Secrets 2.5

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The Friend of My Ambition, The Enemy of My Ideal

With care, I pulled my socks up and over my shin guards, the socks reaching the bottom of my knees with the shin guards held in place. I tied the laces of my neon cleats making sure they were extra tight before standing up, my cleats clacking against the floor of the girl’s locker room.

I placed my small gym bag the in the bottom drawer of my closet locker and locked it before putting my sneakers on top of it, right under where my shirts and extra jerseys hung. I checked to see if Tiffany was finished dressing.

My sister was busy messing around with her Dutch braids while glancing at herself in her locker mirror. Noticing I was observing, she turned around to face me before tugging on my braids with a cheeky smile. I quickly slapped her hand away.

It had been about two weeks since the incident at the practice fields. Since when I learned my friends and teacher were capes from another world. The truth about Mr. Ryan’s death only for us to know.

The moment of silence held during homeroom for Mr. Ryan’s murder made me feel sick, and I couldn’t do anything. Worse was the fact that we were lied to about it. Everyone was told by Principal Hardy that he died in an apparent car accident; his funeral was held during the weekend after.

Tiffany and I didn’t go but from what I heard, faculty and a surprising amount of students were there. Mr. Ryan was always involved in the lives of student and faculty, it showed.

“What’s wrong?” Tiffany asked, her impish expression morphing into a look of concern.

“Nothing, just thinking about the announcement during homeroom.”

“Still?”

“What do you mean ‘still’? It’s bothering me. They straight up lied about Mr. Ryan’s death.”

“No duh. Would you rather they tell us everything and get Terra locked up?”

Irritation spiked inside my chest. I shook my head. “No—I don’t know,” I said in a strained whisper. “I mean, he’s a freaking murderer, Tiffany!”

Tiffany seemed like she was trying to hold back her own annoyance at my words. “Didn’t you remember what Ms. Frazzle told us? SIGMA is probably holding info back from the public like they always do.”

“Why though?”

“Who cares? They might not even know who did it. If they don’t see it fit to come up here an arrest him, who are we to complain?”

My lips thinned. “Are you really alright with this? He has powers right? You saw how easily he admitted it. What happens to you one day if gets angry and lets himself slip?”

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Ems. That can be an issue with any guy.”

“It’s not the same. Terra’s killed. He’s an assassin, for crying out loud.”

“So what? He was defending himself. Villains aren’t the only ones who kill. Heroes do too.”

“Not the good ones.”

Tiffany tutted. “Oh please. Like you’re gonna care about someone’s welfare in a fight when they’re trying to take your head off. Mr. Ryan was the same, you know. Look, I know how you say he was nice to you, but he wasn’t who you imagined him to be.”

“You say that like you knew.”

“Nope. I was just as surprised as you. Terra suspected he was fishy, ever since we started high school.” Tiffany sighed and faced her locker. “I’m just glad Ms. Frazzle vouched for us then,” she said, bringing up the day. “If she hadn’t made up some reason about why we were late to class, we would have been screwed. Coach Stephen might have sat us out again.”

Tiffany was trying her usual ploy, changing the subject of conversation by using something in close relation to it. Though I knew what she was doing, and though my sister knew I knew, I went along with it—not willing to disturb our other teammates with a heated argument. God knows it was the last thing we needed right now, before a big game. It was time to focus.

“Alright, girls!”

Coach Stephen called all of us from the locker room entrance, telling us to get ready to take the field. After everyone was finished dressing, we lined up and walked through the locker room door.

I tried to push my emotions down in a futile effort. I could at least try to act calm. “Ms. Frazzle seems more detached lately,” I said.

“She does seem a little out of it.” Tiffany gave me a pointed glace. “Like someone else I know.”

“It’s been hard to focus since all that crazy stuff happened,” I mused, rueful.

“You’ve been struggling in practice and you haven’t been doing your homework. You’re going to fail Algebra II at this rate. How will you explain to Mom and Dad that you failed Algebra?

“It can get hard… when you don’t study.”

“Exactly.”

“I’ll get my act together, Tiff.”

“You better. I don’t pay you enough to be the failing ugly twin to my hot attractive self. Well, it’s not like I have to pay you for that.”

I pretended to act shocked by her gibe. “Shut up! You don’t pay me at all.”

“True enough,” Tiffany said with a smirk, “but everyone thinks I’m prettier.”

“Everyone thinks we look the same, dumb-ass.”

“I know, it’s such a travesty. At least Terra knows better though. He told me I look at least point zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-one percent better than you, girl.”

“Does that mean anything?”

“That means everything.”

“Uh huh.”

Tiffany gave me a playful tap on the shoulder. “Hey. I’m glad you’re talking to me again. I thought you were avoiding me.”

I looked away from her as we exited the school building. I caught sight of the other team’s bus in the parking lot. “I was mostly avoiding Terra and since you seemed to be smitten with him more than ever…”

“No. That’s not fair. You haven’t been talking to me at home either. Locking your door at night? Not speaking to me when we have dinner?”

“I guess I didn’t feel comfortable talking to someone that cosigns Terra’s actions.” I was frowning, annoyed. “Sorry,” I said quickly, after seeing Tiffany’s peeved look. I sighed. “I wonder if I should tell Ms. Frazzle and Ashley about my dreams, I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”

“It would probably best to wait,” Tiffany said.

“Mmm,” I hummed in agreement. “I wish Kazuya would come back, he would know what to do.”

My sister glanced at me in disbelief but she said nothing.

The two of us were quiet as the rest of our teammates continued to chat among themselves, the rest of the girls having their own private conversations as we walked toward the field. Reaching the pitch, I glanced at the multi-shaded and stripped lawn of turf—the gridiron lines still visible under the soccer markings. It was normal to see for us, we had our games on the same field that our football team used.

Making our way over to our team bench, some of the girls that were still wearing sneakers or other shoes took the time to get out their cleats and put them on. I sat down on the cool grass and started stretching, trying to remove the stiffness I had from sitting on my behind all day. We would have team stretches in a few minutes but it wouldn’t hurt to start early.

Tiffany had taken a soccer ball from one of the ball bags lying around near the edge of the sideline and dribbled over with it, at a smooth even pace. As Tiffany focused on juggling the ball with her feet and knees, Rika approached us wearing her goalie jersey, her reddish-dyed hair gleaming in the afternoon sun.

“You guys ready for your first game back?” Rika asked.

I gave a light shrug. “I think so. For some reason, I feel a little nervous.”

Tiffany cuffed her ball in midair and sat on the ground with her foot, making sure her boot was on top. “You’ll be fine, Ems.”

“Yeah,” Rika agreed. “It’s not like you can do anything wrong. We’ll win anyway. We’re undefeated so far.”

Tiffany huffed. “That’s only because Ashley is a freak of nature.”

Literally.

We were a good team, ranked twenty-fifth in the nation last year. But Ashely was something else. Joining this season, Ashley drove us to the top of the rankings at number one, single-handedly.

“She has to be the top player in the country by now,” I said.

“Of course she is!” Tiffany said. “Forty-six goals in ten games? It’s insane.”

“Hmm. Forty-six or forty-seven?”

“Does it matter?”

I glared at my sister. “Uh—rude! Don’t be such a bitch.”

As I started to tell Tiffany off, Rika chuckled and left us, getting another soccer ball to practice with.

“Seriously, you really need to work on that attitude.”

Tiffany rolled her eyes and passed me her ball with a hard touch. I lunged for the ball in a bout of effort; I had to overextend to keep it from passing me. I cringed internally from the strain, I barely caught it. I sighed and wiggled out the kinks in my leg before passing the ball back.

Tiffany trapped it under her foot and pursed her lips. She beckoned me closer with a curled finger in a ‘come-hither’ motion. Heh. Didn’t want to kick it back? She knew I’d have her sprinting all over the field to get her back for that one.

Tiffany eyed me with suspicion before passing back the ball. She turned to look toward the center of the field. My gaze followed hers. Tiffany was looking at Ashley.

I kicked to her. “What’s wrong?”

“Nah, nothing,” Tiffany said, catch the ball off balance. She straightened up. “It’s ridiculous that no one has investigated to see if she’s hallowed or whatever. You’d think the NFHS would be all over that.”

I gave a faint hum. “There’s a bunch of tests in place to stop hallowed from competing at sports. From all levels—shoot—even in elementary school. Ashley probably had a way to bypass them. Maybe ’cause she’s a Valterian.”

“Or maybe because she threatened to off the school board.”

“Tiffany, come on. Don’t say that.”

“What?” she asked, her eyes wide like she was genuinely mystified. “You don’t think she would?”

“For not being allowed on the soccer team? No.”

Ashley may have a bad temper when she was challenged, but I didn’t think she would kill people for being excluded from something she knew she had no business participating in. Ashley was above that.

“She could try out for the U.S. Woman’s Powered team,” Tiffany said. “When she gets older.”

“Mmm. She’d have to play for a powered club or a high school that sanctions hallowed sports. Most schools don’t.”

Ours didn’t.

“Yeah but there some in our district do, like Fellowship.”

“True,” I agreed as Tiffany mentioned our rival school. “You know, I’m surprised that they do, considering how it’s Christian and everything.”

Tiffany arched an eyebrow. “Maybe they know something we don’t?” her voice was laced with sarcasm. With a smirk, she passed the ball back. “What about the Preternatural Grand Prix? She’d love something like that.”

“Combat sports…” I mused. “Pretty sure Ashley is way too strong. They’d have to limit her like crazy in order to give other teams a chance.”

“You don’t even know that,” Tiffany said in her annoying ‘matter-of-fact’ tone. “She barely showed us anything.”

“She showed us enough. And she said she’s even more powerful than that. Plus, she’s a… um… I don’t know—a god?

“Yeah, yeah,” Tiffany conceded. I passed the ball back to her and she started to dribble toward our end of the pitch. “Come on, Ems.” I followed her to the middle of the field, noticing Rika on crouched on the goal-line. Her hands were up and her eyes focused on everyone that had lined up a few feet from the goal.

Tiffany and I stood in line behind some other teammates. It was time for our practice shots.

Ashley was the first up, of course. She moved her ball to a favorable position and then took a few steps back before dropping her shoulders a bit. She glanced up and Rika stiffened. It was on. I bet Ashley was smiling. Ashley shifted in stride, her feet gliding across the grass. With her form perfect, Ashley’s leg curved down in a brilliant ark as she aimed to strike the ball with retribution.

Rika’s feet vanished from the earth as she took for the sky. It happened in flash. The sound of the ball hitting the back of the net graced my ears.

Laying on her side, Rika turned her head around to see the soccer ball rolling around inside the goal. “Damn,” she cursed.

Ashley had fooled her perfectly, acting like she was aiming for the corner of the net while kicking it straight down the middle. The perfect blonde headed to the back of the line, her faint smile showing how pleased she was. She caught my eye and I could have sworn her smile widened.

I frowned at her and paused for a moment, looking over past her head to the other side of the field. The baby-blue jerseys of South Ravensworth caught my eye. With the way they were shooting, hitting the goal from way beyond the penalty box, they looked ready to play. I turned around and exhaled while closing my eyes. Almost time.

When Tiffany was done arguing with Rika after her botched shot, I took a step forward.

oOo​

“Good game,” I said, shaking the hand of the South Ravensworth goalie, the last person in line.

“Good game,” the black-haired girl said. She ran off to join her teammates on the sideline her ponytail waving back and forth.

“Lions!” Coach Stephen called, “Huddle up!”

I turned to jog toward the bench with everyone else. I sat on the grass next to Tiffany and Rika, in front of our coach with the rest of the girls. Tiffany was fiddling her with shin guards, her socks and cleats already off. She leaned back, sighing in relief as she wiggled her toes. Rika shook her head at Tiffany’s antics while talking her gloves off.

“Nicely done, girls,” Coach Stephen said, gruff. “We started off a little slow, had some trouble getting shots on goal. But you guys stuck with it, Ashley and Karen made some excellent touches and we made it out with a win.”

He was making it sound like we barely made it. South Ravensworth did score first, but we came back in the second half with a vengeance. Ashley lit up the South Ravensworth goalkeeper, scoring three of our four goals.

“Also, I would like to commend two players that have returned to join us,” our coach said with a hint of amusement—a twinkle in his eye as he faced me and my sister. “Tiffany, Mercy, though we can use some improvement, that was an excellent defensive effort.”

I smiled at him, chest warming up a little.

“Thank ya, coach,” Tiffany said, her head resting on Rika’s knee and thigh.

Coach Stephen smiled. “Alright. You guys were great. No Friday practice this week. You can have the weekend off and we’ll come back Monday ready to work.”

“Stephen.” Patricia, our Assistant Coach, drew his attention walking from the fence with a recruiter that had come to watch Ashley play. “Ms. Maduka would like a word.”

Coach Stephen barely turned his head before dismissing us. “Shanice break it down.” He left us to consult with Patricia and the recruiter.

Intrigued, I gave the recruiter a quick once-over. The pretty woman in question was mixed, her light brown skin a nice even tone, her curly chestnut brown hair in a tied into a bun. Her jumper had the symbol for Alexis University near the top on the left side. The letters ‘A’ and ‘U’ overlaid diagonally on top of each other with a small star in the middle of the ‘A’.

“Alright, ladies!” Our senior captain called as she stood up, drawing my attention. “Get in here!”

All of us huddled around her, piling our hands on top of hers.

“I don’t care what happens we’re staying undefeated this year baby!” Shanice claimed. “All the way to state. Ain’t that right?” she looked around at our faces and some teammates cheered in agreement. “That’s right! Lions on three. one, two, three!”

“Lions!” We yelled, the team breaking up into our small groups with cheers and excitement.

“Yasss, girl!” Tiffany said, enveloping me in a hug. “We are back! We should so celebrate.”

“We should.” Ashley approached us side by side with Rika. “The team is going to Giovanni’s. Shanice told me before the game.”

“She’s giving us a lift?” Tiffany asked.

Ashley nodded.

“Perfect!”

The four of us left the field together, following the rest of the team back to the locker room. We took our showers and cleaned up before changing into our normal clothes before heading to Shanice’s car. It was late when we got to Giovanni’s, the sky a dark blue as the sun had set. Our team picked the six tables in our usual spot, deep inside the pizzeria.

“That recruiter,” I said, sitting down next to Tiffany, “was from Alexis University.”

“Isn’t that a school for the hallowed?” My sister asked.

“They have normal sports teams for hallowed not good enough for Division Zero,” Rika said. “They’re allowed to compete as long as they wear power limiters.”

“Really?” I asked. “Didn’t know that.”

“Or maybe…” Tiffany smirked at Ashley, who was sitting across from her.

“Maybe what?” Rika asked.

I kicked Tiffany from under the table, causing her to curse as she winced in pain.

Rika gestured with a hand, her lips in a slight frown. “Well?”

“I think… that Tiffany’s implying that I might be hallowed,” Ashley said, her stilted visage morphing as the hint of a smile showed her face. “Is that right, Tiffany?”

Not one to back down, Tiffany leaned across the table her hands, hands folded. “Why else would someone from a hero college be here?”

Rika didn’t seem impressed. “Maybe to see highest ranked soccer player in the country?”

“Yeah…” Tiffany said, rubbing a hand under her chin. “or…”

I yanked my twin’s bottom back into her seat. “Tiff, stop it.” No need to antagonize the dragon god that threatened to skewer our homeroom teacher. I looked Ashley, trying took keep the curiosity I felt off of my face. Was the Alliance keeping tabs on her?

“Tiffany, be serious. Me? Hallowed?” Ashley said, her voice smooth like silk, her eyes vicious like a serpent’s. “You know better than that.”

I know I certainly did. Being referred to as being a race beneath her… I bet she was offended. My body tense, I lowered my gaze. I could feel it. A hint of that strong energy I felt that day emanating from Ashley’s body. A warning for Tiffany to not overstep her bounds, in word and spirit.

Tiffany narrowed her eyes then leaned her head back in a chuckling fit. “Yeah, I do,” she giggled. “Just kidding.”

I wanted to glare at my sister for a sister for acting like an imbecile, but I couldn’t do that in front of Rika. I wasn’t sure if Rika noticed the little bit of aura that Ashley released, but her posture had changed. She shifted in her seat like she was uncomfortable, her attention on me.

“Mercy,” Rika said, “is something up? You still seem out of it. I know you were pissed you let twenty-three get by you on that goal, but that wasn’t your fault, my positioning was off,” she tutted. “I almost had it.”

That did bug me, but it would have felt worse I had cost us the game and ruined our undefeated season. Right now, I was just hoping that Tiffany and Ashley didn’t get into an argument or worse.

“I’m alright, Rika.”

“Yeah, we know that’s not true,” Tiffany remarked.

Oh, please help me God before I slap this child. I looked up at the ceiling trying my best to ignore my sister.

What? Am I wrong?”

“Coach didn’t sit you out early for that,” Rika said, her eyes on mine. “You’ve been off your game for a while.”

“I’m sure she has a lot of her mind.” Ashley gaze softened as she looked my way. “I’ve heard you’ve been struggling in class.”

“Yeah,” Rika agreed. “You’re lucky you were able to get full credit for that doing your presentation late in Japanese II, otherwise your grade would probably be in the shitter. I’m still pissed about that by the way.”

“We had… a good excuse,” I said, being meek. I did feel bad about leaving her to do the one we worked on together by herself.

“What? A note from Ms. Frazzle? Everyone knows she’ll make up some bullshit to cover anyone in her homeroom.”

“More like she talked to Mrs. Noguchi, personally,” Tiffany said. “I saw.”

Rika waved her off. “All I saw was Mercy blundering her way through the door to hand her piece of paper, right after I did our presentation.”

“Sorry, Rika,” I said. “I’ll make it up to you, somehow.”

“Just don’t fail. Can’t have you sit out because of academic probation. Coach won’t play you.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll get my act together.”

“If something is wrong, you should tell us about it,” Ashley said.

“Jeez, stop hounding her,” Tiffany said, her hand reaching on top of mine. “You don’t have to tell anyone anything unless you want to.”

I gave her a slight smile.

oOo​

It was finally the weekend and I found myself ambling down the huge interior of the bustling Ravensworth Emporium with the family, trying not to bump into the shoppers hustling all throughout. I felt giddy—surveying the various stores and colorful storefronts with lustful eyes. I always loved coming here. So many clothing stores to choose from it would take forever to visit them all. With hundreds of stores, this mall was like Ravensworth’s own King of Prussia—probably almost as big.

“Mercy, don’t get too far ahead of us now!” Mom called. I turned around just in time to see her wave for me to slow down.

I frowned as I saw Tiffany whispering to Terra walking next to Mom with Dad further behind, who was carrying some of the stuff we bought, i.e. everything. I waited for them to catch up before pulling my phone out and messing with it, pretending I was checking some text messages or whatever. Glancing up, I noticed Tiffany attempting to catch my eye but I ignored her. I refocused my attention on my phone screen, a knot forming in my stomach.

“There’s a heavy SIGMA presence here,” Terra said, as two SIGMA officers in full gear walked by us in the crowd, both men with coffee in hand.

He wasn’t wrong. SIGMA agents were all around the area today. Some were along the entrances to the shopping center, along with regular security. Others on the inside. We even had to walk through scanners to get in.

“You’re right about that,” Tiffany said. “I wonder what’s going on.”

“You didn’t hear?” Dad asked. Seeing our confused faces, he continued. “Media day?”

Oooh,” Tiffany said.

“Media day?” Terra asked.

“I thought you guys were all about cape news,” Dad said. “Tiffany and Mercy spend all day looking at those videos on YouTube.”

“David, what exactly is going on?” Mom asked.

Tiffany answered for our dad. “It’s media day for Unity. They’re here today.”

“What?” My surprise caused me momentarily stop giving her the silent treatment. Why would the heroic family team be here?

Tiffany blinked at me. “Yeah. Didn’t you check The Hallowed Eve yesterday? It’s been advertised for a while now.”

Huh. I often used the website to research capes or to find any information that was posted about my cape events. I hadn’t looked at the local boards in a week, so I must have forgotten the fact that Unity would be out publicly.

“What made them pick here?” Terra asked, glancing at Tiffany.

“It’s the biggest mall in the state,” Tiffany said. “They’re doing a publicity stunt. To help stores advertise products and merchandise and help reassure the public that they’re safe. You know, the usual.”

“Hmm,” Terra said with interest as we arrived toward the center of the Emporium. “Looks like that’s them.”

The plaza was a media circus with tons of people surrounding the group of Unity capes. There were cameras and people everywhere, most with their phones out taking pictures. The adoring fans were loud, shouting the names of their favorite heroes. Unity was pretty much stuck to their large panel booth, answer questions and signing autographs. Even the local news was here.

There were way too many people in one place.

“Want an autograph?” Dad asked with a smirk, seeing me look at the crowd.

“…Maybe later. After things die down.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Terra said. “I don’t think everyone’s up there.”

So he noticed. I recognized most of the Unity capes on the booth. It was everyone except for the Unity triplets. They were all dressed in their iconic skin-tight costumes. Their faces uncovered without masks, their identities revealed for the world to see.

Vibrance, the leader of the team wore a black costume with violet highlights around the sides, a white star with an arrow rising through the middle on his chest. Crush, Vibrance’s wife was next to him, sporting her usual white and gold costume with a beautiful lightning design—running from her neck down to her abdomen before spreading outward.

Hardlight, in his armored sliver and gray costume, was seated beside his wife—Vibrance’s younger sister, Immortalis. Her costume was white with amaranth trim.

“Terra, I didn’t know you knew about Unity,” Tiffany said.

“It’s kind of hard not to know about them, being one of the most popular teams of heroes in the country.”

Unity was famous but not necessarily because of capes in their group, but because of what they represented. Consisting of two families the group claimed they had nothing to hide. They didn’t wear masks, taking inspiration from some of the Omniversals. They believed in being accountable heroes without secrets.

I wasn’t so sure about that myself, though.

I noticed Balancer, between signing autographs and answering questions for reporters, was chatting with his niece and nephew, Cosmiss and Dreammaker—the children of Hardlight and Immortalis. His hair freshly cut, Balancer wore a thin emerald visor and green suit with long white bands crisscrossing together on his costume forming green diamonds in the middle. Dreammaker’s costume was white and blue, the swirls on his costume oddly reminding me of Nature. Cosmiss’s violet and white costume had the same star design as Vibrance’s did but with arrows splitting the star from all sides.

“I wonder where the rest of the girls are,” Tiffany said.

“Did the news say they would be here?” Mother asked.

“They could be shopping.”

“Ooh, look!” Tiffany pointed at a popular clothing boutique across from the meandering crowd. “Terra, let’s go. We need to shop for some more winter clothes.”

“…We do?” Terra asked dubiously, letting Tiffany pull him toward the direction of the store.

I followed. Mom and Dad sat down on one of the benches in the mall lounge content to rest and wait for us. Entering the store, I glanced at some of the long sleeve tops and cardigans. Tiffany moved further down the junior sections, pulling a coat and a few tops of the rack.

“Oh, I love this shirt,” Tiffany said. “What do think, Terra?”

“It’s nice,” Terra said, amused. “Your style is more punkish though.”

“I can dress like a spoiled high-maintenance girl when I want to.”

“You are spoiled, so you have that part down. But do you need to try on all those outfits?”

“Uh, yeah? Terra, I have standards you know. Shocking!”

Terra chuckled. “I know. That’s the only reason we’re dating.”

Tiffany coughed, her mouth hanging open. “Sassy!”

“Gotta keep you in line. I’m not gonna help you carry those to the fitting room, you won’t try all of them on.”

Ugh.”

“Don’t ‘ugh’ me. Go on, get.”

Tiffany bit her lip and walked back to Terra. She squeezed his arm with her free hand and Terra smirked.

I rolled my eyes and turn back to exit the aisle. I froze, looking at a girl that was going through the rack a few feet from me. She was dressed in a hooded skirt, with yellow arrows traveling down the sides. She was a cape, one of the Unity triplets.

“Catwhip?” I mouthed.

“Hmm?” Catwhip looked up at me; her misty blue eyes looked so weird up close. “Something wrong?”

“Uh… no—I was just surprised,” I said. “I thought you would be with the rest of your family.”

“Oh? Are you sure you’re not shocked and filled with awe after meeting your favorite hero?”

Huh?

Catwhip laughed. “Relax. I’m only kidding. What’s your name? I’m Marissa Flann. You probably you already know that. You can call me Marissa if you want.”

“Yeah… I’m Mercy Gaunt.”

“Well, nice to meet you, Mercy.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

Catwhip smiled. “Anyway, about what you said, my sisters and I are taking a break. Doing a little shopping to get away from all people, you know? I love talking and giving interviews, but we’ll be here all day. Dealing with fans and reporters non-stop wears me out.”

“Yeah, I totally get that.”

“Ems! Who are you talking too?” Tiffany asked, approaching with Terra. “Is that Catwhip?”

“Oooh boy,” Catwhip muttered, hesitantly looking around the rest of the shop.

I shushed my sister, a finger held up to my lips. This was Catwhip’s time to relax and lie low. No need to ruin her break, drawing the mass of fans in here. Tiffany crouched and tip-toed over, apologetic. Terra shook his head.

“This is my sister, Tiffany,” I said, facing Catwhip. “And this is her boyfriend, Terra.”

“Hi,” Catwhip said, greeting them both. Her face changed we she saw me and Tiffany standing side-by-side. “Oh. Wow. You’re twins.”

“Yup,” Tiffany said.

“I can already tell you two are quite the handful. Ask me how I know.”

The four of us laughed. Soon thereafter, two other girls approached us. The both of them wearing the same type of skirts with knee-high boots that Catwhip had on, but their costumes were hoodless. I knew who they were. Lightshow and Razorbash.

“Marise, we’ve been looking all over for you,” Lightshow said.

“Yeah,” Razorbash said. “Break time’s over. Mom wants us back.” She looked us over. “Don’t tell me, you’ve already started signing autographs?”

Not yet.” Catwhip moved to introduced us. “These are my sister’s, Razorbash and Lightshow.” She turned. “Guys, this is Mercy, Tiffany, and Terra.”

“Hey,” Razorbash said as she started to shake our hands.

“I hope Marise hasn’t been causing you trouble,” Lightshow said, doing the same.

“No—she’s fine. We kinda just bumped into each other,” I said.

“Oh, wow!” Razorbash said, looking back and forth between me and my sister. “You guys are twins.”

“That’s exactly what I said.” Catwhip seemed amused. “You’re gonna make them think we’re robots. Like borg.”

“This is cool,” Razorbash said. “You’re kinda like us.”

“‘Kinda’ is the key word,” Lightshow said.

“I’m glad you guys change up how you wear your hair and costumes, at least,” Terra said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

I thought so too. Lightshow’s had her hair pulled back in a ponytail like Terra’s, indigo lines on the side of her dress. Razorbash wore her hair down, most of her peach and white costume covered in thick v-like arrows.

“Yeah,” Lightshow said. “That’s why we do it. I’d rather have us all dress the same so we can fool everybody, but no we can’t have thatIt would cause issues with the media. Mom and Dad just don’t want us giving reporters any trouble.”

Razorbash placed her hands on her hips. “Well, are we going back to the panel?”

“Sure, but first—I don’t have a pen—do one of you have a pen?” Catwhip glanced at Razorbash and Lightshow, both girls were empty-handed. Catwhip took a phone out from her purse. “Okay. If you do want autographs, we can text you guys to meet us back here before we leave. No one deserves to wait in that mess.”

“Awesome,” I said. I exchanged my number with Catwhip’s and the Unity triplets bid us farewell. We didn’t spend much time in the store after that. Meeting with Mom and Dad outside we decided to have some fun at the Emporium’s ice skating rink before getting lunch.

oOo​

 

Plates clattered in the sink as I looked for the sponge. I was the last person to finish eating dinner and it was my turn to wash the dishes.

“I’ll clean the kitchen,” my mom said, picking up pots from the stove so she could put them in the fridge. “Go see what Terra and your sister are up to.”

Meh. At the moment, I would’ve preferred watching boring sports highlights on the couch with Dad, but I didn’t say that. Instead, I went downstairs to the basement. The two lovebirds were intolerable, but I couldn’t stay mad at them forever.

They were sharing a bean bag, watching a movie. I sat next to Terra, causing him to inspect me.

“You finally talking to me again?” he asked.

“It’s been long enough,” Tiffany said.

I frowned at her. “I still don’t know how you can act like nothing has changed. Like nothing is wrong.”

“What are you even talking about?”

“Mr. Ryan?“

Tiffany groaned. “Are you serious, Ems? It’s been two weeks! Look, I know you wish Terra didn’t blast him away or whatever but he’s dead. It’s over. He’s not coming back. Move on.”

“…there had to be another way.”

“Oh, come on. I didn’t hear you complaining when Kazuya killed all those Arcadians right in front of your face!”

My eyes clamped shut. That wasn’t fair. I still had nightmares about Shekhinah’s subordinates, crying out in anguish during their last moments.

“Tiff. Easy,” Terra warned. I could feel his gentle grip on my shoulder. I wanted to move, but I couldn’t. “Mercy, I know what I did hurt your feelings and I apologize about that. I won’t make any promises, but if any of us are in a situation like that again and I have to fight, I’ll try not kill.”

“No…” I opened my eyes, wiping the tears away. “Maybe… I was being unreasonable.”

“Ems,” Tiffany moved closer, worried. “What…?”

I winced. Images of that familiar castle formed in my head. “I had a dream,” I rasped, focusing on Tiffany. “Do you remember?”

“A dream?” Terra asked.

I nodded. “Back when we were younger, Tiff. I remember… remember telling it to you.”

Tiffany waited for me to continue. The faint memory of seven other children racking my mind.

“If I had the power, I would create a place would no one had to kill or die,” I whispered, thinking of an endless grassland. “A…”

“Utopia,” Tiffany said, her voice hollow.

I stopped. “You remember?”

“Somehow.”

We faced each other in silence.

Terra leaned back on the bean bag, causing it to rustle. “Sounds like a beautiful place.”

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