“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.