We remain ignorant because we fear truth.
Kazuya smirked with satisfaction, sailing across the night sky at speeds the human eye could barely register. His tails swam through the air as he jumped from the rooftop of one skyscraper to the next, his golden kimono driving back the vivid darkness. Kazuya took the time to appreciate the bustling nightlife along the city waterfront below before he looked toward the horizon.
No, Ravensworth wasn’t as beautiful nor as technologically or spiritually advanced as Paradise. This city was no golden capital of Dragonbornnia; it was no pride of Valteria. But it would do.
It was always nice to see how far humanity had come. With the help of Valterians acting behind the scenes, of course.
Compared to most cities in North America, Ravensworth was a hotbed for spiritually aware beings. Of the approximate one million and two hundred thousand people that lived in the city, at least a fourth of them could have been considered hallowed or had supernatural abilities.
All things had vapor. Sapient beings, animals, and even inorganic objects to an extent. To Valterians, vapor was the life-force that powers and was self-generated by the soul or the consciousness of a being. It was as vital to the spirit as blood was to a physical organism.
Sensing the amount of vapor in the atmosphere that was unconsciously given off by Ravensworth’s residents, Kazuya felt that the SIGMA assessment was accurate: twenty-five percent of the city’s population were indeed hallowed. Unusual for most human cities in America, but Kazuya was confident in his sensory abilities. Most of the vapor signatures were fairly weak though. Kazuya surmised that probably only three percent of Ravensworth’s hallowed population had powers of any relevance.
Though hallowed made up nine to ten percent of the world’s population, for most big cities on average there were only two hallowed to every ten people. For rural areas eight hundred to every twenty thousand.
Not to mention that influence of the Forum, a group of Valterians that controlled the Earth’s governments from the shadows was an ever-present part of the city—the cult’s tendrils covertly wrapping around the human secret societies, government organizations, and the various villain and hero groups throughout the world. It was difficult to escape a connection to one of their controlled fraternal orders. Practically every major town and city had been built on a secret edifice.
The actual members of the Forum didn’t travel together in large groups, making them hard to locate. Usually, no more than three would be found together in a public area. Four at the most. Kazuya hadn’t been able to sense any hidden Valterians all night, but that wasn’t surprising. Acting in the world in secrecy for millennia, they had mastered the art of repressing their vapor signatures, leaving the masses blind to events they had orchestrated throughout history. They always managed to cover their tracks well.
Being out in the open would attract attention from the Valterian and Arcadian rulership. Powerful beings attract powerful enemies after all. However, though he could not locate the Forum members residing in the city, there were two distinct, familiar Valterian signatures he was aware of—one that was practically blaring through the atmosphere to get his attention ever since he had landed on the planet.
Making another jump, Kazuya hit the side of a skyscraper on all fours. Sending spiritual energy to his hands and feet, he morphed his fingers and toes into sharp claws, using his vapor to stick to the glass surface. Within a second, he scurried across the glass building, launching himself upward. As Kazuya flung himself over the top of the structure, he let gravity pull him toward the ground. His feet gracefully hit the edge of the building with a tap as he stood up straight, completely balanced.
Looking at the lively city below, thoughts of recent events and his current predicament rolled over in his mind. Mercy and Tiffany—even if the latter twin wouldn’t admit it—would probably be worried when they would wake to find him gone the next day, thinking he had left them to fend for themselves with their questions unanswered.
He would be back to check on them; however, it had been a rough few weeks, and he needed time away from the pestering girls that put him in that disparaging living situation. He needed time away from everyone. He needed time to himself.
Time to think, to get his thoughts and feelings sorted out. Kazuya glanced at his shoulder before rolling it twice. It looked as good as new, completely healed after his use of the Sacred Seal; yet, the phantom pain from being struck by Shekhinah’s ruby-shaded lance still lingered.
Exhaling silently, Kazuya leaped from the roof of the skyscraper, once more descending into the night. He had a meeting, someone was waiting for him, and it wouldn’t be good to be late. Getting a better sense of the subdued Valterian energy signature from below, he headed toward Ravensworth’s nightlife scene.
Finding himself deep inside the Downtown area, Kazuya approached the rooftop of a small pub that was almost hidden between the various restaurants, bars and, shops in the area. Kazuya consciously made an effort to lower his vapor as he landed in a dark alley across from the bar, not wanting to draw attention to himself. Using his ability to shapeshift, he absorbed his white tails into his body and slightly shortened his hair. He then morphed his clothing into something more casual, his kimono and sandals changing into a simple dress shirt with pants and well-polished shoes.
No need to change his face: it wasn’t like anyone here would recognize him. Before entering the bar, he looked up at the sign on top of the building. The sign above the bar read The Minister’s Hall. He had been told of this place earlier by the contact he was going to meet.
It was a truce zone of sorts, an establishment that openly welcomed halloweds. Villains would often meet here in costume to discuss future plans and even heroes were seen here occasionally. Most of the time the government-sponsored heroes came around, however, was to mediate talks between the villain groups or help facilitate negotiations between the heroes and villains.
It was a good place to find information on capes if you knew who to talk to. It wasn’t as lavish as he would quite prefer, but it was clean, nice, and comfortable. The wooden floors gave a homey feeling, the bar itself neat and polished. There weren’t any windows toward the back, but the yellow lights gave off a nice, even glow that was dim enough and perfect for the pub atmosphere.
Instead of sitting at the bar, Kazuya looked at the tables on the other side of the pub, his eyes leading him to the source of the spiritual energy he was following. Looking back at him was a man sitting at one of the tables, wearing a blue overcoat and a fedora. Kazuya’s lips quirked upward with recognition. The person he was to meet was none other than Philo, the friend that had come to his aid when rescuing Mercy and Tiffany’s true parents; Philo was Valterian god of science and mystery.
Kazuya approached Philo calmly, internally feeling a bit of anticipation. He looked forward to telling his friend all that had gone on since they had narrowly escaped Corinath’s wrath.
At that time, Corinath and the other Lords of the Twelve Celestial Kingdoms were outraged that one of their own would break the ancient laws against mating with those they considered heathens. His friends, Malachi and Sibyl, were slated for execution, the Arcadian military sent after them along with Corinath himself, presumably enraged that his son would betray him. Malachi and his wife were real parents of the twin Valterian-Arcadian hybrid children, not the two useless agents SIGMA had running about.
He chuckled internally at the thought. The reaction the girls would have after being released from the induced amnesia given to them for the last ten years would be glorious.
Kazuya sat across from Philo quietly and beckoned a waitress with a hand to come to serve the table. As the twenty-something looking girl nervously took Kazuya’s order—taken in by Kazuya’s natural charisma and alluring smile no doubt—he looked around slowly, enjoying the ambiance.
Kazuya noticed that there two hallowed on opposite ends of the pub, neither in costume. They looked ordinary enough, like regular humans. Perhaps they wanted to stay low key? They could blend in easily with the other patrons none the wiser. It made sense. Not all hallowed wanted to be capes. Some people just wanted to have a normal life.
After the young lady hand returned with the drinks Kazuya ordered, he looked at it with a dissatisfied sniff. The alcohol that humans served now was so much weaker than that of what was given centuries ago.
Philo didn’t say anything, his glowing blue eyes drifting as he observed Kazuya. Kazuya said nothing either, his own eyes tracing over Philo’s metal-encased face. The two remained in silence for a few moments longer, before Philo reached inside his coat. Kazuya stiffened, but all Philo did was begin to speak.
“You took your time,” he said, his voice low. “This place will close soon.”
Kazuya smiled. “I was distracted by the city nightlife.”
Philo scoffed. “I don’t like to have my time wasted, Kazuya.”
Kazuya leaned back in his chair, unbothered by Philo’s irritation. “You should learn to relax a bit, Philo. Instead of being cooped up in that lair of yours. Getting some light every now and then is good for you.”
Philo snorted, pointing upward toward the ceiling lights with a finger. “You call that light? My lab is ten times brighter than this.”
Kazuya shrugged, amused by his friend’s trivial complaints. “You forget the atmosphere we are in.”
Philo waved a hand in dismissal. “I never really liked taverns.”
“No? You were the one that suggested we meet here.”
“Because we could talk here undisturbed, and it was an easy place for you to find. ”
Philo glared at Kazuya for a moment. “Why did you want to meet in public so soon after that Arcadia fiasco? You know it’s better for us to stick to the shadows at this time. I’m almost surprised you’re still alive, considering the injuries you had.”
To save the parents of the Mercy and Tiffany, Kazuya had left Valteria alone, not willing to wait for help from his people who were still disgruntled by the actions he had taken earlier that day; his fight with the ex-Valterian king. As he had arrived in at the Arcadian capital of Serenus, he had caused destruction tenfold, drawing the attention of the Arcadian military away from Malachi and Sibyl.
Though he had been a bit careless with his execution, rashly killing innocent Arcadians, in his opinion the Arcadian response had been a bit much. Though the Arcadian military had mounted a counterattack, Kazuya had been able to escape and find the forbidden pair hiding in the forgotten lands of Asterralith.
Corinath had been hot on their heels—chasing them down to the ends of the heavens. Exhausted, Kazuya had fought with his all to allow Sibyl and Malachi to escape with, Philo, and Jun, his own mate. Kazuya had gotten away soon after, managing to slip through Corinath’s fingers. He’d ended up being chased to Earth by Shekhinah and her fellow warriors.
Kazuya huffed softly. “It would take more than Shekhinah and her students to kill me.” Kazuya raised his hands, openly. “As you can see, I have fully healed. I used the Sacred Seal.”
Philo observed him quietly, not impressed by his theatrics. “You’ve healed physically at least. You’ve gotten better with your control of it.”
“You held yourself from killing your little courtesan.”
Kazuya gave a laugh. Philo must have been referring to how he had kept himself from eating Shekhinah. To Kazuya, the brief forbidden relationship that he had with his Arcadian mistress had drawn interesting parallels to the relationship between Malachi and Sibyl. Luckily, for Shekhinah’s sake, he had been discreet; for the most part, Kazuya had only met with her on sparsely populated terrestrial lands. Away from the Arcadian military’s prying eyes.
Kazuya assumed Shekhinah must have jumped at the chance to chase after him when he had invaded Arcadia, considering how their tryst had ended. He smirked as he recalled the reaction Shekhinah had had when she had realized before their break up that he had used her to steal back a family heirloom of the Kairanna kingdom, an item that had originally belonged to the Valterian Fox clan. The Staff of Inari.
“You were there then?” Kazuya asked, alluding to the last fight with Shekhinah. “Standing by when I could have been in my final moments?”
Philo paused. It was hard for Kazuya to tell what exactly Philo was thinking with that expressionless metal mask on his face. He could feel an undercurrent of amusement in Philo’s vapor though.
“I knew you would survive,” Philo said at last.
“Is that because you knew I would use the Seal even though I hate it? Or was it those children?”
“I was too far away,” Philo replied. “I would have sent Jun to your aid if things were dire enough, but after Mercy had gotten hurt, I wanted to see how things would play out.”
Kazuya tilted his head, giving Philo a pensive look. “You were able to tell she had been contacted by Nature in that moment?”
“Of course, who do you take me for, young fox?”
Kazuya laughed at that. “Everything is young compared to your ancient self, old man.”
Philo ignored his barb. “Still back to what I said before. You should know better. Being out in the open while weakened is not like you.” He raised a hand to silence Kazuya before he could interject. “Yes, you have alleviated the wounds of the body but not the wounds of the spirit. You cannot afford to be careless with the type of enemies you have. You know this.”
“Careless? Never that,” Kazuya said with a slight smile. His smile dimmed as he sat up, facing his friend properly. “To be honest, I wanted to know if you were okay,” Kazuya said in a voiced laced with faux-concern. “After we nearly lost our lives and all.”
Philo stared at him. Clearly, he didn’t appreciate Kazuya’s sarcasm.
“Very well,” Kazuya said. “You already know why I’m here since you know everything. Why ask?”
Philo turned his body away from the table looking toward the bar. “I’m not quite sure…”
“The apple,” Kazuya said, looking at the hand Philo still had in his coat pocket. “Did you bring it?”
“You didn’t ask for it,” Philo rasped. “Luckily, I am not you, and I actually remember important things. I have it. I knew what you were planning to do with this ever since we had taken four of the forgotten six to Earth.”
Kazuya smiled, pleased that Philo had come through like always. “It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since we had saved those children from the fallout of the Bloodstained Festival.”
“Yes,” Philo agreed. “Time passes quickly for us that never die.” He pulled an apple out from his coat and gently held it out. Kazuya snapped it up from his hands before storing it with his powers, placing it through a golden portal.
He could have taken the time to carefully examine the fruit, but he trusted Philo. After all, he’d stolen it himself originally, right from under the Elder Gods: an apple from the Tree of Life, a fruit of tremendous power. It held the key to life; it was something that could return Mercy and Tiffany to their former glory.
“Soon,” Kazuya mused, looking off into the distance, “with the way things are going, those girls may need their powers, their divinity. Their memories back.”
“It’s not as easy as you say,” Philo said. “It’s possible that they might perish from consuming it now.”
Kazuya frowned, but before he could reply, he felt a vapor energy enter the pub, energy so strong it threatened to knock him off his chair. It was the same Valterian signature he had felt broadcasting itself all over the city the entire night.
Kazuya did not fall off his chair, of course; he was way too practiced in vapor resistance to actually show that something like that was affecting him. But it still startled him how that ridiculous woman would let her energy run free like that. She would draw all types of attention. Attention they didn’t need.
Kazuya shook his head. She felt no need for subtlety or to stay hidden. Just like her old master, Decimatus. Kazuya glanced at her as she moved deeper into the bar. The woman wore a pale brown fur coat with moss green dress and dark brown scarf. Not bad. It was moderate compared to Kazuya’s extravagant style but it complemented her well. She made eye contact with him as she approached their table, putting on her usual facade of a vivacious personality. She greeted the both of them with her cheery voice, her eyes wide and her lips drawn back in a smile.
“Kazuya! Philo! It has been too long,” she said, giving them both hugs while ignoring Philo’s protests. She glanced at Kazuya, the light in her amber eyes dancing. “So how are the wife and kids?”
Kazuya rolled his eyes. “For the hundredth time, Venus, Jun isn’t my wife. She’s just a mate.”
“Still frolicking through the realms with that Arcadian whore I see. I’m not surprised. Sometimes you make the most idiotic decisions. Challenging Decimatus to a losing battle and then running off after you were beaten black and blue to fight Corinath, to save a pair of fools? Really?”
Kazuya narrowed his eyes and frowned at her. The painful memory etched itself in his mind; the long grueling duel he had had with Abratikhu-Decimatus Dragonborne, the great Valterian dragon god.
He had challenged Decimatus to a fight, one that ex-Valterian king accepted. Perhaps that was a little foolish. For a moment, Kazuya replayed the events of the conversation he had had with the ex-king in his head. Decimatus had been in attendance of a feast held in his honor and hosted by Arden, his daughter and the new king of Valteria. Kazuya had caught up with him during the party, and midway through had challenged him to a fight in jest.
Decimatus, of course—damn his soul—took Kazuya’s gibe as a serious affront to his honor and combat prowess, demanding that they have a battle right outside of the castle dining hall. Kazuya, bored and looking for excitement at the time went through it, knowing Decimatus was one of the only beings in existence that could push him past his limits.
Though he had lost, Kazuya’s decision to actually fight Decimatus instead of giving an apology didn’t go over well with most of the Valterians present—including one of his most precious students, King Arden.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst of it. Soon after his fight with Decimatus, an aide had come to his side to give him a message: Sibyl and Malachi had been discovered together on Arcadia by Corinath. Though Kazuya had been tired from the battle with Decimatus, he’d known that he needed to go to Arcadia to save his old friends immediately.
“I won’t even dignify that statement with a response,” Kazuya said to her at last.
Venus went on, her gaze sharp. “I am serious, not making fun. What gave Malachi the gall to think that he could meet with Sibyl right under Corinath’s nose?”
Kazuya shook his head and sighed. He hadn’t pegged Malachi as the impulsive type, but Kazuya knew that he could be very impatient at times. It didn’t help that Malachi had the habit of thinking with his heart instead of his head.
“I will concede to you on that point. Regardless, Tamamo and Ninigi were fine when I saw them last.”
“Ninigi!” Venus exclaimed. “Where is that bastard? He always promises to spend time with me and never shows.”
Kazuya narrowed his eyes. Calling his son a bastard right to his face? The audacity of this woman. “My son and I haven’t talked since he had left his own family a few years ago. I’m not sure what that boy is up to now.”
“She resides in Paradise currently.”
“Oh? Still waiting for you to bring back Inari’s staff?”
“You know of that?” Kazuya asked with a slight smile. His young daughter would be pleased to finally get ahold of the staff of her grandfather as it was something Kazuya had promised to her long ago. Jun’s father, Inari Ōkami, had lost it a battle with Corinath about twenty thousand years ago, right before Corinath had become ruler of all of Arcadia in a skirmish between the Fox clan and Arcadian forces. Inari Ōkami was forever crippled from that battle, leaving Corinath victorious. But miraculously, the crafty fox survived.
“I know of a lot of things, Kazu,” Venus said while she ran her gloved hands through her long, orange-brown hair, fixing the sunglasses that were on top of her head. “Well, I see that unlike her older brother she’s still of sound mind. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Ninigi’s probably messing around in the Animal Kingdom again. He mentioned something about training there to get stronger last time I talked to him.” She glanced at Philo quizzically. “What is it with boys and their training?”
So Ninigi had disappeared to that no man’s land? Interesting. Kazuya filled that information in the back of his mind for later as he continued to listen to Venus’ complaints about how the Animal Kingdom shouldn’t even be considered to be part of the Nine Great Lands; she disliked the fact that it was a major territory in Valteria.
“You know, I don’t remember inviting you to this meeting, my dear,” Kazuya said.
“Ah,” Venus exhaled in an exaggerated fashion, placing an arm on Kazuya shoulder and giving him an open smile. “I couldn’t help myself after noticing that my brethren I haven’t seen in so long have arrived here in my city,” she paused. “You know how hard it is dealing with these humans. If you stay here alone in this god-forsaken place long enough, you’ll go crazy.”
Kazuya eyed her, his head tilted a little. He favored her with a smile. Her city was it? This girl was too much.
“How is it your city when you haven’t officially done anything to claim it?”
“Oh Kazu,” she coddled. “I play the long game, you understand?”
“Why are you really here?” Philo asked.
“Something you had caught my eye. What you had given to Kazuya. An apple of life.” Venus put a hand on Philo’s shoulder, moving her face close to his silver one, causing him to flinch away. “How did you get it?”
If Philo had any less control, he would have probably dipped his head into his palms right there. “Is this your way of mocking me? Kazuya is the one that took it. Even I don’t know how he had managed that.”
Venus snickered. “Yes, that I do know. It seems you’re not as smart as you think you are, Philo. That’s something you need to work on. Your pride in your knowledge will only get you so far, you know.”
“Is that the only reason you’re here?” Philo asked. “For the apple? Or perhaps you’re spying for the Forum?”
Venus expression turned sour, her face losing its liveliness. She let go of Philo and glared at him. “As if I would associate with those Luciferian mongrels.”
“Really?” Philo asked. “Considering your ultimate goal, the fact that you aren’t working for them is a surprise.”
Venus fixed him with a glare that could freeze the sun. “I told you. You’re not as smart as you think you are. Don’t presume to know me.”
Kazuya regarded the Valterian god of corruption as she fiddled with her golden necklace; she was busy having a staredown contest with Philo. For a second, he looked at the pendant running through her figures. The gem in the center filled with energy and corruption, like a ball of fire and molten rock. Venus looked toward him, drawing his gaze.
“Now to get what I really wanted to speak on. Kazuya, you have an Arcadian problem, and it’s only going to get worse. We all know Corinath won’t be satisfied with the current turn of events.”
“What are you saying?”
“I am saying that I would like to offer my help.”
Philo stiffened, giving Venus a skeptical look. Kazuya, though not worried, felt a little suspicious.
“Why would you go out of your way to help us and fight a battle that isn’t yours?”
Venus gave him a slight grin. It was the most genuine smile she had given him all night. “Because I have a vested interest in the six children you rescued in Avalon. Especially the two hybrids.”
“Well?” Dad repeated, his gaze sharp. “Where were you?”
Tiffany opened her mouth to speak, stuttering over her words. I decided it would be better to tell the truth than try to make something up. There was no way we were getting out of this.
I stepped forward. “Timothy was throwing a party after the game and we wanted to go.” Seeing Dad not pleased with my answer, I weakly added. “Everyone else was there.”
Dad shook his head, hand going through his brown hair. “The both of you snuck out in the middle of the night without telling anybody where you were going. What if something had happened to you?”
I glanced down, unwilling to look my dad in the eyes. Shame and guilt burned in my stomach.
“Sorry,” Tiffany and I said in unison.
Mother stood up straight from the wall she was leaning on, narrowing her piercing blue eyes a bit to get a better look at me and my sister. Her mouth dropped as she noticed the torn rags I was wearing as a pitiful excuse for clothing.
“What happened to you guys?” Mom asked with a stern voice of concern, noting the condition of our dirty clothes. “Mercy, why is your shirt torn?”
On reflex, I covered myself, turning around and cowering from my parents gaze. Not knowing what to say, I clammed up.
“Mercy, what happened?”
“Did someone hurt you?” Dad asked.
Internally, I felt annoyed as Mom and Dad kept pressuring me to answer. I didn’t feel like talking but they would keep going until they found out the truth or were satisfied with what I said.
“Mercy!” Mom demanded.
“She had been drinking,” Tiffany said. “We all were. Things kinda went bad and she got into a fight with another girl.”
I glanced at her slightly. Would they buy Tiffany’s lie?
Dad shook his head while Mom sighed, rubbing her temple with two fingers.
“Goodness,” Mom muttered. “A fight! Jesus, Mercy, are you hurt?”
I shook my head. “I’m fine. I don’t want to talk about it.”
My mind went back to the memory of Tim pretty much forcing himself on me while I was too out of it to defend myself. Even after the near-death experiences and close calls we had after the party, my ex-boyfriend’s actions still bothered me more.
“I know how you both are getting older and want a bit of freedom but you’re still teenagers that live under this roof. You could have at least told us before you went to the game that you wanted to go to a party. You know better.”
“It’s not like you would let us go anyway,” Tiffany said, bitterly.
“We would have considered it,” Dad said. “But staying at a boy’s house party until two o’clock in the morning? No, we wouldn’t have let you go.”
Dad paused. “His parents weren’t home, were they?”
Tiffany and I shook our heads. Dad looked disappointed but not surprised.
“Jennifer said they’d be out of town for the weekend,” Mom offered, talking about Timothy’s mom.
“I’m going to have a talk with them when they get back,” Dad said. ” They have that kid running the whole house.”
I almost flinched at that. He wouldn’t say it but Dad was never really fond of my ex, especially after we had started dating. Tiffany dating the effeminate looking Terra threw him for a loop too, but I think he liked Terra more.
“You both are grounded for the week,” Dad said definitively. “No cell phones and no internet. I’ll let you have phones at school in case you need to call someone, but that’s it. After school, you come straight home. No extracurriculars, no hanging around. No nothing. Come home, do your homework and study. Tell coach you’re grounded and why you can’t practice.”
I frowned inwardly. Coach Stephen wouldn’t be happy, to say the least. No soccer practice meant that Tiffany and I would probably sit on the bench for a couple of games, having to earn our playing time back. I felt heated with anger while still knowing it was my fault.
Dad turned away from us heading back upstairs. “We’ll talk more about this tomorrow.”
Before Mom turned to follow, her stern gaze had softened. “You girls go get some rest. And Mercy, make sure you throw that shirt out.”
I softly acknowledged Mother before turning to look at Tiffany. Her eyes met mine.
“Well, that could have been a lot worse,” she said.
I agreed, relieved we weren’t grounded for a month. Tiffany and I made our way to our rooms, heading to bed.
I woke up in a cold sweat, having vivid nightmares about what had happened the night before. I remembered the faces of the Arcadians that were killed by Kazuya, how they yelled as they saw their teammates fall. How easily they had been torn apart. Thinking about it made my stomach curl. I exhaled briefly, before sitting up and pulling the covers off of my legs.
“Did all that really happen?” I muttered to myself.
I still couldn’t believe it. But it was most certainly real; pulling up my shirt I could see the faint outlines on my body that were left by Tartys’ twin blades. The scars had faded with the help of Kazuya’s healing, but they still felt a little tender as my fingers traced the lines on my skin.
For a moment I wondered what Tiffany and I would do this weekend considering the fact that we couldn’t leave the house. Getting up, I went to the bathroom in the hallway, adjacent to my room. After brushing my teeth, I went downstairs to find Mom sitting at the kitchen table.
“Good morning,” I said, stifling a yawn.
“Good morning, dear,” she said pleasantly, her sandy blonde hair glowing from the sunlight coming through the kitchen window. “Breakfast is ready if you want to eat.”
I took a glance at the covered pots and pans on the kitchen counter full of warm food. My mouth started to water. I felt like I hadn’t eaten in days. Must have been the stress from last night. I fixed a plate and sat down at the table next to my mom.
As I dug in, I noticed Tiffany was nowhere to be seen. “Where’s sis?”
“She’s been in the basement since earlier morning. I don’t know what she’s doing in there.”
The image of Kazuya is his small fox form came to me. Even though he seemed relatively harmless like that, the thought of Tiffany alone with him made me feel nervous.
“She hasn’t come upstairs?”
“I tried telling her breakfast was ready, but she said she wasn’t hungry.”
Considering my sister’s actions, Kazuya must have woken up. Surprisingly, the house wasn’t torn down. Maybe having him here wouldn’t be so bad after all. Still eating I looked up from my plate.
“Where’s Dad? I didn’t see him upstairs.”
“Your dad went to Timothy’s place. Tiffany told him you had left your phone there last night. He’s going to pick it up for you.”
Well, at least Tiffany and I didn’t need to go over there again. I wondered how the meeting between Timothy and my father would go. He’d probably be terrified that a parent came over to check up on him, without warning. I didn’t really matter though. It’s not like Dad wouldn’t talk to his parents about the house party he threw in their absence. He would be in trouble no matter what.
The edges of my lips quirked up as I thought about how pleased Tiffany would be that he would get scolded twice. Seeing my face, Mom asked what was amusing me, but I told her it was nothing important.
Finishing my meal, I got up from the table and put my plate in the sink before I prepared to clean the rest of the kitchen. After I finished washing dishes, I walked downstairs to the basement finding Tiffany watching TV while sitting next to Kazuya, who had changed to his human form.
I was actually shocked, noticing he had on clothes for once. His long white hair was neater than before, refined as if he had spent hours going through it with a long comb and brush. Kazuya wore golden robes adorned with golden disks. A beautiful kimono with a brown hakama. He seemed… more dignified than before.
“Mercy,” He greeted with a smile. “How kind of you to join us.”
Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Hey, Ems.”
“I’m surprised you’re awake,” I said to Kazuya.
“Of course. Were you hoping that I die?”
My eyes widened. “What? I—no! I wasn’t sure if you were okay or not, after everything that happened last night. Are you alright?”
“Knock it off,” Tiffany said, rounding on Kazuya. “Mercy was concerned for you the most. If it were up to me, I’ve gotten that Arcadian woman to take you so you’d be out of our hair.”
Kazuya chuckled. “But then you’d be in trouble when the Twelve Celestial Kingdoms sent more warriors to come after you and finish the job.”
Tiffany made a sound of disapproval. “Fair enough.”
“So, are you okay?” I asked.
Kazuya leaned back on the sofa and put his arm on the top of the backrest, near Tiffany. Tiffany glared at Kazuya, miffed about how he unabashedly invaded her space—but he paid her no mind.
“It will be a while before I reach my full strength,” Kazuya said, after ragged breath. “It seems Triple Lotus Meditation sessions are in order.”
Tiffany frowned. “Say what now?”
“A rigorous meditation method, my dear. I must absorb and condense spirit matter from the environment before transmuting it into my own, allowing me to use it without relying on something as dangerous as magic. It should allow me to recover my spiritual energy faster.”
I looked at him thoughtfully. “How long will that take?”
“At most, a few weeks. The concentration of environmental vapor is lower here than that of the Realm of Heavens.”
Tiffany huffed while turning her head to look back at the TV. “Mercy, you’re not asking the most important question, which is where did he steal that ridiculous outfit from?”
I gave her a questioning look. “What?”
“Oh come on, Ems. He looks like a freaking cosplayer, dressed like one of those guys from those animes that you watch.”
I laughed at that. She wasn’t wrong, although Kazuya’s clothing looked more authentic than a cheap outfit some cosplayer put together. Kazuya shook his head with an amused look on his face.
“I’m aware that basking in the aura of my magnificence may cause you to start babbling nonsense, but I’d prefer it if you didn’t make fun of my clothing.”
Oh my god. Kazuya was so insufferable. I shook my head and giggled with mirth. “She’s not making fun of you, Kazuya. Tiff’s just saying you dress similar to something we saw before on a show.”
“Where did you even get those clothes from anyway?” Tiffany asked Kazuya before turning to me. “I swear he pulled those out of nowhere. He was butt-ass naked, I look away for one second and after I turn around, he was clothed the next.”
“I have recovered enough that I’m able to pull things from my dimensional storage chambers. They hold many things, such as a particular brand of outfits.”
“Dimensional storage?” Tiffany asked. She glanced at me. “Christ. How many powers does this guy have?”
I shrugged slightly. That’s what I wanted to know.
Before Kazuya could speak, we heard a knock on the basement door. I hesitated, holding my breath as Mom cracked the door open, looking down. Luckily, she couldn’t see Kazuya from upstairs since He and my sister were sitting on the sofa opposite of me—the seat against the wall next to the staircase.
“What are you girls so excited about down there?”
Crap. Did she hear us talking to Kazuya?
“We’re just watching a show on TV, Mom,” Tiffany called back. “Glavemore Girls.”
Mom chuckled. “Oh. I see. I won’t stop your fun then. Oh, by the way, your dad is back home. Mercy, he has your cell phone.”
“Tim gave it to him?”
“They had to go looking for it. The house was a mess. I still can’t believe that boy. Jennifer and Will are going to be in for a surprise.”
Mom left without coming downstairs, leaving us to our own devices. I let out a sigh of relief. “That was a close one.”
“Please. She wasn’t gonna come down here Ems.”
“I know. I thought she noticed he,” I pointed at Kazuya. “was down here at first, though.”
I looked at Kazuya for a moment, looking into his golden eyes. “So… what are you going to do now? Are you gonna stay with us?”
“Uh—not if that means more of those Arcadians are gonna show up and come after us,” Tiffany commented.
“If Shekhinah returns empty-handed, considering that I killed her subordinates, the Twelve Celestial Kingdoms will be hesitant to come after me again so soon, for fear of losing more warriors pointlessly. I’m not someone to trifle with at full strength and they know this.”
Tiffany hummed. I looked at Kazuya the slight fear I had when I first saw him rekindling in my chest. Even though he seemed to be on our side, I couldn’t forget how dangerous he was and his carefree attitude toward taking the life of another.
“The Arcadians won’t be a problem for some time,” Kazuya continued. “The Kairanna kingdom doesn’t like to look incompetent. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried something underhanded in secret. They tout about being a righteous and honest kingdom, but they are no different than the rest.”
“Kairanna?” He had used that word before.
Kazuya paused to look at me. “The name of one Twelve Celestial Kingdoms that govern Arcadia. Kairanna is said to be the most powerful and has the highest standing amongst the kingdoms. That is where Shekhinah and the group of warriors following her hail from.”
“Wow,” I said, thinking about what he told us. “So then, are you going to leave, if they try to find you?”
Kazuya glanced at me thoughtfully. “I’m considering it.”
I shook my head. “You should stay with us. At least until you’re better.”
Tiffany harrumphed. “Too bad we can’t keep outside in the backyard. We would be able to if we had a dog house or something,” she looked at Kazuya gleefully. “I always wanted a pet.”
“You’re like a dog yourself,” Kazuya remarked, “so it’s not really surprising.”
“Fuck you,” Tiffany growled, approaching Kazuya with a scowl as he looked on calmly.
I stepped in front of her, blocking the way. I gave her a look. Had she lost her mind? “Hey guys, stop it! No fighting.”
Kazuya looked at us, pleased with himself. Apparently, he was enjoying the fact that he could easily get underneath Tiffany’s skin.
Kazuya shifted a bit on the sofa to get more comfortable. He gave us a faint smile. “I wouldn’t mind staying here for some time after all.”
Tiffany rolled her eyes. “See what you did Ems? Now we have a big hairy freeloader stuck living in our basement.”
Kazuya glanced at her bemused. With the wave of a hand a golden portal had formed in the middle of the air. A small but fairly decorative goblet full of strong wine had slowly floated out of the portal and into his hand. Tiffany and I looked at him, shocked as he gracefully took a swig of the golden silver cup.
“Anything you could offer me I probably have tenfold,” Kazuya said, after letting out a sigh of relief. “Of the finest quality too.”
So that was his dimensional storage power in action… I wondered how many things he could hold. Maybe it was like an infinite hammerspace.
“I was going to offer you something to drink,” I said. “But I guess I don’t need to get you anything.”
“Ah, but I appreciate the thought, my child,” Kazuya said. He turned to Tiffany giving her a playful smile. “I see at least one of you knows how to be a gracious host.”
“Don’t make me come over there and slap you. I won’t let Ems hold me back this time.”
Kazuya ignored her threat. “It has been a while since I had tried food from this planet, however,” he nodded toward me. “Fetch me something good to sate my appetite, if you would.”
“Are you serious?” Tiffany asked distastefully with a frown. “Such a useless freeloader. At least have the decency to ask politely. Mercy, don’t bring him anything.”
Tiffany and Kazuya continued to go on and on, taunting each other and shooting out thinly veiled insults one after another. I shook my head at their continued bickering as I turned around to head upstairs and to bring Kazuya something to eat. I felt a little bothered by Kazuya ordering me around but Kazuya was probably doing that on purpose, having fun picking on my sister and me.
Getting to the top of the basement steps I closed the door, hoping our parents weren’t close enough to hear Tiffany cursing Kazuya out. I walked to the kitchen thinking about the weird visions I’d had been having about Kazuya and that dragon king. I chose not to burden Kazuya with questions since he had just woken up from nearly dying, he needed to rest. But who was he really? Why did I feel a deep connection with him and what was that place of seven moons? Or that place of golden cities surrounded by clear water as far as the eyes could see? I knew he could tell us.
I wanted answers and I would have them. Soon enough.
“What happened to him?” I whispered, looking down at Kazuya—his eyes closed shut, my hands still gripping him shakily. Worried, I glanced at Tiffany. The expression on her face was oddly muted. Tiffany looked back at me blankly before glancing down at Kazuya’s unconscious body. She shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she said.
The tattoo on his back started to glow brighter as he thrashed about ferociously in obvious pain. Tiffany quickly sat next to me, trying to help me hold Kazuya down as he flailed about. She eventually pulled me away from him as I was nearly hit by one of his powerful tails—claiming it was dangerous to stay next to him and that I was insane for even wanting to in the first place.
I tried to shrug her off but she wasn’t having it. As I struggled to pry myself away from my sister’s grip, we didn’t notice Shekhinah approach us. Eventually, we did notice her and realizing that the warrior who had threatened our lives was still near us caused us to clam up. Tiffany and I stood up backed away from Kazuya as Shekhinah advanced, looking at his body on the ground with narrowed eyes.
“Back off,” Tiffany warned, standing in front of me, attempting to shield me from the Arcadian warrior. Shekhinah gave her a sharp glance, her eyes full of grief and anger before returning her gaze to Kazuya.
“He used too much power,” Shekhinah muttered, her voice bitter. “The sacred seal is killing him.”
Both Tiffany and I stared in silence as she knelt at Kazuya’s side. Feeling Tiffany’s grip loosening, I freed my wrist from her hand and approached Shekhinah ignoring my twin’s shocked protest.
“That seal… it’s responsible for the power he used before. How he was able to transform. Is that reason he’s dying?”
Shekhinah turned her head fixing me with a glare. “The Sacred Seal was given to the Valterian clan leaders by those were once Irregulars, the Old Gods.”
Old Gods? I thought. Kazuya had mentioned something about the Irregulars before. Were the Old Gods a particular group of them? A sect?
“Kazuya must have been given the seal by the leader of the Fox clan,” Shekhinah continued, not noticing me lost in thought. “It bestows the power of the Old Gods on the user but not without a tremendous price. It requires a considerable amount of spiritual energy to use and control and he is lacking it. As he is now, he will die from the strain.”
Tiffany frowned, looking at Shekhinah suspiciously. “Didn’t you poison him? You said you did with your spear.”
I was reminded of the battle that Kazuya and Shekhinah had earlier during the night; memories of Kazuya’s shoulder being pierced by a shining lance the color of blood materializing in my mind’s eye.
Shekhinah shook her head, answering Tiffany’s question. “It was said that the powers of the Old Gods could heal all things,” she glanced back at Kazuya. “With the amount of vapor he released in that form, I can believe it. I can’t sense my energy inside him, the seal was able to burn the poison out from within.”
Tiffany hummed to herself, glancing at me slightly before facing Shekhinah. “So I take it you don’t want to kill fox-boy anymore? Judging by the way you’re talking about him and explaining everything. I mean if you were going to you would’ve done it by now.”
Shekhinah gritted her teeth while looking downward, almost like she was hiding her face in shame. “I… I was tasked to bring Kazuya back,” Shekhinah said, spitting out Kazuya’s name in spite, “by any means possible. Dead or alive. I should’ve have killed him. I should kill him. For what he did to my subordinates. My warriors.” Shekhinah’s fists tightened. “My students…”
My eyes widened as a feeling akin to fear rose in my gut.
“But killing him won’t bring them back. An easy death is not sufficient enough for the pain he has caused.”
I bit the edge of my lip as I saw tears roll down Shekhinah’s cheeks. I felt pain in my chest. A dull but warm feeling. Even though Shekhinah was an enemy, seeing her in turmoil, overcome with emotion was almost unbearable. Her students had been killed by someone she presumably had a deep relationship with. I didn’t know—I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what she was feeling but I still felt the urge to comfort her, even though I couldn’t do anything.
“Well,” Tiffany said, pulling me out of my thoughts and feelings. “If you’re not gonna kill us or that lump of fur, what will you do? Can you stop him from dying?”
“The only thing I can do to possibly save him is to bring him to Arcadia as a prisoner, ” Shekhinah said. “But now, I’m hesitant to do so.”
“Why is that?” Tiffany asked.
Shekhinah ignored her, turning away from us and grabbed Kazuya’s arm getting ready to lift him from off the ground. Kazuya had become less volatile—his body had stopped twisting and turning wildly, his tails no longer swaying through the air like walloping branches.
“Wait,” I said suddenly. My sister gave me a questioning look. It wasn’t rational but I didn’t want Shekhinah to take Kazuya away. I had a bad feeling that if she did I wouldn’t see him ever again.
“What is it?” Shekhinah asked.
“Don’t take him.”
“You want me to save him, don’t you? Then I need to take him to Arcadia.”
I shook my head. “There has to be another way. We can call for an ambulance or, maybe SIGMA, they have medics that specialize in capes.”
Shekhinah scoffed at the notion. “This illness is beyond the power of simple humans and hallowed such as capes. It is divine in origin.”
I narrowed my eyes. “And hallowed aren’t? Kazuya told us about how halloweds really get their powers. They’re descendants of Valterians.”
Shekhinah frowned. Tiffany tapped me on the arm.
“Why are you so adamant about it?” she asked. “The longer you keep her here the worse he’s going to get. He looks like he’s gonna croak any second now.”
I hissed through my teeth. “They know about us. The both of them. Don’t you want to know why? If she takes him now we may never find out anything.”
I wanted, no, I needed to know what these strange visions I had meant.
Tiffany shook her head exasperated. “Mercy, you seriously think we’re hallowed?”
“Of course!” I said looking at dismayed that she didn’t feel the same way. “Don’t you? Why else would Kazuya have said what he did?”
Shekhinah glanced at me quietly—she paused for a moment before looking down at Kazuya’s body still lying peacefully on the grass. The sacred seal on his back had stopped glowing. Her mouth opened wide in shock when she had touched Kazuya again.
“He’s no longer burning from within,” she muttered.
Within moments, Kazuya body changed—transforming back into a fox.
“What happened?” I asked.
“It seems that Kazuya has a better fortune that I’d have thought.”
“Is he okay, somehow?”
“The sacred seal was reacting violently because of the lack of vapor in his body, however, his condition has stabilized. Kazuya is a natural born master at pulling and transmuting spiritual energy from the environment. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it unconsciously.”
Shekhinah grabbed the comatose Kazuya by the scruff, but before she could disappear with him I stepped forward.
“Wait a minute. You said he was fine now right?”
Shekhinah turned her head slightly, glancing at me with the corner of her eye. “It is my duty to complete my mission and bring him to Arcadia.”
Tiffany snorted, walking up to Shekhinah fearlessly. Tiffany took the small fox from Shekhinah’s arms while looking her in the eyes daring the Arcadian warrior to strike her.
“Tiffany!” I hissed. “Are you freaking crazy?”
Tiffany waved me off awkwardly with Kazuya in her arms. “She won’t do anything. She could have gotten rid of us anytime but she hasn’t. If she really wanted to take this guy wherever she would have grabbed him and been long gone. Instead, she’s busy entertaining our dumb questions. Isn’t that right Ms. Arcadian?”
My teeth clamped shut as my body felt wrought with anxiety. Did Tiffany have to be so antagonizing?
When Shekhinah didn’t respond, Tiffany continued. “You don’t want to take this little guy back to heaven do you?” she asked, dangling Kazuya by one of his tails. “Probably too good for him. Anyway, before you said you’re not sure about taking him and now you say it’s your duty. Which is it?”
“Tiff,” I muttered harshly in a desperate attempt to get her to stop talking. She was going to get us killed.
Shekhinah’s brow furrowed deeper. Her calm and cool demeanor replaced with an expression of anger and indignation. “You really are an insolent child.”
Shekhinah took a step toward us, causing us to quickly run the opposite direction. Tiffany and I dispersed through the dark neighborhood streets, Kazuya still in my sister’s arms. I didn’t know how long we ran but we moved together without looking back to see our pursuer. After few minutes we noticed Shekhinah wasn’t giving chase. Had we lost her? We waited a little while longer before heading back toward our home, stealthily passing by the neighborhood park that had been turned into a battlefield. Shekhinah was nowhere to be found. Instead around the perimeter were two SIGMA vans and a few cop cars. I noticed a couple of SIGMA agents inspecting the dead torn apart the body of the Arcadian warrior Aleph and the giant paw prints left behind by Kazuya’s large fox form.
Tiffany and I observed the group for a little while before moving on, sticking to the shadows of the houses close by so we wouldn’t be seen. Soon we found ourselves back on Easton Ave. Internally, a cool feeling of relief washed over me. Almost home.
We didn’t talk much the rest of the way, I was too busy replaying what happened during the night over and over again in my head. Tiffany looked at me with worry, picking up on my conflicted mood.
“Are you alright?” she asked. “What’s wrong Ems?”
Tiffany had blown a gasket after hearing my reply, her worry quickly snapping to anger. “Fine? you’re Fine?“
Tiffany shook her head exasperatedly while flailing her hands in utter disbelief. “So let’s see,” she said beginning to count with the fingers on one hand.” You get drunk at Tim’s party and pretty much lose it, nearly get raped by the douchebag, on top of that you run into a battle between freaking gods like an idiot and nearly get yourself killed. No, Mercy. You’re certainly not fine!”
I rolled my eyes at her overblown antics, annoyed at her still bringing up my ex-boyfriend. “What? You want me to talk about it? Is that it? What good will that do?”
“Better than trying to lock your emotions away and forget about it. You need to talk to someone.”
I shook head. “I know that Tiff. I just—I don’t know what to feel about it right now. Any of it. I mean…” I gently took Kazuya from her arms and pet the sleeping fox, smoothing the fur behind his ears. “All this is so much to take in. I need time.”
Tiffany sniffed with the hint of a smile on her face as she looked forward at the street ahead. “Well, when you want to talk about it I’m ready to listen.”
“Thank you,” I said smiling back, before glancing at Kazuya resting peacefully in my arms. “Hopefully, once this guy wakes up, we can figure out what’s going on.”
Tiffany glanced at me thoughtfully. “So who was the person the both of you talked about earlier, Nature—was it?”
I nodded. “One of the Elder Gods, apparently she’s responsible for creating our world. The whole universe, basically.”
Tiffany tilted her head slightly. “And you saw her.”
“Yeah, after I nearly got cut in half. We talked about a couple of things.”
“Oh yeah? What about?”
I looked at my twin sister carefully, considering what Nature had told me. “She said bad stuff may happen soon and I need to protect you.”
Tiffany laughed almost doubling over. She looked up wiping the tears of amusement from her eyes. “If anything, I’ll be the one protecting you.”
I snorted but smiled all the same.
“That place, the first realm was really amazing,”
“Mm-hmm. Fields full of an endless amount of trees that went on forever and they were these huge blades of fire surrounding the edges of everything, close to the horizon. Nature said something about a Tree of Life, but I don’t think I saw it.”
“Tree of Life? Sounds like a real Garden of Eden.”
“Mm-hmm. She mentioned two other gods helped her make everything.”
Tiffany hummed quietly in acknowledgment. We walked in silence for a moment.
“What kinds of gods are they really?” Tiffany mused. “If they’re all powerful and needed us for something important why did they let you get hurt? They didn’t help at all.”
I shrugged. “Maybe because Kazuya was here. I don’t think Nature would have personally asked me to do anything if I was going to die. She said that he’d explain everything to us. Like if we’re hallowed or not. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kazuya knew her personally, based on his reaction when I dropped her name. “
Tiffany gave me a pensive look. “How do you know whatever you saw wasn’t a dream or something?”
I frowned at her. “Even if it was does that make it any less real? But I don’t think Kazuya would have responded the way he did if it was just a dream. Considering all the crazy stuff that happened to us today, it wouldn’t be wise to doubt.”
Tiffany hummed grudgingly. “You’re right, this is a lot to take in. After fox-boy crash landed in front of us I’ve been asking myself ‘is this really happening’ all night. I still feel like I’m dreaming.”
“Still, I wonder why Nature wanted you to protect me when I spend most of the time looking after you.”
I gave her a mischievous smile. “Well, maybe cause you’re not doing a good job.”
Tiffany scoffed, pretending to be annoyed. “I do but it’s not my fault you go looking for trouble.”
I chuckled. “Don’t worry, I won’t run in front of a sword swinging maniac again.”
Tiffany narrowed her eyes, looking at me doubtfully. “You better not.”
“You don’t trust me?” I asked in a whining pleading voice. “Your own twin sister?”
Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Stop it.”
Within minutes we were home. We quickly scuffled across the backyard of our house, hoping to sneak inside quietly with our parents none the wiser. As we reached the cellar door next to the patio deck, I pulled the house keys from my pocket.
Tiffany held Kazuya while I opened the door.
“He still hasn’t woken up,” I said.
“We can worry about that after we get inside.”
We walked down the stairway after I closed the cellar door, my sister leading us through a small hallway that was connected to the main basement room. Turning on the lights as we entered, I looked around. Our basement actually was a pretty snazzy place. Dad had a bar installed a couple months back, kept full with various drinks to entertain guests. He even put a pool table next to it. A couple of our bean bag chairs were spread around the lounge area next some of two long sofas, close to the widescreen television.
I laid Kazuya on one of the couches before turning to my sister. “What should we do now?”
Tiffany shrugged while scrolling through a web browser on her cell phone. “I dunno. Maybe take him to the vet?”
“Tiffany, can you be serious for once?”
“Calm down, alright?” Tiffany looked at me, annoyed. “You’re too freaking loud. You’re gonna wake Mom and Dad,” My sister motioned toward Kazuya with a hand. “Anyway this guy is supposedly a god and he didn’t die yet so he probably won’t now.” She took another look at her phone. “He had a fever before. We can try putting a wet towel around his ears.”
“That’s what you’re looking up on the phone?”
“Yeah. I can only find what helps for sick dogs though.”
“Better than nothing,” I muttered.
I paused by the entrance of the stairway leading to the main floor before beckoning Tiffany to come with me to get water for Kazuya. My sister and I walked up the stairs, trying not to make too much noise, lest we wake up our parents.
“It’s kind of weird,” I whispered.
“What is?” my twin asked, her voice soft.
“I have this feeling of worry in my chest when I think about Kazuya. Not like I’m afraid of him or anything. It’s just—I really want him to be okay.”
The corners of Tiffany’s lips quirked up a little. “You’re worrying too much, about the wrong things. I don’t know why we even brought him back here. He’s dangerous and the people after him are dangerous too. There’s no telling what he’ll do when he wakes up. He’ll probably blow up our house.”
I shook my head. “Didn’t you feel it though? When he was about to get stabbed by that Arcadian?”
“I don’t know. Don’t you feel like he knows you somehow? That we know him? I just—I had this weird vision before I ran in front of him. It was like back when we really young, he was carrying us somewhere. He knows us. I’m sure of it.”
Tiffany frowned at my words as we had reached the kitchen. “But that doesn’t make any sense,” she said confused.
A familiar masculine voice cut through the air. “I agree.”
Tiffany and I froze like deer in headlights as our father flicked on the lights to the room, standing next to the hallway entrance that led to the bedroom staircase. Mother was right by him, her arms folded and looking just as disappointed. The fear of my parents’ wrath started to twist and tear through my stomach like a meat grinder.
“Where were the both of you?” Dad demanded.
“I can’t believe I agreed with you to take him back to the house,” Tiffany said as I carried the little fox—Kazuya in my arms. We moved quickly and quietly, continuing to make our way through the silent street of Easton Avenue, hoping to make it home within the next few blocks.
“We’ve already decided on this,” I said, referring to her last statement. “So stop complaining and deal with it.”
Tiffany scrunched her face, giving me an exaggerated look of faux-irritation. “My god, how’s it come to this? My naive little sister has become a slut willing to bring strange old men home!”
“Oh, shut up,” I said while rolling my eyes in annoyance. “And what do you mean little? We’re the same age.”
“I came out like a second earlier which makes me the older sister, Duh. It’s simple logic. You should know this stuff, Ems.”
Kazuya turned around in my arms, fixing his glaring slit pupils on Tiffany. “Would you children stop with the bickering, you’re giving me a headache.”
I was startled a bit as Kazuya’s voice echoed through the top of my skull. His telepathy would take some getting used to. Tiffany, on the other hand, looked pleased that we were annoying the fox Valterian.
“Good,” she balked at him scornfully. “Now you know how we feel after getting dragged into your mess.”
I smiled despite myself, rubbing Kazuya behind the ears in an attempt to soothe him. Tiffany had a habit of getting under the skin of people, but she only teased people she liked. Kazuya growled at me a bit as my fingers traveled through his fur, causing me to stop with a flinch.
Tiffany started to complain again, reprimanding Kazuya for trying to bite me until I could get her to calm down. Both Kazuya and Tiffany eyed me carefully as I tried to sneak my hand around Kazuya’s neck, striving to pet the fur around his ears.
Tiffany warned me but Kazuya didn’t protest, instead, he closed his eyes—seemingly ignoring us. As we continued to walk through the quiet streets, I observed the environment around us. Different vehicles were parked near the side walked we traversed, all of them empty. We passed by various shops and storefronts at a hasty pace. Most were closed. It was pretty late.
Even with Kazuya by our side, I didn’t feel comfortable walking through the city at night. It was just me and Tiffany—the two of us unarmed girls with a weakened cape. Luckily, we were in the safer parts of Ravensworth—the upper residential area, usually devoid of the distinct criminal activity and cape action that plagued the lower part of the city. Even though the city seemed peaceful and ran smoothly during the day, the hallowed gangs that ran Ravensworth’s underworld would rise to the surface at night. Particularity around the lower end of the city—the shopping district, downtown, and the waterfront as well.
I was grateful we didn’t have to deal with that on the way back, but something—a slight feeling of fear was worming its way through my mind. After everything that happened earlier, was the craziness of this night over? I huffed. Only a few more blocks before we were home.
“I wonder what our parents would say if they found out what happened to us tonight,” I said.
“They’d be horrified,” Tiffany replied. “Probably start screaming at us for going to the party in the first place. We’d be grounded for months.”
I shuddered at the thought of Dad’s angry face and my Mother’s disappointment. “That would be bad.”
“You’re worried for no reason,” Tiffany said in an effort to comfort me. “We don’t have to tell them. Check your phone. They haven’t called or texted, right? They haven’t called mine.”
Taking a hand off of Kazuya, I felt around my jeans pocket for my cell phone. I could feel cold jagged edges of metal against my fingertips. After scrounging around, I realized objects in question were my house keys after hearing them jingle. My phone was nowhere to be found.
“Crap,” I blurted out. “Don’t have it. I must have left it at Timothy’s place,”
“Seriously?” my sister asked. “I don’t wanna go back to that asshole’s house again.”
I sighed, thinking about my ex-boyfriend. Remembering how he tried to take advantage of me earlier. “Me neither.”
“I can get Terra or someone else to go by and pick it up tomorrow.”
I tilted my head pensively in thought. “Tim might bring it to school.”
Tiffany glanced at me carefully. “You think he’s gonna bribe you with it or something? Don’t worry, Terra and I will be there with you if that’s the case. He wouldn’t be stupid enough to try anything.”
I shook my head. “Timothy isn’t like that. The both of us made bad choices tonight.”
Tiffany mouth opened in surprise, she tilted her head—looking at me like I said something crazy. “Mercy. Are you serious?” She touched my shoulder firmly. “He tried to have sex with you, without your consent. He was fully aware of what he was doing. I don’t buy that he was buzzed bullshit either.”
Kazuya opened an eyelid and looked at us in annoyance. “Well, it is my opinion that whatever you two are babbling about can wait until we get to a safe haven.”
Tiffany scowled at him. “Nobody asked you, fox-boy.”
“Be quiet. I need to rest so I can regain my strength. It wouldn’t do for me to be in this weakened state if the Arcadians manage to find us, now would it?”
I looked down at the bundle of fur in my arms. “You mentioned something about getting in a fight with the leader of Arcadia before. What exactly happened? That woman said you were wanted for acts of aggression or something.”
Kazuya’s irritated sniff vibrated through our heads. “I don’t think that’s any of your business, my dear.”
“Uh—yeah, I think it is. Considering how you landed right in front of us, dragged us into a dangerous situation, and threatened to kill us. Plus the fact that we’re taking you home?”
Kazuya snorted. Tiffany grabbed one of his tails and tugged hard, but not enough to hurt. “Ems is right. You owe us, answer up.”
Kazuya growled at her. “Insolent girl! Have you no fear? Remove your hand,” Kazuya spat in disgust. “That is your problem. Humans this era have no respect.”
I took hold of Tiffany’s hand unclasping her grip. She removed her hand without any complaint. No need to further antagonize the dangerous fox I carried in my arms.
“Look, Mr. Kazuya, I understand if you don’t want to tell us everything,” I said. “But I think we at least deserve to know that much. I had visions with you in them. Before I tried to help you. I can’t shake the feeling that you know something about us.”
Kazuya looked at me quietly for a moment before he sighed. “Just call me by my name, normally,” he said. “I can tell you more about it later, but the Arcadians have always had a complicated relationship with Valterians, especially us of the Fox clan.”
“What do you mean?”
“They were never big on letting Valterians travel the worlds of lesser third-dimensional beings unmolested.”
“Third-dimensional—what?” Tiffany asked.
I frowned slightly looking at Kazuya. “When you say lesser beings are you talking about humans?”
Kazuya nodded. “That and more,” he opened his eyelid again to look at our surprised faces.”Please. Don’t tell me you believe your the only sapient life in this universe? Why are you so surprised after what you witnessed tonight? Even now gods walk your planet and you don’t even know it.”
“Gods?” I whispered.
“Of course. Nexus, the Type-Eater and more.”
Tiffany looked at him, shocked. “Wait, Type-Eater? You mean PTE? That thing is a Valterian?”
I paused for a moment, trying to think of what my sister was talking about. My eyes widened slightly as I remembered who PTE was. A huge crystallized metallic creature that looked similar to a gigantic jellyfish, like an alluring eldritch abomination. It was nicknamed ‘The Jellyfish” by most people until the Special International Guarding Military Agency or SIGMA and the American government had renamed it to Primordial Type-Eater years later. It first appeared from space during the sixties and after a few resolving a few misunderstandings with Earth’s governments, it began traveling the world non-stop, randomly helping people during times of need or other calamities. Type-Eater was considered the first hero of the modern era.
Kazuya confirmed that PTE was a Valterian, from the same place as Nexus and himself. He claimed PTE was one of the first Valterians created in fact. Interestingly enough, I noticed that all the ‘gods’ in question all looked very different from one another. Nexus looked like a normal human, Kazuya had fox ears and nine tails, and PTE was something indescribable altogether. Perhaps the word Valterian was a classification of sorts, like a genus, that of multiple species.
“I still have so many questions,” I muttered. “Are the Valterians like a broad group of races under the same umbrella? You seem so different from one another, and when you called us third-dimensional beings… are you saying that you’re from a higher one?”
Kazuya harrumphed. “I told you, you would have your answers soon didn’t I?” He sighed in annoyance. “Great Elders, these children will be the end of me.”
“Yes, curious child,” Kazuya said cutting me off. “You are correct to a point. Valterians are distinct as a group, however, even though we may have ‘breeds’ we are not divided the same way humans or other species on this planet are. When everything began, the start of our race, we were spiritually created from the Elder Gods, unlike the Irregulars who were born from them biologically. As for your second question, I’m sure Nature spoke of the Seven Realms did she not?”
I nodded. “She mentioned something about it. She told me we were in the Realm of Contraception when we talked.”
“The first realm,” Kazuya acquiesced. “Here, the realm which you exist in now is the seventh, the Realm of Solids. It is full of first, second, and third-dimensional beings such as yourselves. You have a spirit but you need a physical body to exist and interact in this realm. Fourth-dimensional beings such as Valterians or Arcadians requires no such thing.”
“You guys aren’t physical?” Tiffany asked.
“Not in the way you may think. The more we solidify ourselves, the greater impact we can have on the physical world. Unfortunately, that can make it harder to control our abilities.”
“So, what realm do you Valterians come from then?” I asked.
“The fourth. The Realm of Heavens, where the gods exist,” Kazuya said. “Where the great land of Valteria exists.”
I hummed. “I assume those Arcadians are from there too? Arcadia?”
“Arcadia exists in the Realm of Heavens, yes. Separate of Valteria, as well as others.”
Tiffany whistled in appreciation. “Seems like the afterlife is full of grandeur.”
Kazuya snorted at her proclamation. I absentmindedly smoothed his fur-coat, softly kneading it through my fingers. “It seems like Arcadians don’t really like Valterians that much. Considering what that woman said before.”
Kazuya chuckled, amused. “You’ll never be able to agree with Arcadians on anything. They envy us for being the first race created by the Elders since they will be forever second. The Arcadians feel that they are superior to us; They look down on us for mating with lower beings, feeling we should be punished by the Elder Gods.”
“Yes,” Kazuya said in a charming voice, entertained by the fact that I found being called a lower being insulting. “Even the humans of this world. You didn’t think the hallowed gene came out of nowhere did you?”
My mouth dropped. “But we were told—”
“That it was due to evolution?” Kazuya let out a humorless laugh. “Humans weren’t originally designed to have powers. That is only possible because some of your race has Valterian ancestors.”
I glanced at Tiffany her eyes meeting mine, our gazes solemn. Could it be possible?
“Do we have Valterian ancestors?” I asked him.
Kazuya laughed again, refusing to answer.
“Drop him,” Tiffany demanded, tapping my shoulder. “If he won’t answer he can walk rest of the way.”
I shook my head. “We can probably get him to tell us, eventually.”
“You’d have to make it worth my while,” Kazuya said.
Only a few more blocks from home, we cut through a neighborhood park. But, as soon as we stepped onto the thin grass of the park fields, Kazuya surprised me—jumping out of my arms landing on the ground with his four paws.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Soon after, for golden lights appeared from the shadows. The Arcadian warriors that were chasing us before revealed themselves. Aleph, Caphriel, the one who nearly killed me, Tartys, and leader of the group, Shekhinah. They walked toward us, majestically with weapons in hand—their golden armor mixed with silver shining radiantly in the night.
Kazuya instantly transformed to his humanoid form, growing in size as most of his fur coat shed to reveal human-like skin. He was still unclothed, but Tiffany and I really didn’t care at the moment. I could feel the fear erupt deep inside, twisting my stomach in knots. We had narrowly escaped the Arcadians before when Kazuya was still able to fight. Now, with Kazuya even weaker, we had no chance.
Shekhinah stepped forward; She flashed her pairs of wings and pointed her crimson lance at Kazuya. “You didn’t think you could escape, did you? I’d recognize your fox form anywhere.”
Kazuya sighed. “Of course you would, Shekah. I must say, you’ve really become an annoyance. You did never know how to give a man space.”
Shekhinah growled, her visor reforming under her helmet hiding her golden eyes from view. “Enough of your nonsensical stalling. You fall here!”
The Arcadian knights surrounded us as Kazuya moved ahead a few feet. Shekhinah approached Kazuya from the front, slowly walking toward him with her deadly lance in hand.
Kazuya gave her a confident smile. “You know me well Shekhinah, but there are things I haven’t even told you about.”
Shekhinah looked a little discontented by Kazuya’s claim but she continued to move forward, waiting for Kazuya to make a move. Kazuya turned his face a little to get a better look at us.
“You two should stand back,” he said. “If there is an opening, run, don’t look back.”
“Will you be alright?” I asked, fearing the worst.
“That’s not important. I will hold them off long enough for you to escape.”
Shekhinah huffed. “Still giving out empty promises, Kazuya?” she mocked. “You were hit by my lance. Your body is probably feeling the effects it’s poison now. You won’t be able to do anything.”
What? I looked at Kazuya, aghast. Was he poisoned this entire time?
“You know,” Kazuya said, “I was actually surprised how you found us at first. I kept my vapor signature low enough to be undetectable. There was no reason for you lot to be here. Then I remembered,” Kazuya smirked while looked at Shekhinah, “How you came into contact with these girls before.”
Kazuya motioned a hand toward Tiffany and I. For a moment, it seemed as if the other Arcadians hesitated like they were demanding for Shekhinah to defend herself.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.
“You never do. Sadly, you’re a woman that does not understand subtlety. It never ceases to amaze me.”
“Attack!” Shekhinah yelled angrily, her warriors charging toward Kazuya at her command.
Tiffany clutched my arm, pulling me further away from Kazuya. “Ems, we need to run now.”
“But, Kazuya!” I complained.
“All we can do here is get killed!”
“Your sister is right, Mercy,” Kazuya said getting on all fours, his tails whipping through the air. “Step back if you don’t want to die.”
“Still bluffing?” Aleph yelled running up to Kazuya swiftly with his blades in hand.
Kazuya chuckled before breaking out into a maniacal laugh. “You left me too much time to recover,” Kazuya started to glow with with with golden aura as an elegant fox tattoo with nine-tails spreading from the center became visible on his back glowing a bright orange. “I didn’t want to use this man’s power; I can barely control it. But I have no choice! Let’s die together shall we?” he exclaimed.
Kazuya roared toward the sky as his body had increased in size. Fur grew from his skin rapidly. Within moments he changed into a giant fox, as big as most of the houses in the area. Aleph faltered as he looked up at the growling monster, frozen with fear. Kazuya quickly swiped him with a huge paw. Aleph attempted to dodge but it was too late, he was bisected in two as Kazuya’s claws tore through his abdomen. Blood and guts, Aleph’s intestines, poured out the bottom of his torso as he fell, his legs thrown across the park fields. He squirmed in excruciating pain on the ground for a moment coughing up blood, reaching for his teammates before he died.
I was horrified. Even though he was an enemy, seeing him die right in front of me made me sick. Lightheaded. I hunched myself over and hurled, vomiting the lunch I didn’t know I had eaten. I felt like I was about to fall over. Tiffany had the presence of mind to hold me up for balance. I glanced at her, her facial expression oddly detached.
“Aleph!” Tartys yelled, after seeing his disemboweled ally. “Bastard!”
Tartys flew up into the air as a luminous energy formed around his golden blades, extending them. He aimed a for Kazuya’s neck preparing to behead him.
“Tartys!” Shekhinah warned while flying trying to reach him.
It was too late; one of Kazuya’s colossal sized tails had lashed him from behind, sending him flying before he was grasped by Kazuya with one paw-like hand. Kazuya summarily crushed Tartys, squeezing him tight enough for blood to drip from his hand. Shekhinah and Caphriel tried to save Tartys, but they were held at bay by Kazuya’s swaying tails.
Kazuya threw Tartys into his mouth, chomping down on him hard as he screamed for mercy. Hearing the disgusting sound of skin and bone being twisted, torn, and crushed by razor-sharp teeth as blood-drenched the ground made me feel nauseous inside. Kazuya spat Tartys out, his lifeless body hitting the ground with a pitiful thud before it was crushed by Kazuya’s hand.
“You monster,” Caphriel gasped, seeing how quickly her friends had fallen. Kazuya wasted no time as a ball of white light, of pure energy, formed in the front of his open maw. Before I could blink, Kazuya projected the ball outward. It shot like a laser beam from his mouth, the sound of it ringing through the air. The beam immolated Caphriel, disintegrating her before she had time to react.
Kazuya roared again his voice echoing through the sky. He turned to look at my sister and I. My heart stopped. He was going to kill us next. Before I could even piss myself, Kazuya turned to look at Shekhinah, who had fallen to the ground in despair looking at where her friends stood before only a few moments ago.
“So that was it,” Shekhinah said in a shaky voice, disillusioned as her lance rolled out of her weak grip. “You were given one of those seals…”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “This was pointless from the start.”
The giant fox stopped over to Shekhinah and then stopped in front of her. Shekhinah glanced upward, look Kazuya in the eyes as tears ran down her face. She was unafraid. Shekhinah may have been defeated but she would die like a warrior, with pride and honor.
“What are you what are you waiting for? Kill me.”
Kazuya roared in her face saliva raining down on Shekhinah before he closed eyes tightly and locked his jaw shut. Kazuya started to shake forcefully like he was struggling to make a decision. Soon after, a bright aura wrapped around his body as he shrunk back down to his human size, fur disappearing from his skin as it was shed off. The tattoo on his back that glowed orange from before had turned black.
Kazuya rubbed his forehead softly as if he had a terrible headache. “Is that what you want me to do, my love?”
Shekhinah looked down at the ground. “I failed my mission, against you that means death. I let my team die. It won’t be acceptable for me to appear before Lord Corinath like this. I cannot face him with such disgrace… It’s only fitting for me to be with my subordinates.”
Kazuya rolled his eyes. “You didn’t kill them. I did.”
He smirked as Shekhinah looked at him angrily her fists tightening. “I won’t kill you Shekah. I can’t, even if I wanted to. The Sacred Seal was the last thing I had in my arsenal and it’s not really my power in the first place. I don’t have any energy left to fight. You on the other hand…”
He glanced the lance that near his feet. Shekhinah didn’t make an effort to reclaim it.
“You could if you wish to. I’m in your hands now. What will it be?” Kazuya asked.
Shekhinah turned away from him refusing to answer. Kazuya simply grinned at her before turning away. She had lost her desire to fight. As Kazuya approached us I gawked at the destruction he had caused. If anyone saw us and took video or pictures, we’d on the news in a heartbeat. Surprisingly the police or SIGMA didn’t appear yet.
“Ladies,” Kazuya said with a smile. “Are you alright?”
Tiffany nodded but I didn’t move.
“You killed them…” I whispered.
Just like that three lives had vanished before my eyes. Kazuya nodded. “And they would have killed you if I didn’t. Or report you to the Lords of the Twelve Celestial Kingdoms at least. Trust me, we don’t need the entire Arcadian military on our necks.”
Tiffany eyed the Arcadians warrior still on her knees. “Then why didn’t you kill her? Won’t she tell?” she asked.
I looked at my sister, appalled. Was she really advocating for Kazuya to kill someone else?
“She won’t, so it’s not worth it. I don’t need to kill an opponent whose will has been broken.”
Tiffany frowned but I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Maybe she didn’t believe him. I had my own reservations about that as well, he didn’t seem to have a problem with getting rid of the other Arcadians, even Caphriel who knew attacking him after he transformed was futile.
“She won’t attack us,” Kazuya said trying to ease our worries. “I can promise you that.”
“Seems like you guys have a history,” Tiffany remarked.
Before Kazuya could reply, he grabbed his chest hard—with a hand over his heart. He locked his eyes shut, gritting his teeth in pain as he fell to the ground on his stomach. Kazuya coughed while writhing in the grass. Breathing heavily while spitting out thick phlegm as he started hyperventilating. The tattoo on his back started to glow, but he wasn’t moving.
“Kazuya?” I asked in a worried voice. I touched his shoulder feeling the heat seep off of his skin. Hot! It was like his whole body was having a fever. “Kazuya!” I shook his body but he still wouldn’t respond. “What’s wrong? Kazuya!”
A Peaceful Dream
I felt warm. Warmth wrapped around my body and covered me like a cocoon. I wasn’t totally aware of my body or my surroundings, but I was conscious enough to know that I existed, that I had form.
I could feel the heat of bright sunlight on my face. I opened my eyes slowly, revealing a clear blue sky. My back felt wet, my body felt like it was floating.
I found myself floating naked in the middle of a river that was crystal clear. I righted myself up, frantically trying not to drown, and make my way over to the river bank close by. Crawling out of the water and off the bank, I laid down on the grass—breathing hard.
I sat up, looking at the water I was floating in. It was still and serene. I pause for a moment and look at the various trees and vibrant undergrowth around me in the endless garden. I looked down at my body; a slight breeze nearly caused me to jump out of my skin. I needed some clothes.
Where was I?
I heard the sound of rustling bushes. Something transparent—a freaking ghost!—popped out to greet me. I tried to grab something to cover my naked self but realizing I had nothing good to use, I had to settle on an arm and a hand.
She looked like an alien—or at least I thought it was a she. The being had white glowing eyes and a body like a bombshell, showing visible misty swirls constantly moving on her skin like a bunch of typhoons. Or was it beneath her skin? She was transparent after all. Ridiculously long and ghostly deer antlers were connected to her head.
“Who are you?” I whispered. “What the hell are you?”
The spirit woman made a sound akin to a giggle.
“I am Nature,” she said. “The Elder God responsible for creating the Seven Realms.”
What. I mean what?
I couldn’t really tell but judging by her slight smile, she seemed amused. “Do not worry. I will explain. I am an Elder God. One who maintains and watches over the realms with the other two Elders, Death and Karma.”
My mind was blank. Gods? Elder Gods? Everything she had just said turned what I had learned about the afterlife and religion on its head.
My mouth ran dry. “So you’re a god then? Am I dead?”
Nature shook her head. “You are still of the living, my child. I am not a god in the way you think I am. Come.”
Nature beckoned me with her hand To follow her through the tree covered fields.
“You’re not?” I asked, walking quickly—almost jogging to catch up with her.
“I’m the creator of the Seven Realms along with Karma and Death, but we are not The Most High. That would be a more accurate term for the one you and most humans on Earth believe to be God.”
I frowned in thought. “So you guys are like… lower gods then.”
Nature chuckled. “In a way. We all come from The Most High, The All-One in the end.”
As we walked, I observed the environment in front of us, taking the time to admire the trees rustling in the wind and breath in the crisp air. I could feel the soft grass between my toes as I looked at the clear river next to us.
“So…” I said. “If I’m not dead, why are you here? Heck, why am I here? Whatever here is.”
Nature didn’t respond right away, silently guiding me through the fields. She found a nice spot to sit, under a tree next to the river bank—providing shade from the sunlight. Nature sat down and I followed suit, sitting cross-legged. I stared at Nature in silence. She looked at me quietly, unoffended as my eyes trace over the stormy swirls I saw in her body. Nature was so… fascinating.
Lost in captivation, I sat in peace for a while; Nature didn’t disturb me. Soon my attention was drawn elsewhere. Ahead of us—where there was no undergrowth in the way, I could see the fields in the distance being cut off by a wall of giant, no—freaking huge—burning swords. Fucking burning swords!
“This is the Realm of Conception,” Nature said. “The first one we created. It was a test run of sorts. Here we hold the Tree of Life. Those blades you see prevent beings from acquiring what lies beyond. “
My brow furrowed. “And what lies beyond?”
Nature smiled. “My, my, such an inquisitive child. Beyond the blades of fire exists the source and paths to other dimensions. The omniverse if you will.”
Well, that sounded like a pretty big deal.
Nature nodded her head like she had read my thoughts.”It is. Alas, discussing the creation of the Seven Realms is not why I called you here. Like I said before, you’re not dead: I only wanted to talk to you.”
Some god who created the freaking universe wanted to talk to little ole me?
“Of course,” Nature said. “I wanted to personally speak to you because of the events that may happen in your future.”
Suddenly, I felt an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I hoped this wasn’t the part where the mysterious god gives the main character a grand prophecy—in which I had to save the world or something. That wouldn’t be good.
“What do you mean?” I asked, slowly.
“Soon you will come into remembrance of who you really are.”
“Is that supposed to be deep or something?”I asked. “Or easy to understand? Because that’s pretty vague.”
Nature actually laughed. “You and your sister were created in The Most High’s and our image. The half of a creator and a messenger.”
She knew about Tiffany? Of course, she did, she made everything. But I still didn’t understand what she was on about.
“That’s still vague,” I said.
Nature smiled mischievously. “Is it?”
The edges of my lips lifted upward slightly. It looked as if that would be all the information I would get out of her on that. I was kind of annoyed she wouldn’t give a straight answer, but I couldn’t stay that way for long. Her peaceful, joyful demeanor was infectious.
“I am sure Kazuya will explain everything to you in more detail. In due time.”
Kazuya? The fox guy?
Nature nodded. “Now that he has realized who the both of you are, he will probably have a vested interest in protecting you and your sister. But I want to talk to you about Tiffany.”
My posture straightened as my face became serious. She had my full attention.
“I ask a favor of you,” she said. “As I see it, the future may become a struggle for you both. You may have to face the darkest parts of yourself, great trials and tribulations. Even death. But you will come across old allies. Ready and waiting to aid you.”
I inhaled deeply and then let go. Trying to take everything Nature had dropped on me.
“I need you to protect your sister and keep her on the right path no matter what happens because you both will need each other more than ever before.”
I snorted. ”Of course. I promise.” She didn’t even need to ask.
Nature gave me a warm smile.
The world started to fade. I was pulled back through a black void, looking at Nature still sitting on the grassy fields, her face still smiling. It was like I was looking at a television screen from afar. Soon the image of the endless garden disappeared only leaving pure black.
I felt myself floating through the darkness. The void of space.
I opened my eyes. Tiffany and the injured Kazuya were hovering over me as I was lying on the grass. I sat up with a start, looking around. We were next to a river, close to a bridge a few feet away from the sidewalk that went under it. It was still night.
Was all that a dream? I mused.
“Ems! You’re up!” Tiffany exclaimed, hectically grabbing a hold of me “Are you alright?”
“Tiff…” I muttered. I was still disoriented from that dream. Kazuya was inspecting his gaze, looking at my body. I looked at Kazuya’s injuries—he still didn’t have any damn clothes on! I could feel the blood rushing to my face as my eyes wandered downward; I hurriedly shifted my gaze upwards, focusing on his muscled chest so as not to stare at his dick. Christ. I wasn’t a prude but that didn’t mean I wanted all that waving around in my face.
I shook my head and then looked down at my own body. The shirt I was wearing was torn to pieces, my bra the only thing shielding my upper body from the elements. Two long lines that looked like scabs traveled from my shoulders to the abdomen, crisscrossing at the middle of my chest forming an ‘x.’
That was surprising. I was pretty sure that Tartys guy had nearly sliced me in half. My wounds didn’t feel deep. Heck, I didn’t feel them at all.
“Ems, are you alright?” Tiffany repeats, worried as she hugged me tightly. This girl was going to kill me. “How could you be so stupid?”
I gave her a soft smile. “What happened?”
“You were an idiot,” Kazuya growled. “That’s what happened. You stepped in the way of that Arcadian’s attack.”
“Yeah. To save your ass,” Tiffany snarked.
“I don’t need saving, especially from little girls.”
Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Says the guy bleeding all over the place after nearly getting his head put on a pike by that ninja angel woman. Great. Not only are you a useless cannibal who walks around butt-ass-naked like a degenerate, but you smell like a wet dog, and worst of all you’re sexist!”
It was Kazuya’s turn to roll his eyes. “Really child?”
“If you’re gonna be a fucking douche, I’ll be one right back. “
Kazuya smirked. “How uncouth.” He muttered something else about acting like humans before looking back at me.
“That guy cleaved through me with his sword, right?” I asked. “Why wasn’t I cut to ribbons?”
“You should have been,” Kazuya said. “If I didn’t have enough energy to stabilize you, you would’ve bled out. Nine times out of ten you would have been killed instantly by that kind of attack. Fortunately for you, you’re more durable than most.”
“You healed me?”
Kazuya nodded, briefly. “Something like that. I used magic.”
Kazuya ignored her but continued his explanation since I looked skeptical. “Do you remember what I told you of vapor? I don’t have much left so I did the next best thing. I manipulated the natural vapor of the environment. Unfortunately, I’m too tired to properly control it. Magic is dangerous to use when low on spiritual energy even if you’re controlling an external source. An inexperienced caster can kill themselves. I was barely able to revive you.”
“Hmm…” I mumbled looking down at where the scars left by Tartys’ twin blades.
“You heal rapidly,” Kazuya says. “In a few days, those will be nothing but light blemishes on your skin.”
“That’s not what I was worried about,” I said. “I’m trying to figure out what excuse we’ll give to Mom when she sees us come in the house with torn up clothes.”
“That’s the last thing you should be worried about,” Tiffany said, still holding me firmly.
“How did we get here anyway, where are those… Arcadians?”
Tiffany titled her head toward Kazuya. “Fox-boy saved us. He threw his spear down and made it explode. Like a flashbang.”
“A diversion, yes,” Kazuya agreed. “Then I carried the both of you as far I could.”
“Won’t they come after us?”
“Yes,” Kazuya said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I won’t be able to hold them off this time. A problem that could have been avoided if someone didn’t jump in front of an attacking Arcadian like an imbecile.”
“It was to save your life!” Tiffany said.
I grabbed her shoulder, holding her back before she could launch herself at the Valterian. “Stop! We’re in too much shit to fight among ourselves. Kazuya, you’re right I was stupid, but I didn’t just run in there on a whim. Well, I kinda did. But still. I have a strange feeling about you. You know us. Right? Nature told me about you.”
I felt apprehensive adding on the last few words about Nature. What if she wasn’t real, only part of a dream world? Kazuya would think I’d lost it.
“Nature? What do you mean Ems?”
Kazuya gaze changed, his golden eyes became sharp pupils like a fox. He stared at me solemnly.
“She mentioned me, hmm? Interesting,” Kazuya turned his back toward us. He looked up at the dark sky. “We need to move. The Arcadians will probably track us to this place soon.”
“Why?” Tiffany asked. “They’re only after you. Why don’t you go and leave us here?”
Kazuya shook his head chuckling. “I already told you. They would assume you’re accomplices based on how much I’ve protected you and the fact that your sister attempted to stop one of them. Besides, I know they wouldn’t leave you alone anyway.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “It seems we still have means of an escape. They haven’t noticed your vapor signatures, and my vapor is at an all time low. I don’t have to put in that much work to hide it from their awareness.”
“Then it’s settled,” I said, standing up. “Kazuya, will you come home with us?”
Tiffany looked like she swallowed a frog. “Are you crazy, Mercy?”
I had to stifle a laugh as I looked at her expression, but managed to put on a stern face. “He knows something about us. More than we do, and I want answers. Think about it. We could be Hallowed!”
Tiffany shook her head. “You think by taking him home and asking nicely he’ll answer for free?”
“Ladies,” Kazuya said, cutting in. “As much as I find this conversation amusing, I must remind you that time is of the essence.”
Kazuya changed, his body getting smaller. He morphed. His skin rapidly grew fur as his hands turned into paws. Within seconds, the tall man before us had transformed into a small fox, with abnormally fluffy tails. He was still wounded, but there wasn’t as much blood coming from his body as before.
He turned to face us. “I take this form when I am at my limit and need to recover out of sight. The Arcadians will not notice me like this.”
Kazuya spoke, not through his snout of the fox, but through our minds.
“You’ve gotta be shitting me,” Tiffany muttered.
I huffed. “This actually works better for us. We don’t have to sneak a half-dead naked guy into our basement.”
Tiffany shook her head with a smirk. “This is freaking crazy.”
I grabbed Kazuya from off the ground and carried him, ignoring his complaints. Tiffany and I walked to the main road away from the river bridge, noticing we were only a few blocks away from our suburban complex. Only a half an hour until I could relax in a nice warm bed.
Nothing Else Matters But The Feeling
“—Eat us alive?” I asked, coughing out my words, stomach twisting in fear.
Kazuya paused, then he smiled. “Do you think I’m going to feast on you, tearing you apart limb from limb? As filling as you may be, I don’t think you’d taste any good. I’m not that barbaric.”
Well. That was good news. I guess.
Kazuya’s tails started to twitch and raise. “I’m only going to absorb the rest of your vapor so I can get away from those annoying pests.”
I turned around fully to get a better look at him. “Vapor? You mentioned that before,” I said.
I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but if he was taking something from us I doubted that it would be good.
Kazuya sighed. “Really… I don’t like giving lengthy explanations to people who will die the next moment. But, I guess that would make it more amusing.”
Tiffany’s hand tightened around mine. “Ems…”
“Vapor is your spiritual energy, or rather your condensed spiritual matter. The very essence of your being,” Kazuya said. “Your life force.”
Kazuya raised a glowing hand. His fingernails had transformed into long sharp claws. “I’m going to rip that essence out of you both.”
“The hell you will!” Tiffany said, turning around and pulling me away from Kazuya.
My sister and I turned away from Kazuya running away from him as fast as we could. He didn’t move. He said something a little bit louder so we could hear him—but I couldn’t make it out—I was too focused on running, the adrenaline finally kicking in. Must have been the fastest I’ve ever had run in my life.
Kazuya didn’t seem worried about his prey escaping, however.
“Really now? A game of tag?”
In a flash his tails shot forward, grabbing us. Tiffany and I cried out helplessly as the strong furry appendages wrapped around our bodies, hoisting us up in the air. Kazuya chuckled at our pitiful effort of running away, before pulling us toward him with his tails.
Before Kazuya could finish, a golden light had appeared from the horizon—heading straight for him. Kazuya noticed immediately, his tails dropped us as he already started to dodge the golden comet before it impacted the ground where he stood.
I hit the grass with a thud, crying out in pain as I landed on my shoulder. Tiffany laid on the ground stunned for a minute before getting up and coming to my aid. It wasn’t a big fall. Kazuya didn’t lift us high enough to break our necks, but it still hurt. I was a delicate girl, you know.
Tiffany helped me up, holding my shoulder so I could balance myself. We looked at the new crater that had appeared where Kazuya was just standing moments ago. Shekhinah was there now, lance at the ready.
Kazuya didn’t seem worried at all. “You’re becoming such a pest, Shekah. Did you ditch your teammates?”
Shekhinah gritted her teeth, looking angrier than ever. “Don’t call me that name,” she said, her voice emphasizing every syllable. “You have no right!”
“Ah, you wound me. Still, you think you fight me alone? Do you not trust your subordinates as much as you try to make yourself believe?”
Shekhinah huffed. “My faith in them is unshakeable, but I work best alone. You won’t escape this time Kazuya.”
Kazuya only laughed in response.
His laugh was briefly cut off as a blood-red spear jutted toward his head. He dodged it easily with a speed my eyes could barely register. Shekhinah attacked again with another spear jab, Kazuya parried the blow with a glowing tail before it could strike his side.
Shekhinah pushed off the ground, jumping backward and twisting the lance around her body, acrobatically. She was like a freaking ninja! Shekhinah resumed her attack stance.
Kazuya smirked at her, leaning lazily on one leg. Shekhinah frowned, rushing Kazuya again. Kazuya and Shekhinah moved through the clearing in a flash. Strike after strike, blow after blow. Shekhinah kept on attacking with her spear, aiming low to take out Kazuya’s legs, before moving up to his midsection. Kazuya kept on parrying her strikes with his tails infused with golden energy.
Shekhinah kept up the pressure, pushing Kazuya back with heavy strikes in close quarters before jumping backward every few seconds to make a little distance. She was agile enough to avoid being grabbed by his tails. She had enough stamina to keep going and wear Kazuya down.
No doubt Kazuya knew this as well. Shekhinah hadn’t even scratched him yet, but he was slowly being pushed backward by her barrage of strokes. Like a hundred per second. Couldn’t really tell, it was like they were moving at the speed of sound. One moment they were visible and the next they’d disappear.
But even I could tell Kazuya was getting slower. His tails started to miss simple counters and he had to resort to dodging Shekhinah’s attacks. Shekhinah must have realized this too, going into overdrive with faster strikes.
Surprised by the Shekhinah’s sudden increase in power, Kazuya tripped while attempting to avoid being gutted. Shekhinah immediately took advantage of that new given opportunity. The atmosphere around the area started to change. The air became thick, it felt hard to breath. A green aura of energy surrounded the spear and she held it at about the level of Kazuya’s heart.
For the first time, Kazuya eyes showed true fear.
She’s going to kill him.
Kazuya moved, lifting his body upward as soon as Shekhinah pushed the spear down. The blade from Shekhinah’s lance ended up piercing straight through Kazuya’s shoulder as he forced himself upon it. He had stopped Shekhinah from activating whatever she was trying to do with his body.
Kazuya let out a loud cough. “Ah. that really hurts, Shekah.”
Shekhinah narrowed her eyes, fully aware that her spear was still embedded under Kazuya’s collarbone. They disengaged at once, Shekhinah tore the blade away from Kazuya’s body. Blood spewed everywhere.
Shekhinah and Kazuya swiftly put some distance between each other. Shekhinah lifted her lance, ready to go another bout. Kazuya panted as blood poured from his new wound. He held the arm of the wounded shoulder with his other hand.
“You’re going to have to do better than that if you want to kill me, Shekhinah.”
Shekhinah gave him a look almost akin to pity. Three other balls of light landed on park grass from the air above. Shekhinah’s subordinates, Caphriel and Aleph surrounded the wounded Valterian while Tartys checked up on Shekhinah. The two Arcadians talked amongst themselves for a moment, presumably going over how they were going to play the following scenario. Kazuya eyes were focused on Shekhinah but he would probably be ready for an attack by Caphriel and Aleph at a moment’s notice.
After their short talk, Shekhinah and Tartys joined the other two Arcadians in surrounding Kazuya—effectively blocking any way he could escape. Kazuya turned his head to look at us for a moment before returning his attention to the four opponents around him. Caphriel and Tartys moved weapons in hand performing a pincer attack.
Shekhinah hung back while charging up her spear with that green venomous looking energy. She must’ve been aiming to finish the job after the two other Arcadians attacked. Even if Kazuya were to dodge the blades from Caphriel and Tartys, there was probably no way he’d notice her coming. Aleph stood even further back than Shekhinah, probably for support.
Instead of trying to evade or fight them off individually, Kazuya created a wall with his tails, causing the two Arcadians to stop running in mid-stride. Kazuya smirked and took advantage of the opening. To head straight for us.
“Stop!” Shekhinah ordered.
Caphriel and Tartys stopped pursuing Kazuya at once. They turned back to give Shekhinah questioning looks.
Kazuya cackled with laughter, while still running toward us. “What’s wrong Shekhinah? The life of humans normally wouldn’t stop you from attacking. Or are you worried about me consuming their life force before you’re able to land your final blow?”
Shekhinah didn’t respond, giving us an odd look. Kazuya had stopped running as well, even though he was much closer to us than before.
“Unfortunately,” Kazuya said with narrowed eyes, now facing us, “I’ve realized something about you two brats. I can’t kill you.”
I blinked. Tiffany looked equally shocked. Did he mean he literally couldn’t kill us? Or was there another reason?
“I guess that’s good news,” Tiffany muttered.
Kazuya made a sound of annoyance. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a position where I might actually die. So unbecoming.”
Kazuya closed his eyes and then reopened them. I shuddered. His eyes had changed. No longer were his eyes a vibrant gold but now an alluring dark purple and blue. It was as if they were redesigned—the irises of his eyes looking like purple flowers, a kaleidoscope full of petals.
Kazuya faced Shekhinah and her warriors, giving her a vulpine grin.
Shekhinah didn’t seem impressed. “Mystic Eyes of Knowledge? Using that in the state you’re in now will only make your death come more quickly.”
Kazuya, still smiling barred his teeth. “Taking you all to hell with me makes it worth it.”
A golden ball of energy formed in Kazuya’s hand. The ball lengthened itself turning into a long weapon. Slowly the pole of energy molded itself—more accurately, Kazuya molded it without even touching it. I watched in amazement as Kazuya finished creating a perfect replica of Shekhinah’s spear. He pulled it out of thin air like it was created from scratch. A green aura of energy engulfed his spear, it was the same technique Shekhinah used.
“Alright children,” Kazuya said. “It’s time for you to die.”
Shekhinah frowned grimly and took her stance, her blade glowing with the same aura. The rest of her Arcadian teammates did the same. They charged. Kazuya opted to fight off his opponents with his recreated spear, using the same style Shekhinah was using. He would still use his energy covered tails to block blind spot attacks.
But something was off. I could feel it. Whatever energy Kazuya was talking about earlier, he was losing it. Getting weaker.
Kazuya backed off from the four Arcadians and fell to one knee, tired.
I flinched. My head started to hurt.
Images appeared in my mind. Those visions. About the castle… the land of three suns. My mind shifted. I was in a land of angels. A place with golden cities and crystal clear waters… I remember being carried, looking up at faces of two angelic beings as my sister and I were given to a man with long white hair, fox ears, and nine tails.
“They’re going to kill him,” I said suddenly, without thinking.
Tiffany glanced at me. “You say that like it’s a bad thing. He was going to eat us.”
“I don’t think so,” I said while rubbing my head, the broken visions still clouding my mind. “It doesn’t feel right.”
I start to move forward. A hand stopped me.
“Mercy,” Tiffany said. “What the hell are you thinking?”
I remained silent.
I shrugged her hand off my arm and ran toward Kazuya, Tiffany followed yelling and cursing at me. Reaching Kazuya he turned his face to look at me like I was an idiot. “Fool! Get out of the way!”
“You know something about us, don’t you?” I asked, focusing completely on his kaleidoscopic eyes, they really were alluring. “I can feel it.”
Tiffany screamed my name as Tartys appeared from the air, swinging his twin blades downward to kill Kazuya with his finishing blow. Kazuya’s eyes widened, caught by surprise. He couldn’t move in time. Instinctively, I tossed myself in front of him as a shield.
As the blades tore through my chest—feeling searing pain, I cried out wordlessly as my world went white.