hatchell.”
Ashley’s eyes widened. “BRIM’s third strongest Elite Guard?”
“And he happens to the brother of Davis.”
Ashley took a moment to parse the info Terra dropped on her.
“Mind sharing with the rest of the class?” Nathan asked, glancing between both of them.
“Yeah,” Tiffany agreed, giving Terra and Ashley an odd look. “What the hell is BRIM?”
Ashley walked over to fence at the edge of the rooftop and she leaned on it, close to where Terra was sitting by Tiffany. She examined the school grounds below like she was looking for someone before facing us. “BRIM is a human country on Avalon, close to Artisans. It was formed sometime after the First Great War. Or the first Human-Monster war as they like to call it.”
“Human-Monster war?” I asked.
“It was a different time, thousands of years ago. The humans on Avalon were at constant war with rest of the Avalonians. War threatened to destroy the planet until, we—the Valterians intervened.” Ashley laughed. “The Elder Gods wouldn’t let their finest work go to waste.”
“Nope,” Terra said, nodding. “The leaders of both sides eventually decided that it would be better if the human were separated from the rest. Most of the humans were moved to Earth.”
Nathan and Tiffany looked as stunned as I was.
“Are you saying that everyone from Earth was from Avalon first?” Nathan asked.
“No.” Ashley moved past Terra and Tiffany and kneeled next to Nathan so she could sit by him. “Earth was already populated by that time. The number of humans on Avalon had dwindled, most escaping here. But not all of them made it. The unlucky ones were left behind, to become slaves of the other Avalonian races.”
“It was brutal,” Terra said. “Humans were almost driven to extinction. But they survived, increasing their numbers slowly after generations. They created BRIM a military group made for hunting ‘monsters’ and whatnot. They conquered a patch of land near the Duskanian empire and eventually turned it to their own country. They’re quite successful nowadays.” Terra smiled at Ashley. “Successful enough to constantly pick fights with Artisans and the other Gaurdianite allies and Duskanian nations.”
Ashley rolled her eyes, her cheek resting on her fist with her elbow leaning on her thigh. “I wouldn’t put it past those idiots to start the Third Great War.”
Terra laughed. “If they were going to do it, they would have done so already. They’ve always had a rocky relationship with other Avalonian powers,” Terra finished his sandwich and balled up the wrapping paper. “I think that’s enough for today’s history lesson.” Terra gave Ashley a knowing look. “So, how’s the Nathan experiment going?”
Nathan narrowed his eyes at Terra, affronted. “The hell you mean?”
Ashley smiled. “We’ll get to that. But first,” Ashley faced me, her gaze steady. “There’s something I want to talk to Mercy about—and by extension, everyone else here.” She paused, allowing us to take her words in, her eyes still on me. “You’ve been a bit reckless with your online searches.”
“Thinking about dating any other guys?” Lorie asked me as we walked down the corridor full of students. “I can’t believe you’re still single.”
Our first period had finished and Tiffany and I found ourselves walking with the rest of our friends; the eight of us followed Ashley to her locker, our daily routine. We had a couple of minutes before homeroom started and we’d often congregate around Ashley’s locker to socialize before going to our separate classes.
“I told you, I’m taking a break from dating.”
“But come on, you’ve been so down in the dumps ever since—” Lorie stopped herself as if she needed to rethink her words, “—since you and Timothy didn’t work out.”
I rolled my eyes, a faint feeling of anger rising in my body. “Thanks for bringing it up again, Lorie. Is dating another guy right after one broke my heart supposed to fix me?”
“I’m just saying though, taking the plunge and putting yourself back out there is what you need. Derrick wants to go out with you, you know that right? Why don’t you get him to spoil you a little?”
“We don’t all date new boys every month like you do, Lorie,” I said. Derrick was a jerk anyway.
“Emmy, that is so untrue.”
“Is that why you’re currently talking to three guys?” Tiffany asked, causing the others to laugh.
Lorie scowled. “I don’t want to her that from our school’s resident flirter. You’d probably sleep with any guy in our group.”
“Terra was my first and he’ll be my last,” Tiffany said with a sharp smile, remaining calm as she turned to look forward. “We’re going to get married, have five kids, and live happily ever after.”
“Did she just say, five kids?”
“That’s crazy. Way too many.”
“It’ll be perfect,” Tiffany said. “Right Ems?”
I snorted in disbelief causing Tiffany to glare at me.
Brittany, who was closet to Lorie, giggled. “It’ll be okay Ems, You’ll find your prince charming one day. We’ll pray for you.”
Tiffany turned in my direction. “Don’t worry, Ems, at least you’re not dating Dillion.”
Brittany scoffed, as Tiffany mentioned her boyfriend. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Tiffany gave her a smile that I could only describe as sickeningly sweet. “I’m just saying he wouldn’t be right for Mercy.”
“That’s not what you’re saying.”
“It’s not? Please, enlighten me.”
“Okay, Grace Theophania Gaunt,” Brittany said, causing Tiffany to cringe, “I will. You’re still jealous that he wanted to go out with me, instead of you.”
“Don’t freaking call me that!” Tiffany snapped. “I fucking hate it when you do that. And I’m more than happy with my boyfriend, thank you very much. Eighth grade was a century ago.”
“That’s right you’re into girly guys now.”
“Terra’s actual classification is pretty boy, there is a difference.”
Brittany rolled her eyes.
“I don’t see why you hate your name so much,” Rika said to Tiffany. She had to turn her head to face us since she was walking side-by-side with Ashley. “I like it. It goes together with Mercy’s.”
“Mercy and Grace has a nice ring to it,” Ashley agreed.
For as long as I could remember, Tiffany refused to answer to her first name. My parents never understood why but it never bothered me. Intuitively, I knew how she felt about it. She would always be my inseparable twin, no matter what name she went by.
“It doesn’t fit me.”
“And Theophania does?” Nicole asked, breaking away from her conversation with Diana.
“The variation does,” Tiffany said. “I don’t know what my parents were thinking, giving me that middle name.” She cowered behind me with her head down, pretending to shield herself from the judging gazes of our friends. “So embarrassing.”
I remembered when my sister started to go by the name of Tiffany, it was some time after an asshole made fun of her in middle school. A teacher had come up with the nickname and Tiffany fell in love with it.
“There, there, ” I said patting my sister gently. “It’ll be okay.”
“Alright. Back to cute boys,” Diana said, her voice uncharacteristically chirpy as she attempted to change the topic. “What do you guys think about Eric?”
“You think Eric is cute?” Lorie asked. “You’re so scandalous!”
“What? He is.”
“I can’t,” Lorie said. “I just can’t.”
“Actually, I kinda agree with Diana. He has a cute face, but… that still leaves a lot to be desired, ” Tonya said. “But Michael though, he’s hot.”
Tonya’s statement about the athletic upperclassman drew some murmured agreements from the group.
“Michael is already dating Allison,” Lorie said.
“Screw Allison. I can’t stand her,” Tonya said.
I frowned. Is that why you’re always seen acting chummy with her before fourth period?
“She’s always blabbing about her daddy issues,” Tonya said. “Complaining about her parents all the time and all the nasty shit her brother does. It’s like I don’t need to know all that, TMI.”
“Well, I’m glad Tyler is perfect,” Lorie said. “You don’t know what it’s like to be a guy that actually acts right.”
“You’re not even dating him,” Tiffany said.
“It’s called taking a break, have you heard of it?”
“If you want to call it that.”
“Enough,” Ashley said before Lorie could respond, looking exasperated. We had reached her locker. As she started to remove books from the compartment, the others resumed their own private conversations.
“Sooooo…” Lorie stood next to Tiffany and faced me. “Who else do you like?”
I sighed. “Oh my god, Lorie.”
“Nathan?” Diana offered, entering our conversation.
Lorie’s face lit up with giddiness as if she learned one of my most personal deep and dark secrets. “Oh? I didn’t know you like black guys. I couldn’t date one.”
“What—Nathan is just a friend!”
Nathan was a good guy and I liked him, but I didn’t ‘like him’ like him.
“He does walk you to class every day,” Rika said.
Rika, how could you? I glanced at Rika, betrayed. She shrugged.
“Aww…” Brittany teased. “So cute. Don’t you just love it? I bet you wanna run your hands through his hair, touch his waves. Feel his dark chocolate skin…”
My eyes sealed shut and I could feel the blood rushing to my face.
“Brittany, really?” Tiffany asked.
“She’s not denying it.”
Before I could refute Brittany, Katherine approached us. Ashley had noticed first as she was already facing the middle of the hallway, ready to move after finishing with her locker. Naturally, our gazes followed as she inspected the raven-haired girl in silence. I thought about Katherine eavesdropping on our conversation in English class. How much did she hear? Would she reveal anything?
“Katherine,” Ashley said. “Can I help you?”
“…back,” Katherine muttered, looking down.
Katherine visibly struggled with herself then walked a bit closer, standing in front of Rika. “Give it back.”
Rika gave Katherine a bland look of indifference. “Give what back? What the fuck are you talking about Yanagi?”
“You took something from her?” Ashley asked.
“No. She’s fucking losing it.”
“Lair!” Katherine gaze was downcast again, but not before I caught sight of the tears starting to run down her face. My heart started to ache.
“Oh my god,” Lorie said, with a giggle. “I think you broke her, Rika.”
“She was born broken,” Rika said, sneering. “What’s the wrong Yanagi? Don’t you know that it’s rude to accuse people of shit they didn’t do?”
Katherine remained mute, unable to look up.
“Such a weirdo,” Brittany hissed while looking at Katherine, disgusted.
When Katherine didn’t respond, Rika stepped forward, towering over her. “I think you should apologize.”
Katherine glanced up with her tearful face, confused. “What…?”
“Yeah, I agree,” Diana said, with a faint smile. “Coming at Rika like that.”
“She should apologize for being a freaking creep,” Tonya said.
“Don’t be so mean, guys, she probably wants to say she’s sorry for causing all that drama from before,” Nicole said, referring to the time we kicked her out of our group. “I mean just look at her… Kathy just can’t help being a loser.”
Most of our friends chuckled in agreement but my sister wasn’t amused and I felt horrible. Ashley met the eyes of me and my sister and then she gave Katherine a searching look.
“That’s enough,” she ordered in a forceful voice, cutting through the laughter. I noticed Lorie and the others hesitant to say anything as Ashley emitted a slither of energy from her invisible yet still majestic aura. Ashley turned away from Katherine to face the group. “Come on, it’s time for us to go to class.”
We did as Ashley ordered, some girls whispering and talking in hushed voices as we passed Katherine while sneaking glances at her—entertained by her distress. I couldn’t bear to look her direction; the guilt was tying my stomach in knots. Our group went our separate ways, Diana following me and my sister back to Ms. Frazzle’s class.
As we entered homeroom, I notice Nathan and Terra were sitting at their desks chatting. The boys glanced up and Nathan waved to greet us. I gave them a hesitant smile, waiting in the doorway as my sister stepped further inside. I peered back into the hall, my thoughts still on Katherine.
“What’s wrong?” Tiffany asked.
“I… I need to check on Katherine,” I said. “I need to see if she’s okay.”
I had left Katherine all alone to deal with the bullying of our bitch squad… too afraid to speak up and do anything about it for fear of being ostracized myself. But this couldn’t go on. It was almost like Katherine’s suffering was hurting me. I had to do something.
Tiffany frowned at me but didn’t argue. “Okay. I’m going with you.”
We left the classroom a second letter without giving the boys a chance to ask what was going on. The both of us scampered toward Ashley’s locker, part of me wondering if Katherine would still be standing there. She wasn’t, of course, but we found out from a few classmates in the hall that she went the bathroom.
“So you’ve finally decided you want to talk to her again,” Tiffany said as we walked closer to the bathroom entrance. “Why the change of heart?”
I shook my head, thinking about the small girl that looked like Katherine in my dreams. “I don’t know. I’m not sure what we can do about the girls being mean. But maybe… If I talk to her, we can figure something out. At least I can help her with whatever she was upset about. It’s the least I could do.”
Tiffany seemed doubtful. “She’ll be angry,” she warned.
I didn’t care. “And I accept that. She has every right to be.” I paused before pushing on the bathroom door.
“Worried?” Tiffany asked.
“A little. But not just of Katherine.”
“You worried about what Rika and the other girls will think? So what?”
“It’s just—I feel like if we try to become friends with Katherine again, it will cause a lot of drama and I don’t want to deal with it. It would be us versus everyone else and it will tear our group apart. Everyone will blame us. I bet that’s why Ashely turns a blind eye to them picking on her. Because she knows that’s how it will turn out. “
Tiffany stopped me from entering the restroom, her arm baring me as she looked me dead in the eye. “So fucking what? You think Ashley actually gives a damn about what they do or don’t do? She’s a god, Mercy. If you wanna do this seriously, then we do this seriously. No half-assing. We’re going to stop Katherine from being messed with because it’s the right to do, with or without Ashley’s help—regardless of the consequences. If the girls have a problem, they can fuck off.”
Unable think of anything to say, I nodded. Katherine’s shrill scream sounded from a stall as we entered the restroom, causing us to pause. Katherine started to sob.
“Kill them! Hate you!” she cried, her words not making any sense. “I’m going to kill them all.”
My sister and I shared a cautious glance. Katherine calmed down, her painful sobs reduced to light sniffles. She exited the furthermost stall, drifting toward the sink like a zombie. Katherine was looking at herself in the dirty mirror when I called out to her.
“Katherine,” I said, in a soft voice. “Are you okay?”
Katherine’s head snapped in our direction, her mouth opened in shock. Long strands of hair covered her face making her expression hard to see, but I could tell her eyes and cheeks were red from crying. She backed away from us, looking like a wounded animal.
“S-stay away, stay away from me!” she shouted.
That familiar feeling of guilt throbbed inside me.
“Hey, calm down,” Tiffany said, hands out in a placating manner. “We’re not gonna do anything.”
“And you expect me to believe that? After everything you’ve done to me?”
“Be more specific, I don’t recall me or Mercy ever doing or saying something mean to you.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Katherine said, her sharp voice laced with resentment. “I know you’ve been talking about me behind my back, you agree with them.”
Where did she hear that from? Lorie? I tugged on the sleeve to Tiffany’s coat, stopping her from responding back. She gave me a questioning look but she let me step forward.
“I know you’re angry, Katherine,” I said. “We just want to help you.”
“Help me?” she asked, bitterly. “Like when you ignored me every time I tried to talk to you after Rika started picking on me?”
I sighed. “Did Rika take something from you? What was it? Maybe we can get it back.”
“Why the hell should I trust you?”
“You don’t have to,” Tiffany said. “But do you really have a choice?”
“Tiffany,” I said, her tone making me feel a bit cross.
“My diary.” Katherine was quiet as she refused to look at me. “She took it.”
That didn’t sound good. Rika was probably planning to announce it to the girls before or during our lunch period. Reading Katherine’s diary out loud to humiliate her was something Rika would jump at the chance of doing.
“Shit,” I muttered. “When did it happen?”
Katherine shook her head. “Earlier, before first period. Don’t you remember?”
I didn’t. When I was at my locker then, I saw Rika and some of the boys in the hallway, but I didn’t stay long enough watch them pounce on Katherine. I didn’t want to get involved. She still must have noticed.
“They stole my book bag. It fell out when I tripped and Rika stole it before I could do anything.”
“They took everything?” Tiffany asked.
“Not my book bag. They let me have it after they got bored, but Rika left.”
I frowned. They must have toyed with her for minutes. I bet it felt like an eternity to her. Pity welled up in my chest.
“We’ll get your diary from Rika,” I promised.
Katherine faced me, resigned. Like she had no choice but to accept our help.
“Why?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked confused.
“Why do want to help me now?!”
I steeled myself, ready to take on the brunt of her blame and anger. “Because it’s the right thing to do,” I said. “Tiff and I, we never wanted to see you like this. And I… never meant to hurt you. I was afraid.”
Katherine seemed mystified. “Afraid?”
“Yeah. I didn’t want them to turn on me for being friends with you after Rika got angry at you. I didn’t want to ruin the rest of our clique. But… even though I want to deny it, part of me… didn’t want to hang out with you anymore.”
Katherine swallowed, hard.
“Ems…” I could feel Tiffany’s hand on my shoulder.
“It’s hard to explain. I don’t hate you, Katherine. It’s… I know I’m being irrational but, deep down, for some reason, I blamed you for causing the small rift between us and our friends. For being such an easy target for Rika, letting her mess with you. I blamed you for not putting in the effort to fit in with us more.” I shook my head. “I was stupid and… I’m sorry.”
Tears started to run down her face. “I’ll never forgive you.”
“That’s okay. If you will allow me to be your friend again, I can accept that.”
I could hear two girls getting closer to the bathroom, their voices getting louder as they approached. A familiar laugh. Katherine froze, she was going to say something but her mouth clamped shut.
“I thought I saw couple familiar faces coming in here…” Brittany said as she entered the bathroom with Rika by her side, trailing off when she noticed Katherine.
Rika sneered, realizing what caught Brittany off guard. “Well, well, well, what the fuck do we have here?”
“Rika,” I said, getting her attention. “Stop it.”
Both Rika and Brittany were surprised. “Don’t tell me your feeling sorry for this twerp,” Rika said.
“Her diary,” Tiffany said. “Are you going to give it back?”
Rika tried to hide her annoyance, but it was still visible on her face. “Sure. After homeroom. My teacher doesn’t let us out of class more than once.”
I couldn’t tell with Britanny was thinking, but she went along with Rika as she left the restroom. I guess Rika was too offended by us defending Katherine. She would have to deal with it.
“…Thanks,” Katherine muttered before leaving, soon after.
“Well that didn’t go too bad,” I said, glancing at my sister.
“Yeah, we’ll see.”
Homeroom went by in a blur. I couldn’t really get into the conversation Nathan was having with Terra and Tiffany, about Ms. Frazzle’s and Ashley’s powers. About how they practically live with him—visiting his home every day without his parents knowing. I would be normally be intrigued by such juicy convo material, but I was focused on Katherine. Would Rika give up her diary just like that? She was always stubborn.
I walked back to my locker with Nathan and my sister, not only to get my stuff for Algebra II but to keep an eye out for Katherine. She walked by in hurry to get to her locker, but she wasn’t fast enough. Though it wouldn’t seem like it someone else, I could tell most of our posse—Rika, Tonya, Brittany, and Lorie were hot on her tail, strolling behind her while talking. Pretending like they weren’t focused on Katherine at all.
“Oh shit,” Nathan said, as he zeroed in on the girls enclosing her. Katherine was trapped within a nest of snakes. I saw Rika with a book a hand. It was brown with a golden design. Elegant. It was similar to a grimoire. That had to be Katherine’s diary.
“Check out this book I found,” Rika said, addressing the girls like Katherine wasn’t even there.
“Looks like a diary,” Lorie said. “But since it was laying on the floor in the hallway, whoever owned it doesn’t seem to want it anymore.”
“Really?” Tonya asked. “Then why don’t we take look.”
Rika opened the book and started to flip through the first few pages. Katherine started to shake, unable to face them. I hurried over, moving faster than Nathan who followed to help.
“Let’s see,” Rika said. “September Eighteenth, twenty thirteen,” Rika adjusted her voice to sound more girly. “I hate school, I hate everyone there, the only thing I can stand is physics.”
“Such a nerd,” Lorie called out.
“Mr. Thompson is nice. Sometimes.” Amused, Rika paused looking around at the other girls for effect. “I used to think he was a jerk, he was mean and everyone was making a big deal about him. But at least he was kind enough to give me private lessons.” Rika raised her raised her eyebrows. “Well now, would you look at that.”
“Oooh, looks like somebody’s getting it on with the new physics teacher!”
“Wow, and I expected Mr. Thompson to actually have standards.”
I heard enough. Pushing my way past Brittany I tried to snatch the diary away from Rika. She raised it over my head as I practically tried to climb her like a tree to get it.
“Mercy, what the fuc—“
Rika was caught off guard as Nathan took it from her grip.
“What are you doing?” Rika looked like she couldn’t believe what just happened.
“Making things right,” I said. “When you said you would give her diary back this isn’t what I had in mind.”
“You’ve always been a buzzkill, Mercy. I don’t know how Tiffany deals with it. Probably why Tim dumped your ass.”
Ah. My mouth dropped; I was taken aback. Verbally, Rika punched me straight in the gut. I couldn’t believe she would go that far.
“Hey!” Tiffany exclaimed, standing beside me. “You better watch yourself Rika. I’ve had about enough of your attitude.”
“And I had about enough of your bullshit.”
Things were getting heated; Tiffany and Rika were moments away from getting into a catfight. This was what I was afraid of.
“Why are you guys defending this loser?” Brittany asked.
“She’s not a loser, she’s my friend,” I said, resolute. I stepped to Rika. “Your bullying of Katherine stops. Now.”
I hummed and licked my lips, flexing my fingers above the keyboard as I readied myself for an hour of extensive research. My sister, who was sitting at the computer next to mine, had her seat angled toward me as she glanced at what I was doing. Nathan, seated on my left, was focused on his own screen and Terra didn’t even turn his on. He was content to focus on us with lazy half-lidded eyes, the side of his face resting on his palm.
I was kind of curious as to why Terra had chosen to sit by Tiffany instead of his own research partner, but I guess Nathan didn’t care if he and my twin flirted all day. Ms. Frazzle just gave us this project, and Terra was never serious about classwork until the last minute. I wondered how he passed his classes. Maybe being a master procrastinator was his super-power.
Our assignment was to write a four-to-five page paper discussing current hallowed events and to create a presentation in which we would explain our findings to the class. The subject could range from anything; we could choose to write about how the hallowed affected the current political climate, the military, or creation of new technology. The influence of cape culture in entertainment and sports. Advancements in the medical field. Their impact on society.
I wasn’t sure what aspect I wanted to write about and Tiffany didn’t offer any ideas yet, obviously waiting for me to do all the hard work.
“What are you looking up?” Tiffany asked.
“Hmm…” I swallowed my lips in thought, scanning The Hallowed Eve for news of interest.
“What do you want to write about?” Tiffany asked.
“Dunno. Why don’t you come up with some ideas instead of being lazy?”
“I don’t want to hear that from someone who hasn’t been keeping up with their work until recently. I’m not being lazy, I’m not sure how you wanna do it.”
“Mercy, you know Tiffany can’t help herself,” Terra said.
Tiffany gave him a look.
The edges of my lips lifted. “Yeah…”
“I can’t believe you guys. Hey, Nathan. Give me some back up here. I’m not lazy, right?”
Nathan hesitated for a moment, glancing over from his computer screen. “Sure… let’s go with that.”
“Oh, fuck you.”
Tiffany gritted her teeth in annoyance, glaring at Terra.
“Huh.” A thread on the message boards had caught my eye. Apparently, forum posters had more information about the alien invasion that happened toward the end of last month. A day or so before Kazuya dropped into our lives.
For about two hours, New York City was covered in the clouds of burning smoke as the aliens had hit the area, fighting each other rather than the humans as media had led us to believe. The ensuing battle had wrecked a swath from west Brooklyn, across lower Manhattan, and into Newark before they up and left.
Thousands of spaceships, two armadas had entered through the sky from a giant portal opening from space. Like a wormhole. The various ships had started to shoot at each other as hallowed-like soldiers of both fleets disengaged from their ship hulls to fight on land, air, and sea.
I scrolled down the thread looking at new pictures. Explosions galore. I had seen a video of the attack before, the day it happened. It was like a scene right out of a sci-fi movie.
“You found something?” Tiffany asked.
“New pictures from that invasion thing. Some cape chasers that were near ground zero posted some online.”
“Man, I don’t understand why people do that,” Nathan said. “There’s colossal warships blowing the shit out of downtown, why don’t we walk into the middle of a fucking war zone so we can post videos on Snapchat. Seems like a great idea!”
“You know how people are,” I said. ” They need the thrill and validation. Fifteen minutes of fame.”
Nathan shook his head.
Tiffany leaned over to get a better look at my screen. “It’s been like three weeks. Why post new stuff now?”
“It’s possible that SIGMA was scrubbing information about it offline,” Terra said. “The moderators may edit or delete posts soon.”
“What would they want hide?” I asked. “Everyone already knows that aliens exist.”
“Maybe SIGMA was the reason for it,” Tiffany said.
“People were saying we just happened to get involved in a war between two interdimensional races,” Nathan said, “with New York City as the battleground.”
I paused, looking at blurry pictures of alien soldiers treck across the war-torn streets around the bridge. The aliens on both sides looked like animals from earth, but they were humanoid. Anthropomorphic.
The alien armies had caused a rampage, slaughtering dozens of people caught in the crossfire. SIGMA had done it’s best to evacuate people in threatened zones, moving them to the subways or to streets further out, but the stories about people found buried under debris or in fields of laser fire hadn’t stopped coming in.
“Where were the Omniversals, the heroes?” I asked. “They could have stopped all those people from getting hurt.”
“Weren’t they on a mission in outer space or something?” Nathan asked.
I faced him, intently. “And the Alliance? The Quixotic Quartet? PTE?”
Nathan shrugged. “They showed up with local capes soon after to help with the fallout. After the aliens vanished.”
“It wasn’t long before all those ships had disappeared after that tornado,” Tiffany said. “Maybe the other hero groups were busy and it’s not like PTE works for the government.”
“Still, you’d think they would have people on hand,” I said. “Earth has been invaded how many times in the last three years?”
I thought back to the time Ravensworth was enveloped by a swarm of thousands of biomorphic robots and large humanoid machines. The whole world was really, we didn’t learn until much later that our planet had been invaded by a race androids. I wasn’t too sure about the details but somehow our heroes were able to fight them off and prevail. The ex-villain, Lightspeed—known as the Red Haired Flash at the time—came into prominence, turning the tide of battle.
I was in middle school then. I still remembered how terrified my sister and I were as Dad and Mom hurried us to one of the underground shelters.
“They’re probably busy protecting the President after the Vader clusterfuck,” Nathan said.
I frowned. That was the name of the alien that attacked the Washington D.C. last year, leaving the city in shambles. Vader had brought an entire army from space to invade the white house, taking the President hostage and murdering the entire cabinet. Heroes and villains were forced to work together to stop him, criminals that were released from the Oubliette were promised pardons if they helped fight. Vader was eventually killed in the ongoing battle, but we were still rebuilding to this day, with all the destruction caused.
I skimmed through more forum posts my mood feeling somewhat off, I paused as a picture caught my eye. Someone had taken it from a rooftop. It was fuzzy, no doubt due the all the commotion, but I could see faint outlines of a humanoid lion and dragon facing each other, a group of warriors behind each. Now that was interesting.
I edged forward toward the screen with a squint, my finger gliding across the dragon. He wore blood-red armor that was sleeveless, his arms as dark as charcoal. He was absolutely ruthless, his jaws covered in blood. His tail and horns were even bigger than Ashley’s.
“That dragon… I’ve seen him before. In my dreams. Are they from Avalon?”
“Wait, is that… the dragon king?” Tiffany asked.
“Yeah,” Terra said. “That’s Dusk. Behind him are his Empire Knights.”
Nathan examined my screen, his face too difficult to read. “Dusk, huh?”
“Empire Knights…” I winced and massaged my temples. I tried to get a better look at the armored woman next to king-emperor. Her hair was rich wine color. I was reminded of a girl with vampire teeth. “And that’s…”
“Felicia Shinso,” Terra said, getting a better look. “The Third Princess of the Duskanian Empire, The Knights’ second in command.”
“Princess?” Tiffany asked. “Is everyone you know royalty?”
“Tiff, that’s has to be the vampire girl I told you about.”
“Really? Hey, look at this.” Tiffany pointed toward a winged figure in the air with a group of soldiers further on behind Dusk’s knights. “You said you had a guy with wings in those dreams too right?”
“Hmm. I can’t tell, it’s too hard to see. That could be anybody.”
“That’s Maximilian Millis, the Fifth Duskanian Prince,” Terra explained. “He’s not blood-related to Dusk like Felicia though.”
“How does that work?” Nathan asked.
“It’s an honorary title.” Terra glanced at me. “If you saw Felicia in those visions, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he was there as well.”
“They were shorter than that, younger. Is Maximilian a knight too?”
Terra shook his head. “Nope, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets knighted soon. He’s got the skills to pay the bills.”
Tiffany pointed at the lion leading the group opposing Dusk and his knights on the opposite side. “Terra, is that the Fireclaw guy you were talking about?”
“Yeah. That’s Kimba Fireclaw, he’s leading the Saviors.”
The majestic lion man stood tall in front of his soldiers, a blade in hand. His golden fur and his long reddish-brown mane were so captivating.
“Is that a hero group?” Nathan asked.
“In a way. The Saviors are Kimba’s personal task force,” Terra said. “A bit like the Empire Knights but they’re not as hard-ass. They don’t really hold territory, they’re separate from Guardian’s main military.”
“So he’s the leader of Guardian…” I muttered. I hadn’t seen him in any of the dreams I had but I knew he was important. How did all these pieces fit together? I read some of the comments underneath the picture. People were posting the usual conspiracies about how aliens had secretly taken control of the world again. “What were they here for?”
“They were looking for something. Someone.” Terra said. “On Avalon, Kimba and Dusk have been fighting each other in wars for ages, millennia. Dusk wants to rule the entire planet but Kimba is fighting for the sovereignty or Guardian and the other free nations.”
“Talk about sibling rivalry,” Tiffany said.
“They’re related?” Nathan asked. “What the hell makes a dragon and a lion?”
“It’s a long story. Kimba, Dusk, and their other siblings were born from the Vanguard. She was the first Valterian ever created,” Terra said. “When you hold the genetics of all species in your DNA, it doesn’t really matter who the father is.”
“That explains it,” I said. “All the Valterians we know about so far look different from one another.”
“That doesn’t mean that all of them came from the Vanguard. The Elder Gods created many Valterian races after her.”
“Nature…” I murmured.
“Who now?” Nathan asked.
“Death and Karma too,” Terra said. He glanced at Nathan. “Ashley and Ms. Frazzle didn’t tell you about them?”
Nathan seemed perturbed. “No.”
“Wait—hold up,” Tiffany said. “Before we go off on that tangent. Back to the first thing. Why exactly did they come here?”
“I’m getting to that.” Terra paused for a moment. “Did I tell you guys about my cousin?”
Terra mentioned that lived with his aunt and uncle before, they had a nephew a bit older than him. I wasn’t sure how that was relevant as Terra told us that family had adopted him. They weren’t from Avalon like he was.
“He’s the reason. Both sides wanted him.”
“He has powers?” Nathan asked.
“Yeah, but Trinity told me they wanted my cuz for his potential.”
“That’s not the only reason.” Heels clacked on the floor behind our little ensemble, causing us to turn around. Ms. Frazzle was glancing over us, examining my computer screen, a stack of papers in hand. “Sounds like guys are having such an interesting discussion over here!” She handed each of us a sheet. “How are you coming along?”
I took a glance at the paper. It was a basic research guide.
“What do you know about Davis?” Terra asked her, getting straight to the point.
Ms. Frazzle dropped her cheerful mask, her lips thinning. “So that’s his name? Good to know.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
Ms. Frazzle frowned at Terra and he assessed her right back. With a slight turn of the head, Ms. Frazzle observed the rest of the class, a long pause before facing us again.
“Terra, you know that’s no way to talk to your teacher, but I’ll let it slide for now,” she said. “Anyway, there is a high possibility that your cousin possesses a Fallen Star.”
Terra actually seemed surprised.
“I scouted the area after things died down,” Ms. Frazzle said. “There was a lot of vapor concentrated in that atmosphere and interwoven in the ground, it was reminiscent of an unbounded eternal realm.”
“What did you figure out?” Terra asked.
“That cyclone that we saw? It wasn’t a one. Not really. It was a singularity, activated by the Fallen Star. Your cousin opened a pathway back to Avalon and it sucked him in and everything near it.”
“You learned that using your magic?”
“That and by stealing some confidential footage from SIGMA.” Ms. Frazzle glanced away like she was embarrassed. “The footage wasn’t that helpful for seeing what happened toward the end of that mess, I had to go there physically and use memory projection.”
Terra nodded. “For him to have something like that…”
“The portal to Avalon may still be accessible,” Ms. Frazzle said. “Maybe that’s why SIGMA has been quiet about it.”
I felt so lost. “What’s a Fallen Star—”
I stopped, noticing Tiffany and my friends staring at the girl that appeared behind Ms. Frazzle. Katherine. She was shocked, her mouth open.
“…do you need help, Katherine?” Ms. Frazzle asked, just realizing that she was standing next to her.
Katherine’s lips moved like she wanted to speak, but no words would come out. She closed her mouth.
“Is something wrong?”
Ms. Frazzle’s question jolted Katherine out of her stupor. Katherine stared at us and then our teacher. “N-nothing… I just—I wanted to know if I could use the restroom.”
“Sure,” Ms. Frazzle urged her on. “Go ahead.”
Katherine left the classroom in a hurry without another word, almost bumping into a classmate sitting at the computers next to the entrance.
“Damn. How much did she hear?” asked Nathan.
“Probably everything?” Tiffany said.
“I don’t think so,” Terra said. “She just got up.”
Ms. Frazzle studied the doorway that Katherine had just bulldozed her way through. She was frowning. “I wonder…”
Anxiety rose in my gut as I bit my lip. Did Katherine think all of us were capes?