Secrets 2.8

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Bae, Ask About Me

At my words, Rika’s frown twisted into a defiant scowl.

“You-”

“What’s going on here?” Ashley’s voice called out, cutting Rika off. It felt ominous as she sauntered toward us with Terra in tow. The crowded hallway became quiet, the loud chattering of our classmates turned into quiet whispers as Ashley passed by them, only the clap of her boots against the ground could be heard. “What are you guys doing, making a scene out here like this?”

I shivered a little, a hint of fear rising within me. Ashley’s aura, when turned on me, made me feel tense—even though I could tell she was constricting most of it to her body. Making a scene were we? If anything, Ashley’s appearance now would exacerbate the conflict. No one was really paying attention until she shouted from across the hall.

Tentative, Rika was the first to speak. “We were just—”

“Finishing something that should have been handled a while back,” Terra cut in.

“What?” Ashley gave Terra a questioning glance.

“We’re tired of you guys picking on Katherine,” Tiffany explained. “This has gone on long enough.”

Ashley frowned. “If you had a problem you should have come to me, privately,” she said. “We don’t air out everything in front of the entire school. You know that.”

Entire school? People were watching, but it’s not like the everyone would know of our group’s infighting. Well, not yet. That would change by the start of the next class period.

Tiffany gave a dry laugh. “Yeah, too late for that. If you handled shit like promised, we wouldn’t be here.”

“What’s your problem?” Lorie asked, stopping when Ashley raised a hand.

Ashley evaluated Tiffany for a minute before her gaze shifted to me. “Are you sure you’re talking about Katherine?”

I bit my lip. I knew what she was getting at. Pain started to bubble up inside me, as I thought about my ex.

Tiffany glared at her. “Who knows? After how many times you’ve given us your word, I’ve lost count.”

“We were getting Katherine’s diary back from Rika,” I said, speaking up—more than happy to move on to something else. I didn’t want them to bring up Timothy. Not here. Besides, there was no telling what Ashley would do if Tiffany pissed her off enough.

Ashley gave Rika a look. I could tell she was angry but she kept her emotions tightly under control, her expression mostly blank—the only thing revealing her dissatisfaction was her deepening frown and thin lips.

“She stole it from me,” Katherine spat, her voice filled with resentment.

“It was a joke, we were messing around,” Rika said, annoyed. “She dropped it with her book bag earlier. We were going to give it back.”

Ashley’s gaze slowly changed from annoyance to disappointment. “You lied to me, Rika.”

Rika wanted to say something else, but before she could defend herself, Ms. Frazzle made her way toward us.

“Shouldn’t you all be headed to class?” Ms. Frazzle asked, impassively glancing at each of us. Observing the hallway, she gave a stern look at some of the other students that were eavesdropping and hanging around nearby. She shooed them away. “That goes for all you, go to class!”

“Now,” returning her attention to our group, she asked, “What’s all the commotion about?”

Everyone was quiet, most of the girls sneaking worried glances at each other before turning to Ashley, hoping she would come to our rescue.

“Don’t tell me you girls were harming a student again,” Ms. Frazzle said. “After I explicitly warned you.”

Ashley sighed, moving from away Terra to stand in front of us and the rest of the girls—shielding us from Ms. Frazzle’s growing wrath. “We… were in the process of returning Katherine her diary.”

Ms. Frazzle seemed mildly surprised. “Oh really? I wonder about that, Ashley. Considering how I’ve seen you and your friends treat Katherine before, I’m hard-pressed to believe it.”

“Believe what you want.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re always sticking your nose in student affairs. I’m handling it.”

“Sounds like you wouldn’t mind handling a detention, either.”

“It’s true, professor,” I said, getting their attention. I didn’t want Ashley and Ms. Frazzle to start arguing in the middle of the hallway, where everyone could see. “We were just handing it back.”

Ms. Frazzle paused at my admission, briefly looking me, Tiffany, and Nathan over. She noticed the book in Nathan’s hand. “Alright… Fine. Give Katherine her diary and get to class.” She evaluated the others. “That goes for all of you. No lollygagging.”

“Aye aye, teach,” Terra said with a smirk, as Lorie, Brittany, Diana, and the other girls scampered away—getting out of dodge. Ashley remained in place though, giving Ms. Frazzle a calculated look.

Rika shoved me as she elbowed past, bashing into my arm. She didn’t do it hard enough to knock me over, mind you, but it still hurt. “This isn’t over,” she whispered.

“Wanna bet?” Tiffany whispered back with a snarl. Before she could chase Rika down, I grabbed her wrist, holding her in place. Though she looked back with a frown, I simply shook my head.

Nathan took the time to give Katherine here diary back, being gentle with the book as he handed it to her. “Sorry about that. Here you go.”

Katherine accepted it from him, holding it close to her chest. “Thank you… Thank you.”

Ms. Frazzle eyed her, carefully. “Are you alright?”

“I am… now I am.”

“Good.” Ms. Frazzle gave us all one last look before she left, telling off Ashley about her attitude and urging her to go to class. She warned the rest of us that we better be seated in her class within the next five minutes.

“Thanks.” Katherine faced us, sniffling. “For sticking up for me.”

“No problem,” Nathan said.

I put a hand on Katherine’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “I wanna give you a hug. Can I do that?”

Katherine huffed with the hint of a smile and then nodded in acceptance.

“C’mere.” I wrapped my arms around her in a tight embrace. Katherine let out a choked sob. Tiffany stood by my side, rubbing Katherine’s back in support. After a moment, I let go, Katherine removing herself from my grasp. I could see tears welling up in her eyes.

She wiped them away, giving me a broken yet happy smile. I smiled back.

Tiffany smiled as well. “Well, I’m glad that’s been dealt with.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Nathan said. “This is probably gonna cause a huge shitstorm during lunch.”

Terra chuckled. “It’s nothing Ashley can’t handle.”

Ashley seemed amused. “What makes you think I’ll do anything at all?”

Nathan snorted. “If Rika and the others start some bullshit, it’s going to cause hell for you. Trust me. And I know you wouldn’t allow anything to ruin your ‘perfect and pristine’ social image.” Nathan smirked. “What would you do without your group of followers?”

Ashley waved him off. “Please. I was getting tired of the little status games we play here anyway. Most of the people that associate with us are absolutely boring.” She sighed. “It might be fun to watch as our little clique implodes on itself.”

Tiffany made a sound annoyance and folded her arms. “You know, that’s just like you. To have such a shitty personality.”

Ashley gave her a nasty smile. “I could say the same for you.”

Ashley didn’t wait for a response. Instead, she left us, walking to her homeroom. I frowned as she strode off, all of us looking at her back in silence.

oOo​

Done with math class, I found myself in the girl’s restroom washing my hands as I prepared for lunch. We agreed on doing something a little different today; we were inviting Katherine to eat with us at our secret spot on the school roof. Okay, it wasn’t a secret, but we really weren’t supposed to be there and the forbidden element of it added a little excitement. Nathan wanted to walk there together, but I told him to go on ahead. Hopefully, he along with Terra and my sister would nab some food from the cafe before I met with them. I dried my hands, the soft paper from the dispenser feeling pleasant against my skin as I rubbed them dry. With a flick of the wrists, I removed the access water from my hands and made my way out.

“Mercy,” Ashely called out, spotting me exit the bathroom as I entered the hallway filled with students heading to the cafe. She was alone, our other friends nowhere to be seen. “Walk with me.”

Was she waiting for me? I didn’t see her around before I entered the bathroom. “I was planning on eating with Tiffany and the guys, on the rooftop.”

“You know we’re not allowed up there.”

“Yeah… but we wanted to eat with Katherine and she doesn’t feel comfortable eating in the cafeteria yet.”

“That’s understandable…” Ashley trailed off. “I think I’ll join you then.”

I hummed, thinking of the reactions of the rest of the girls. “What about everyone else?”

“They can live without me for a day.”

We walked together at a slow pace, with me leading the way slightly.

“Say, Mercy, what do you think of me?”

“Hm?”

“What do you think of me? You can be honest.”

“You mean personality wise?”

I wondered if she was thinking about what Tiffany said.

Ashley nodded. “Do you think of me as a sociopathic tyrant, one that doesn’t care for those that she presides over?”

“Not really.” I frowned as we continued to walk, glancing up and away in an aimless manner to buy some time as I thought of the best way to answer her. “I mean… you can be kinda arrogant at times. I get it, with you being a ruler of a nation and a Valterian dragon god of the world and all, but…”

“I’m not the god of this world. Here, I’m only a simple girl.” Ashley chuckled. “But I understand what you mean. My older sister would often say the same.”

“Is that the same one you were talking about before, the one that learned from Kazuya with you?”

“Yes.”

“What’s she like?”

Ashley took in a deep breath while looking up in thought, away from me. It was hard for me to guess what she was feeling. “Arden is… courageous, dutiful, a being with the strongest will I have ever seen. The current king of Valteria.”

“Wait a minute. King?”

“Yes, king.”

“Shouldn’t she be the queen?”

“It’s a traditional title, bestowed upon her by father because he acknowledges her strength. Her power. She is only the second person to ever receive it. She holds that title out of respect, regardless of its masculine nature.”

I gave Ashley a thoughtful glance, warmth budding in my chest. I’d never seen her talk about someone in such a heartfelt way before. “You sound pretty fond of her, you must love her a lot.”

Ashley scoffed. “Don’t speak of something you know nothing about. Do I love her? Love… hate… those words are too simple to describe the relationship we have. It’s not like yours with Tiffany.”

We talked for a little while longer, the hallways and stairwells now empty making the school seem like a ghost town. We reached the roof, our friends sitting down near the fence at the edge. Both Tiffany and Nathan both held a lunch tray in their lap, Terra had his sandwich in hand. Someone important was missing.

“Where is Katherine?” Ashley asked as we moved closer to the trio.

Nathan shrugged. “I told her where we were going to have lunch here, but I guess she didn’t want to come. I couldn’ t find her anywhere after class.”

“Really? Shame.”

Tiffany glanced up from where she was sitting, next to Terra. “Ems!” She handed me an extra turkey sandwich from her tray along with a bottle of water. “I can’t believe you managed to drag our perfect queen all the way up here.”

I sat down next to her Indian style before digging in.

“I was in the mood for a different kind of atmosphere,” Ashley said, curling the end of a strand of hair with a finger. “Besides, now I can talk to Terra seriously.”

Terra took a bite of his sandwich. “What up?”

“Let’s talk Avalon matters. The witch told me about your cousin, that he had a Fallen Star and used its power to go to Avalon during the battle between the Guardian and Duskan forces in New York. Are you still in contact with him?”

Irritation flickered in my the chest at the way Ashley referred to our teacher. Supposedly, Ms. Frazzle was a witch, but I didn’t like the venom I heard in Ashley’s voice.

Terra paused from eating, unassuming. “All know is that he made it out of the battle, okay and that he’s safe and sound with Guardian.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “How about you?” he asked, his mouth full. He swallowed. “How’s Artisans?”

“My country is fine. Doesn’t that woman keep you up to date?”

“Trinity isn’t really focused on your country at the moment.”

“Hmm, that’s debatable.”

“Seriously, you have bigger problems down south. BRIM is making moves, they might make a big one soon.”

“I’m well aware.”

“I’d expect you to be. Just saying.” Terra’s lips cured into a smirk. “I have another cousin on Avalon, you know.”

“From BRIM, I presume?”

“How perceptive. His name is Roman. Roman Hatchell.”

Ashley’s eyes widened. “BRIM’s third strongest Elite Guard?”

“And he happens to the brother of Davis.”

Ashley took a moment to parse the info Terra dropped on her.

“Mind sharing with the rest of the class?” Nathan asked, glancing between both of them.

“Yeah,” Tiffany agreed, giving Terra and Ashley an odd look. “What the hell is BRIM?”

Ashley walked over to fence at the edge of the rooftop and she leaned on it, close to where Terra was sitting by Tiffany. She examined the school grounds below like she was looking for someone before facing us. “BRIM is a human country on Avalon, close to Artisans. It was formed sometime after the first great war. Or the first Human-Monster war as they like to call it.”

“Human-Monster war?” I asked.

“It was a different time, thousands of years ago. The humans on Avalon were at constant war with rest of the Avalonians. War threatened to destroy the planet until, we—the Valterians intervened.” Ashley laughed. “The Elder Gods wouldn’t let their finest work go to waste.”

“Nope,” Terra said, nodding. “The leaders of both sides eventually decided that it would be better if the human were separated from the rest. Most of the humans were moved to Earth.”

What?

Nathan and Tiffany looked as stunned as I was.

“Are you saying that everyone from Earth was from Avalon first?” Nathan asked.

“No.” Ashley moved past Terra and Tiffany and kneeled next to Nathan so she could sit by him. “Earth was already populated by that time. The number of humans on Avalon had dwindled, most escaping here. But not all of them made it. The unlucky ones were left behind, to become slaves of the other Avalonian races.”

“It was brutal,” Terra said. “Humans were almost driven to extinction. But they survived, increasing their numbers slowly after generations. They created BRIM a military group made for hunting ‘monsters’ and whatnot. They conquered a patch of land near the Duskanian empire and eventually turned it to their own country. They’re quite successful nowadays.” Terra smiled at Ashley. “Successful enough to constantly pick fights with Artisans and the other Gaurdianite allies and Duskanian nations.”

Ashley rolled her eyes, her cheek resting on her fist with her elbow leaning on her thigh. “I wouldn’t put it past those idiots to start the third great war.”

Terra laughed. “If they were going to do it, they would have done so already. They’ve always had a rocky relationship with other Avalonian powers,” Terra finished his sandwich and balled up the wrapping paper. “I think that’s enough for today’s history lesson.” Terra gave Ashley a knowing look. “So, how’s the Nathan experiment going?”

Nathan narrowed his eyes at Terra, affronted. “The hell you mean?”

Ashley smiled. “We’ll get to that. But first,” Ashley faced me, her gaze steady. “There’s something I want to talk to Mercy about—and by extension, everyone else here.” She paused, allowing us to take her words in, her eyes still on me. “You’ve been a bit reckless with your online searches.”

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Secrets 2.7

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Venom II

“Thinking about dating any other guys?” Lorie asked me as we walked down the corridor full of students. “I can’t believe you’re still single.”

Our first period had finished and Tiffany and I found ourselves walking with the rest of our friends; the eight of us followed Ashley to her locker, our daily routine. We had a couple of minutes before homeroom started and we’d often congregate around Ashley’s locker to socialize before going to our separate classes.

“I told you, I’m taking a break from dating.”

“But come on, you’ve been so down in the dumps ever since—” Lorie stopped herself as if she needed to rethink her words, “—since you and Timothy didn’t work out.”

I rolled my eyes, a faint feeling of anger rising in my body. “Thanks for bringing it up again, Lorie. Is dating another guy right after one broke my heart supposed to fix me?”

“I’m just saying though, taking the plunge and putting yourself back out there is what you need. Derrick wants to go out with you, you know that right? Why don’t you get him to spoil you a little?”

“We don’t all date new boys every month like you do, Lorie,” I said. Derrick was a jerk anyway.

“Emmy, that is so untrue.”

“Is that why you’re currently talking to three guys?” Tiffany asked, causing the others to laugh.

Lorie scowled. “I don’t want to her that from our school’s resident flirter. You’d probably sleep with any guy in our group.”

“Terra was my first and he’ll be my last,” Tiffany said with a sharp smile, remaining calm as she turned to look forward.  “We’re going to get married, have five kids, and live happily ever after.”

“Did she just say, five kids?”

“That’s crazy. Way too many.”

“It’ll be perfect,” Tiffany said. “Right Ems?”

I snorted in disbelief causing Tiffany to glare at me.

Brittany, who was closet to Lorie, giggled. “It’ll be okay Ems, You’ll find your prince charming one day. We’ll pray for you.”

Tiffany turned in my direction. “Don’t worry, Ems, at least you’re not dating Dillion.”

Brittany scoffed, as Tiffany mentioned her boyfriend. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Tiffany gave her a smile that I could only describe as sickeningly sweet. “I’m just saying he wouldn’t be right for Mercy.”

“That’s not what you’re saying.”

“It’s not? Please, enlighten me.”

“Okay, Grace Theophania Gaunt,” Brittany said, causing Tiffany to cringe, “I will. You’re still jealous that he wanted to go out with me, instead of you.”

“Don’t freaking call me that!” Tiffany snapped. “I fucking hate it when you do that. And I’m more than happy with my boyfriend, thank you very much. Eighth grade was a century ago.”

“That’s right you’re into girly guys now.”

“Terra’s actual classification is pretty boy, there is a difference.”

Brittany rolled her eyes.

“I don’t see why you hate your name so much,” Rika said to Tiffany. She had to turn her head to face us since she was walking side-by-side with Ashley. “I like it. It goes together with Mercy’s.”

“Mercy and Grace has a nice ring to it,” Ashley agreed.

For as long as I could remember, Tiffany refused to answer to her first name. My parents never understood why but it never bothered me. Intuitively, I knew how she felt about it.  She would always be my inseparable twin, no matter what name she went by.

“It doesn’t fit me.”

“And Theophania does?” Nicole asked, breaking away from her conversation with Diana.

“The variation does,” Tiffany said. “I don’t know what my parents were thinking, giving me that middle name.” She cowered behind me with her head down, pretending to shield herself from the judging gazes of our friends. “So embarrassing.”

I remembered when my sister started to go by the name of Tiffany, it was some time after an asshole made fun of her in middle school. A teacher had come up with the nickname and Tiffany fell in love with it.

“There, there, ” I said patting my sister gently. “It’ll be okay.”

“Alright. Back to cute boys,” Diana said, her voice uncharacteristically chirpy as she attempted to change the topic. “What do you guys think about Eric?”

“You think Eric is cute?” Lorie asked. “You’re so scandalous!”

What? He is.”

“I can’t,” Lorie said. “I just can’t.”

“Actually, I kinda agree with Diana. He has a cute face, but… that still leaves a lot to be desired, ” Tonya said. “But Michael though, he’s hot.”

Tonya’s statement about the athletic upperclassman drew some murmured agreements from the group.

“Michael is already dating Allison,” Lorie said.

Screw Allison. I can’t stand her,” Tonya said.

I frowned. Is that why you’re always seen acting chummy with her before fourth period?

“She’s always blabbing about her daddy issues,” Tonya said. “Complaining about her parents all the time and all the nasty shit her brother does. It’s like I don’t need to know all that, TMI.”

“Well, I’m glad Tyler is perfect,” Lorie said. “You don’t know what it’s like to be a guy that actually acts right.”

“You’re not even dating him,” Tiffany said.

“It’s called taking a break, have you heard of it?”

“If you want to call it that.”

“Enough,” Ashley said before Lorie could respond, looking exasperated. We had reached her locker. As she started to remove books from the compartment, the others resumed their own private conversations.

“Sooooo…” Lorie stood next to Tiffany and faced me. “Who else do you like?”

I sighed. “Oh my god, Lorie.”

“Nathan?” Diana offered, entering our conversation.

Lorie’s face lit up with giddiness as if she learned one of my most personal deep and dark secrets. “Oh? I didn’t know you like black guys. I couldn’t date one.”

What—Nathan is just a friend!”

Nathan was a good guy and I liked him, but I didn’t ‘like him’ like him.

“He does walk you to class every day,” Rika said.

Rika, how could you? I glanced at Rika, betrayed. She shrugged.

Aww…” Brittany teased. “So cute.  Don’t you just love it? I bet you wanna run your hands through his hair, touch his waves. Feel his dark chocolate skin…”

My eyes sealed shut and I could feel the blood rushing to my face.

“Brittany, really?” Tiffany asked.

“She’s not denying it.”

Before I could refute Brittany, Katherine approached us. Ashley had noticed first as she was already facing the middle of the hallway, ready to move after finishing with her locker. Naturally, our gazes followed as she inspected the raven-haired girl in silence. I thought about Katherine eavesdropping on our conversation in English class. How much did she hear? Would she reveal anything?

“Katherine,” Ashley said. “Can I help you?”

“…back,” Katherine muttered, looking down.

“Excuse me?”

Katherine visibly struggled with herself then walked a bit closer, standing in front of Rika. “Give it back.”

Rika gave Katherine a bland look of indifference. “Give what back? What the fuck are you talking about Yanagi?”

“You took something from her?” Ashley asked.

“No. She’s fucking losing it.”

“Lair!” Katherine gaze was downcast again, but not before I caught sight of the tears starting to run down her face. My heart started to ache.

“Oh my god,” Lorie said, with a giggle. “I think you broke her, Rika.”

“She was born broken,” Rika said, sneering. “What’s the wrong Yanagi? Don’t you know that it’s rude to accuse people of shit they didn’t do?”

Katherine remained mute, unable to look up.

“Such a weirdo,” Brittany hissed while looking at Katherine, disgusted.

When Katherine didn’t respond, Rika stepped forward, towering over her. “I think you should apologize.”

Katherine glanced up with her tearful face, confused. “What…?”

“Yeah, I agree,” Diana said, with a faint smile. “Coming at Rika like that.”

“She should apologize for being a freaking creep,” Tonya said.

“Don’t be so mean, guys, she probably wants to say she’s sorry for causing all that drama from before,” Nicole said, referring to the time we kicked her out of our group. “I mean just look at her… Kathy just can’t help being a loser.”

Most of our friends chuckled in agreement but my sister wasn’t amused and I felt horrible. Ashley met the eyes of me and my sister and then she gave Katherine a searching look.

“That’s enough,” she ordered in a forceful voice, cutting through the laughter. I noticed Lorie and the others hesitant to say anything as Ashley emitted a slither of energy from her invisible yet still majestic aura. Ashley turned away from Katherine to face the group. “Come on, it’s time for us to go to class.”

We did as Ashley ordered, some girls whispering and talking in hushed voices as we passed Katherine while sneaking glances at her—entertained by her distress. I couldn’t bear to look her direction; the guilt was tying my stomach in knots. Our group went our separate ways, Diana following me and my sister back to Ms. Frazzle’s class.

As we entered homeroom, I notice Nathan and Terra were sitting at their desks chatting. The boys glanced up and Nathan waved to greet us.  I gave them a hesitant smile, waiting in the doorway as my sister stepped further inside. I peered back into the hall, my thoughts still on Katherine.

“What’s wrong?” Tiffany asked.

“I… I need to check on Katherine,” I said. “I need to see if she’s okay.”

I had left Katherine all alone to deal with the bullying of our bitch squad… too afraid to speak up and do anything about it for fear of being ostracized myself. But this couldn’t go on. It almost like Katherine’s suffering was hurting me.  I had to do something.

Tiffany frowned at me but didn’t argue. “Okay. I’m going with you.”

We left the classroom a second letter without giving the boys a chance to ask what was going on. The both of us scampered toward Ashley’s locker, part of me wondering if Katherine would still be standing there. She wasn’t, of course, but we found out from a few classmates in the hall that she went the bathroom.

“So you’ve finally decided you want to talk to her again,” Tiffany said as we walked closer to the bathroom entrance. “Why the change of heart?”

I shook my head, thinking about the small girl that looked like Katherine in my dreams. “I don’t know. I’m not sure what we can do about the girls being mean. But maybe… If I talk to her, we can figure something out. At least I can help her with whatever she was upset about. It’s the least I could do.”

Tiffany seemed doubtful. “She’ll be angry,” she warned.

I didn’t care. “And I accept that. She has every right to be.” I paused before pushing on the bathroom door.

“Worried?” Tiffany asked.

“A little. But not just of Katherine.”

“You worried about what Rika and the other girls will think? So what?”

“It’s just—I feel like if we try to become friends with Katherine again, it will cause a lot of drama and I don’t want to deal with it. It would be us versus everyone else and it will tear our group apart. Everyone will blame us. I bet that’s why Ashely turns a blind eye to them picking on her. Because she knows that’s how it will turn out. “

Tiffany stopped me from entering the restroom, her arm baring me as she looked me dead in the eye. “So fucking what? You think Ashley actually gives a damn about what they do or don’t do? She’s a god, Mercy. If you wanna do this seriously, then we do this seriously. No half-assing.  We’re going to stop Katherine from being messed with because it’s the right to do, with or without Ashley’s help—regardless of the consequences. If the girls have a problem, they can fuck off.”

Unable think of anything to say, I nodded. Katherine’s shrill scream sounded from a stall as we entered the restroom, causing us to pause. Katherine started to sob.

“Kill them! Hate you!” she cried, her words not making any sense. “I’m going to kill them all.”

My sister and I shared a cautious glance. Katherine calmed down, her painful sobs reduced to light sniffles.  She exited the furthermost stall, drifting toward the sink like a zombie. Katherine was looking at herself in the dirty mirror when I called out to her.

“Katherine,” I said, in a soft voice. “Are you okay?”

Katherine’s head snapped in our direction, her mouth opened in shock. Long strands of hair covered her face making her expression hard to see, but I could tell her eyes and cheeks were red from crying. She backed away from us, looking like a wounded animal.

“S-stay away, stay away from me!” she shouted.

That familiar filling of guilt throbbed inside me.

“Hey, calm down,” Tiffany said, hands out in a placating manner. “We’re not gonna do anything.”

“And you expect me to believe that? After everything you’ve done to me?”

“Be more specific, I don’t recall me or Mercy ever doing or saying something mean to you.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Katherine said, her sharp voice laced with resentment. “I know you’ve been talking about me behind my back, you agree with them.”

Where did she hear that from? Lorie? I tugged on the sleeve to Tiffany’s coat, stopping her from responding back. She gave me a questioning look but she let me step forward.

“I know you’re angry, Katherine,” I said. “We just want to help you.”

“Help me?” she asked, bitterly. “Like when you ignored me every time I tried to talk to you after Rika started picking on me?”

I sighed. “Did Rika take something from you? What was it? Maybe we can get it back.”

“Why the hell should I trust you?”

“You don’t have to,” Tiffany said. “But do you really have a choice?”

Tiffany,” I said, her tone making me feel a bit cross.

“My diary.” Katherine was quiet as she refused to look at me. “She took it.”

That didn’t sound good. Rika was probably planning to announce it to the girls before or during our lunch period. Reading Katherine’s diary out loud to humiliate her was something Rika would jump at the chance of doing.

“Shit,” I muttered. “When did it happen?”

Katherine shook her head. “Earlier, before first period. Don’t you remember?”

I didn’t. When I was at my locker then, I saw Rika and some of the boys in the hallway, but I didn’t stay long enough watch them pounce on Katherine. I didn’t want to get involved. She still must have noticed.

“They stole my book bag. It fell out when I tripped and Rika stole it before I could do anything.”

“They took everything?” Tiffany asked.

“Not my book bag. They let me have it after they got bored, but Rika left.”

I frowned. They must have toyed with her for minutes. I bet it felt like an eternity to her. Pity welled up in my chest.

“We’ll get your diary from Rika,” I promised.

Katherine faced me, resigned. Like she had no choice but to accept our help.

“Why?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I asked confused.

“Why do want to help me now?!”

I steeled myself, ready to take on the brunt of her blame and anger. “Because it’s the right thing to do,” I said. “Tiff and I, we never wanted to see you like this. And I… never meant to hurt you. I was afraid.”

Katherine seemed mystified. “Afraid?”

“Yeah. I didn’t want them to turn on me for being friends with you after Rika got angry at you. I didn’t want to ruin the rest of our clique. But… even though I want to deny it, part of me… didn’t want to hang out with you anymore.”

Katherine swallowed, hard.

“Ems…” I could feel Tiffany’s hand on my shoulder.

“It’s hard to explain. I don’t hate you, Katherine. It’s… I know I’m being irrational but, deep down, for some reason, I blamed you for causing the small rift between us and our friends. For being such an easy target for Rika, letting her mess with you. I blamed you for not putting in the effort to fit in with us more.” I shook my head. “I was stupid and… I’m sorry.”

Tears started to run down her face. “I’ll never forgive you.”

“That’s okay. If you will allow me to be your friend again, I can accept that.”

I could hear two girls getting closer to the bathroom, their voices getting louder as they approached. A familiar laugh. Katherine froze, she was going to say something but her mouth clamped shut.

“I thought I saw couple familiar faces coming in here…” Brittany said as she entered the bathroom with Rika by her side, trailing off when she noticed Katherine.

Rika sneered, realizing what caught Brittany off guard. “Well, well, well, what the fuck do we have here?”

“Rika,” I said, getting her attention. “Stop it.”

Both Rika and Brittany were surprised. “Don’t tell me your feeling sorry for this twerp,” Rika said.

“Her diary,” Tiffany said. “Are you going to give it back?”

Rika tried to hide her annoyance, but it was still visible on her face. “Sure. After homeroom. My teacher doesn’t let us out of class more than once.”

I couldn’t tell with Britanny was thinking, but she went along with Rika as she left the restroom. I guess Rika was too offended by us defending Katherine. She would have to deal with it.

“…Thanks,” Katherine muttered before leaving, soon after.

“Well that didn’t go too bad,” I said, glancing at my sister.

“Yeah, we’ll see.”

Homeroom went by in a blur. I couldn’t really get into the conversation Nathan was having with Terra and Tiffany, about Ms. Frazzle’s and Ashley’s powers. About how they practically live with him—visiting his home every day without his parents knowing. I would be normally be intrigued by such juicy convo material, but I was focused on Katherine. Would Rika give up her diary just like that? She was always stubborn.

I walked back to my locker with Nathan and my sister, not only to get my stuff for Algebra II but to keep an eye out for Katherine. She walked by in hurry to get to her locker, but she wasn’t fast enough. Though it wouldn’t seem like it someone else, I could tell most of our posse—Rika, Tonya, Brittany, and Lorie were hot on her tail, strolling behind her while talking. Pretending like they weren’t focused on Katherine at all.

“Oh shit,” Nathan said, as he zeroed in on the girls enclosing her.  Katherine was trapped within a nest of snakes. I saw Rika with a book a hand. It was brown with a golden design. Elegant. It was similar to a grimoire. That had to be Katherine’s diary.

“Check out this book I found,” Rika said, addressing the girls like Katherine wasn’t even there.

“Looks like a diary,” Lorie said. “But since it was laying on the floor in the hallway, whoever owned it doesn’t seem to want it anymore.”

“Really?” Tonya asked. “Then why don’t we take look.”

Rika opened the book and started to flip through the first few pages. Katherine started to shake, unable to face them. I hurried over, moving faster than Nathan who followed to help.

“Let’s see,” Rika said. “September Eighteenth, twenty thirteen,” Rika adjusted her voice to sound more girly. “I hate school, I hate everyone there, the only thing I can stand is physics.”

“Such a nerd,” Lorie called out.

“Mr. Thompson is nice. Sometimes.” Amused, Rika paused looking around at the other girls for effect. “I used to think he was a jerk, he was mean and everyone was making a big deal about him. But at least he was kind enough to give me private lessons.” Rika raised her raised her eyebrows. “Well now, would you look at that.”

“Oooh, looks like somebody’s getting it on with the new physics teacher!”

“Wow, and I expected Mr. Thompson to actually have standards.”

I heard enough. Pushing my way past Brittany I tried to snatch the diary away from Rika. She raised it over my head as I practically tried to climb her like a tree to get it.

“Mercy, what the fuc—“

Rika was caught off guard as Nathan took it from her grip.

“What are you doing?” Rika looked like she couldn’t believe what just happened.

“Making things right,” I said. “When you said you would give her diary back this isn’t what I had in mind.”

“You’ve always been a buzzkill, Mercy. I don’t know how Tiffany deals with it. Probably why Tim dumped your ass.”

Ah. My mouth dropped; I was taken aback. Verbally, Rika punched me straight in the gut. I couldn’t believe she would go that far.

“Hey!” Tiffany exclaimed, standing beside me. “You better watch yourself Rika. I’ve had about enough of your attitude.”

“And I had about enough of your bullshit.”

Things were getting heated; Tiffany and Rika were moments away from getting into a catfight. This was what I was afraid of.

“Why are you guys defending this loser?” Brittany asked.

“She’s not a loser, she’s my friend,” I said, resolute. I stepped to Rika. “Your bullying of Katherine stops. Now.”

Previous Next

Secrets 2.5

Previous Next

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.”

Previous Next

Secrets 2.1

Previous Next

Return From Heaven

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

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

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

“You see anyone in particular?”

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

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

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

Tiffany nodded. “What did Dad look like?”

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

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

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

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

“Do you think they would actually tell us?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head. “It’s fine, Tiff.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gods?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which is a good thing,” Tiffany said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Such a mean sister,” Terra chided.

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course,” Terra said dryly.

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

“Sup?” Terra asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“It was a Friday night,” Terra commented.

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. He’s not too happy about it.”

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

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

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

Tiffany scoffed. “I can believe that.”

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

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

“I had gotten sick.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terra snorted at her remark, looking miffed.

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

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

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

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

“If you’re sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prologue II

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Ashley Hawke lounged in the back of her seat as she waited for the history teacher to finish speaking. Her mind in a daze, she almost fell asleep.

That blissful state soon ended as she was disturbed by the sound of the class packing their books. Ashley turned to her left and looked up at the clock under the ceiling. Only a few minutes were left in class. Soon they would be free from the boring prison known as school.

Ashley quickly packed her books even as the teacher complained about students packing up early. She didn’t care really; Mr. Tate never had the backbone to enforce his rules.

Only two more minutes left in class. Ashley could hear the excited whispers of her fellow classmates as they began to talk about what they had planned for the weekend. The group of girls next to her talked quietly, smiling and making glances toward her.

Ashley rolled her eyes in annoyance. The girls, six in all, were part of a popular clique of underclassmen. One that Ashley herself was the leader of. They were her so-called “friends” and were probably going to bug her about her weekend plans.

As the bell rang and class was dismissed, Ashley retrieved her book bag from the floor next to her desk. As Ashley stood up and readied herself to leave, she was approached by two of her friends, smiling at her.

“Ashley! Wait up!” Lorie said. The small blonde girl positioned herself between Ashley and the door. “We’re going out with the boys, remember?”

Ashley narrowed her eyes but had a hint of a smile on her face. “Ah. Yeah. To the movies right?” Everyone was always trying to drag her around. No doubt Timothy would be there. He was known as a good-looking boy in her grade who made no intention of hiding his crush on her. Ashley shook her head a little. She liked having people that desired to be around her, but if they were annoying she would get irritated.

It was only natural, though, that everyone would want to bask in the presence of a smart and beautiful girl like herself. But she was much more than that. Much more.

She was a sophomore at Franklin High School, yet in some ways it felt like she ran the place. Ashley was a starter on the school volleyball and soccer team. The upperclassmen boys adored her while the girls secretly hated her. She was one of the most popular girls in school and almost always had the favor of the teachers. It was Ashley’s very being that drew others to her, and she knew it. It could be considered a blessing and a curse.

That is what it means to be a god.

Ashley walked outside of the class with her friends Lorie and Tonya. Heading toward her locker she could see the rest of her clique congregated around it. The girls were busy flirting with a group of boys nearby. Ashley could see Timothy with them. She caught him glancing at her with a smile.

“Hmph!” Ashley huffed, grinning. Tonya took her smile as a reason to voice her opinion.

“He’s pretty hot. And he likes you. I think he’s gonna ask you out,” Tonya said.

“Not interested.”

“What?”

Tonya turned around and attempted to question Ashley about why she wouldn’t want a date with the perfect looking boy. Ashley waved her off. As Ashley put her books inside her locker compartment, she was swarmed with attention from the students around her area. She conversed with them a little until she found herself face to face with Timothy.

Ashley had to look up to see the tall boy’s face. Tim’s grin became wider as she did.

“Hey,” he said. “We’re going to the movies tonight, coming with?”

There was a little tension in the air between them as he dropped those words. He was attractive. Ashley observed him for a moment unfazed. She looked over his well-kept brown hair and then looked straight into his piercing gray eyes.

“I’ll be there,” she said.

“I’ll pick you up,” Timothy replied.

She wasn’t fond of the idea of being in a car with Tim, but she agreed to it anyway. Maybe she would get some amusement out of rejecting him tonight. He asked if she needed a ride home as well but she said no. Heading toward the school entrance she made her way toward the buses taking students home with her friends.

Before making it to the door she almost found herself running into someone. It was another student. He apologized, embarrassed after almost crashing into her. Ashley frowned; how could someone be so absent-minded? The kinky haired boy glanced away as she viewed his face. He seemed nervous. Without even saying anything she continued walking on with the rest of her group. After a few steps, she turned her head back to look at the brown-skinned boy, who was rushing the opposite direction to his locker. He must have forgotten something.

“So that’s my master, huh?” she asked quietly before turning back around.

oOo

Shaun Thompson stood in front of Franklin High School looking up at the name plastered on top of the three-story building. So this is where he would be teaching from now on, he thought. He began to walk up the wide flight of steps toward the school entrance with his briefcase in hand. As he opened the doors his shaggy black hair blew forward as a current of cold air from outside rushed into the school.

As he entered the school building, he wondered what being a teacher at this school would be like. It wouldn’t be his first time teaching; he started as a substitute and teacher’s assistant for many years. However, this would be the first time he had a class all to himself.

On top of that, the school was huge. There were a couple thousand students. Most were decent enough but in his opinion, there were a couple of bad apples.

Shaun remembered yesterday when he was putting most of his items and teaching material the in his classroom. He could remember a student, a young girl getting harassed by a group of other girls. It was close by his classroom but Shaun opted to stay out of it. He wasn’t officially known as a teacher at the time and he had no problem with avoiding the issues of some teenage brats.

Shaun was jolted out of his thoughts as he could hear the sound of clacking heels headed toward him. He stood up straight to face the brunette haired woman. She walked until she was a few feet in front of him.

The woman gave him a warm smile and put out her hand.

“You must be the new physics teacher!” she said. “I’m Selena Frazzle.”

Shaun smiled slightly shaking her hand. “Hi, I’m Shaun Thompson.”

“Oh! So you’re the young physics genius everyone was talking about,” Ms. Frazzle said. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Mr. Hardy. How old are you?”

“Twenty-two ma’am,” he replied.

“Wow, so you just graduated college?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Just call me Selena.”

Ms. Frazzle’s sparkling eyes were boring into Shaun almost as if they could see through him. Ms. Frazzle continued to ask questions. She then talked about the various teachers and departments of the school.

“Well it was nice meeting you,” Ms. Frazzle finished.

“Likewise,” Mr. Thompson said while looking around the hallway for the principal’s office.

“Looking for principal’s office?” Ms. Frazzle asked. “I can take you there if you’d like.”

Shaun agreed and walked with her through the expansive hallway. Ms. Frazzle began to talk absentmindedly about her favorite students and why she loved teaching English. Shaun observed her quietly.

Something about her was bugging him. Ms. Frazzle was not his type, but even he could see that she was a beautiful woman. As his eyes traced over her form he noticed she was probably in her late twenties.

None of that was really important, though. There was something else he could sense from her. A feeling of a certain energy but he couldn’t quite place it. Unhuman? He wasn’t able to confirm his suspicions, however.

A loud crash was heard from around the hall stopping their conversation immediately.

“What was that?” Shaun asked.

“I have no idea,” Ms. Frazzle replied.

She started to move faster, heading toward the disturbance.

“It was one of the lockers. Come on, it sounded like a student fell.”

Shaun sighed to himself and let Selena lead the way. Turning the corner he saw Ms. Frazzle frozen in place looking at the scene before her. A group of six girls and their blonde leader were bullying the same young girl he saw from before. It seemed as if they were trying to take books from her backpack. Shaun resisted the urge to shake his head. He really didn’t want to get involved, at least not this soon.

“What are you doing!?” Ms. Frazzle asked.

The girls remained silent, They were caught red-handed. Shaun was curious to see what excuses they would have. The blonde girl, the leader of the posse began to stalk off.

Ms. Frazzle nearly grabbed her but stopped as the blonde girl turned around to look at her.

“You’re not going anywhere, young lady, you have explaining to do along with your friends. Why were you hurting that girl?”

“Me?” Ashley scowled. “I had nothing do with this. I wasn’t even next to her like them.”

Ashley pointed her index finger at the other girls. “They mess with Katherine here to please me since she doesn’t talk with us anymore. But I can care less. It’s not like I tell them to do it.”

“Hey!” Nicole said.

“Ashley!?” Lorie exclaimed.

The girls moaned in protest as Ashley threw them under the bus. She ignored them.

“No. You’re just here to encourage your little entourage, is that it?” Ms. Frazzle said.

“If you have a problem give me a write-up slip and send me the Principal. I should take full responsibility for those that are mine, no?”

Ashley stalked off without saying another word.

Shaun glanced at Ms. Frazzle with the side of his eyes. She frowned, her face flushing with anger, and yet it seemed as if she had let Ashley walk away. Was that fear he saw in Ms. Frazzle’s expression? Shaun turned his face to look back at where the blonde girl had been.

Ashley had looked familiar… Like a certain being from that place…

After a moment Shaun and Ms. Frazzle resumed walking through the hallway, both of them quiet.

They had finally reached the principal’s office. As they entered the room they were greeted by Principal Hardy, who was just getting off the phone.

“Ah, thank you Ms. Frazzle. I see you’ve acquainted yourself with Mr. Thompson. That’s good.” The Principal said. He turned to face Shaun. “And how are you finding everything? Ready for Monday?”

“Yes Sir,” Shaun replied.

Ms. Frazzle quietly excused herself as he continued his conversation with Mr. Hardy. Shaun glanced at Ms. Frazzle as she left, her eyes catching his own. She simply smiled at him as she left the room.

oOo

Selena Frazzle looked across the long stairway window viewing the campus grounds with a smile. She was watching the new physics teacher, Mr. Thompson, make his way back to the parking lot. He must have been done unpacking for the evening. They had just come from a meeting with the school principal after they witnessed the event earlier.

Selena didn’t bring up the situation with Ashley to principal Hardy, knowing that it would cause more problems than it was worth. However, she made sure to threaten the other bullies with suspension if they continued to harass that girl. She noted that Shaun also refrained from telling Mr. Hardy about what he witnessed.

Selena really had no reason to stay at school. She was unnecessarily waiting for an acquaintance, but she didn’t mind. Selena turned her head to the side as she was approached by her coworker.

“What are you doing standing here?” Mrs. Armstrong asked.

Selena smiled raising her hands up in defense. “Nothing really.”

Mrs. Armstrong looked over her shoulder out the window. She had seen who Selena was looking at.

“Right. So what do you think of him?”

“He seems pretty cute,” Selena said. She couldn’t hide anything from Mrs. Armstrong, but of course she never really cared to. “I don’t think he’s my type, though.”

“You seemed content staring at him for an hour.”

“Please, it wasn’t an hour, ” Selena said. She tilted her head, thinking. “Maybe I should try to seduce him?”

“Really, shitting where you eat?”

“Nah, only kidding,” Selena said with a laugh. “Speaking of which, aren’t you treating me out to dinner?”

“If you’re paying.”

“Oh come on.”

Selena walked down the stairs while finalizing her dinner plans with Mrs. Armstrong. She quickly took a glance at the school parking lot. Mr. Thompson’s car was finally gone. Selena smiled again to herself.

It looks like things are starting to get interesting.

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