Secrets 2.2

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Werewolves Tell No Tales

I hesitated, my mind going blank. “You want to speak with me?” I repeated, the quiet words tumbling out of my mouth, like the electrical impulses that controlled my speech were slow to reach my brain. I was like a device that had short-circuited. I wasn’t sure if she heard me. “Why?”

Shekhinah paused and regarded me for a second before exhaling. “I assumed that Kazuya would be here recovering after your sister took him from me two nights before. But, I cannot sense him,” Shekhinah glanced around the room, her eyes shifting from me to the entrance of our basement. Could she tell that Kazuya stayed there for the past two days? “Do you know where he is?”

I didn’t answer her right away; I was still feeling shell-shocked by the fact that she appeared in our house without any warning. With a tense grip, took hold of the knob to the door I had entered the house with and used it to help pull myself up from the floor. I stood up slowly and leaned against the door while attempting to keep balance. If I let go, now, I’d knew I’d fall over from the pressure. I looked Shekhinah in her golden eyes, they seemed cloudy. Lacking the fire and fierceness that they had given off the first time I met her.

I closed my eyes to distance myself. Shekhinah had asked if I knew where Kazuya was but she wasn’t forceful with her inquiry or demanding that I tell her his location. With a bit of effort, I pushed the thought of my impending death from Shekhinah’s hand out of my mind. Maybe Shekhinah wouldn’t hurt me. She seemed content to ask questions for now.

I opened my eyes and Shekhinah came back into view.  Her expression was unreadable, her lips thin. She hadn’t moved. She was patient, waiting for me to speak.

I swallowed as I found my voice. “I don’t know where he is,” I paused, glancing down and away from Shekhinah gaze as she remained still—her facial expression solid like stone. “He left last night without telling us anything. We didn’t even know he was gone until today.”

Shekhinah made a sound of clear annoyance. “Damn him,” she said, mostly to herself as she looked away.  Shekhinah sighed as she turned her head the direction of the living room window, taking her attention off of me. She was glancing out at the backyard, lost in contemplation. Shekhinah looked back at me, her eyes focused somewhat—as if she were searching my face for something. “Your sister isn’t with you,” she said, speaking like she was stating a simple fact.

I couldn’t look up to face her. It took every ounce of my resolve to ignore the warning blaring through my head, to keep from running out the garage door and getting the hell away from here. Breath. Calm down. Shekhinah didn’t do anything to me yet. She hadn’t moved at all since we had started talking. I had to calm down and stop freaking out. I had to think. If I didn’t keep myself together mentally, I’d collapse.

“S-she’s not here right now. She stayed after school.”

“I see.”

“Is… Kazuya the only reason you’re here?” I asked, my lips moving against my better judgment. “Why do you want to see him?”

“I need to speak to him.”

“So you can kill him and take revenge?” I asked. “For your students?”

Shekhinah glared at me. “That’s none of your concern.”

I was silent. My hand tightened on the doorknob as I stood my ground. “It’s been my concern ever since you and Kazuya pulled us into your battle that night. I almost died. If it wasn’t for Kazuya I wouldn’t be here right now. He saved my life.”

Shekhinah opened her mouth as if she were going to refute me, but after a moment she clamped it shut.

“He claimed you met us before,” I continued. “It was back when we were young, wasn’t it?” I rubbed my temple with a few fingers while closing my eyes in a painful grimace, visions of the past assaulting my mind. Pulsing through the sides of my skull, like a migraine. Images of Shekhinah with us, Mom, Dad, and Kazuya in that city of gold.  “I’ve been having these weird dreams and visions lately. In them, I see my dad as an Arcadian. Mom a Valterian. And I see you too, happy with Kazuya.”

Shekhinah gritted her teeth, her fists tightening as her body stiffened. “Then that vile fox has addled your mind, for you see nothing but lies!” she snapped. “He cannot be trusted. That treacherous fox does nothing but steal, kill, and cause destruction in his wake. He killed the ones important to me, without a second thought!”

I raised my hands in fear as she stepped closer to me, silently pleading for her to stop and calm down. “Look! I get it. I understand—no—I don’t. I-I can’t possibly understand what you’re going through. Losing the most important people to you,” Memories about my visions, the visions of a younger Tiffany and the seven other children I was close to in dragon king’s castle popped into my mind, piercing my brain—going straight through my skull and shocking me like a bolt of electricity. I winced, wavering for a moment. “I… I don’t think I could bear something like that.”

Shekhinah offered no response.

“But,” I said, after swallowing and catching my breath. “If Kazuya was wrong, If you truly hate him so much, why didn’t didn’t you kill him and get rid of us back then? You haven’t even denied what he said yet. That you had come in contact with us before.”

Shekhinah stared at me.

“You told us that killing him wouldn’t bring your subordinates back,” I tensed as I saw Shekhinah become furious, the aura of energy surrounding her rising like a torrent of water in the rapids. “Did you really mean that?”

Shekhinah hesitated, the waves of her energy and anger weakening.

“Shekhinah,” I whispered. “Who are you, really?”

We were both startled by the sound of the garage door opening from the outside. Metal hinges twisted and moved along worn metal rollers. The sounds from the outside door lasted a few seconds before it stopped. I could hear my mother drive her car inside. My parents were back. Shekhinah must’ve known something was up too, with the way she looked at the door I was standing near.

Shekhinah inspected me. “If we are fated to meet again,” she declared, “I will tell you everything.”

Shekhinah gave me a small smile as the aura surrounding her golden armor brightened.  I closed my eyes from the glare. I opened them and peered at the place Shekhinah was standing just seconds before. She had vanished.

I was baffled; my body was stiff, still standing in the same place when my dad opened the door and came into the house while mom followed suit.

“Hi,” I said, moving out of the way while my parents entered through the door together.

‘Hi,” my mom said beaming at me like I was a joy to see.

“Hey, Mercy. How are you?” my dad asked.

“Fine.”

“Anything interesting go on at school today?”

Well, not in school.

“Not really,” I said.

For a millisecond I considered whether I should ask Mom and Dad about my visions. To ask if they were gods. I decided against it. I didn’t want to talk to them about what happened that Friday night. Nor did I want to explain Kazuya’s or Shekhinah’s visit to our house. I didn’t want to put that all on the table.

“Where is your sister?” my mom asked.

My eyelids shut tight as I anticipated my parent’s outrage. “She’s still at school. She stayed with Terra because he was given detention.”

Dad’s lips thinned, displeased, and Mom brow furrowed. She folded her arms, furious.

“What are we going to do with that girl?” Mom growled, expressing herself to my dad.

Dad put his briefcase down next to the kitchen table. He started to take off his coat. “We’ll discuss that when she comes home,” Dad looked at me. “Did you have anything to do with her staying?”

“No,” I shook my head. “She chose to stay there. I warned her.”

Dad examined me for a moment but I didn’t offer anything else. He grabbed his coat from the chair he had placed it on and walked to the hallway closet. Mom did the same.

“What do you want for dinner, Mercy?” Mom asked in a calmer voice, her annoyance at Tiffany’s disobedience gone. She glanced at me as she hung up her coat. “Steak and pasta or chicken and rice?”

“We haven’t had rice in a while,” I said.

“Is that what you want?”

“Yeah, chicken and rice is good.”

“I bought asparagus Saturday.”

Mmm. One of the only vegetables I actually liked eating. “Awesome, do you need me to make anything?”

I recalled my mom talking about making a cornbread dish last weekend. I could do that for her.

“No. It’s fine.” my mother said. “Don’t you have homework to do?”

“It wouldn’t take that long.”

“Homework first,” she ordered.

I stopped myself from rolling my eyes in protest but my lips lifted around the edges. “Fine.”

My parents eventually made their way upstairs to take off their work clothes and slip into something more relaxing. I took a moment to sit on the living room couch to decompress a bit. I glanced at the remote that was resting on the small table next to me. I was still banned from watching TV.  I pulled my cell phone out of my backpack and began to check it for new text messages. It wouldn’t hurt to check now. Dad would ask for my phone back soon, considering how taking our phones away was a part of our punishment.

Most of the new texts I had were from friends or teammates. Tiffany hadn’t sent anything. The house door that led to the garage opened with a soft creak, causing me to perk up. Tiffany sneaked inside the house without a sound, she took her time to close the door. After she locked it, she tiptoed through the kitchen—her steps light. She moved closer to me, her shoulders taut with tension as she observed the kitchen and living room with care, attempting to avoid detection. Tiffany nearly jumped out of her skin as she found me sprawled out all over the couch like a homeless moocher. I surprised her. Tiffany actively relaxed as she realized it was me. She exhaled in relief.

“Hey,” she said.

“Heya, partner.”

Tiffany did her usual slight tilt of the head while giving me her ‘are you serious’ look, her hands placed on her hips. I tried my best to feign a look of innocence. Tiffany sniffed before resuming a normal and relaxed posture.

“Did you cover for me?” Tiffany asked.

“Nope.”

“Huh?”

“I told them the truth.”

“What?” Tiffany’s mouth dropped open as if she wondered how I could have said such thing. Apparently, I had betrayed her trust. “Why the hell would you do that?”

I shrugged. “What else was I supposed to do?”

“Uh—not tell them the truth? You could have said I was in my room or something.”

“Yeah, but you weren’t and I had no idea when you’d be home. They would have noticed eventually. If you’d come home a few seconds later, Dad would be sitting here watching TV and Mom would be in the kitchen. I told you it would be bad news if they got home early. You said you could handle it.”

“Tiffany,” Mom called from upstairs before my sister could respond. “Mercy, is your sister home? Tell her to come upstairs.”

Tiffany grimaced. I empathized with my sister, my stomach coiling into a knot of anxiety, knowing that she would get a stern talking-to. We couldn’t fool Mom. Whenever we found ourselves in the act of doing something we knew when shouldn’t be doing, our mom’s sense of hearing always seemed uncanny.

“Pray for me,” Tiffany said quietly, as she took a seat on my lap—causing me to let out a choked grunt of surprise. She buried her head into my shoulder. My arms traveled around her back, holding her in a light embrace so she wouldn’t fall off of me.  She looked up at me, then she tilted her head back to view my face better. “On second thought,” she said, with her hands touching the back of the couch—my head in between the middle of her reaching arms, “Don’t do that. I can’t even trust you to cover for me right. If you pray to those gods you’ve been seeing in those dreams of yours, I’d probably die faster.”

My eyes narrowed as I gave her a sardonic smile. “Do you prefer that or prefer having Mom and Dad kill you? Trying to merge yourself with me isn’t going to work,” I snarked, pondering whether I should push Tiffany off my lap.

“Tiffany!” Mother called, louder.

Tiffany cursed and rolled her eyes; she let go of me. As she stood up, I spoke.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I should have been back earlier.”

I glanced toward some of the kitchen windows. “Yeah. But something came up. Before the ‘rents came back.”

“What happened?”

I looked back at Tiffany who seemed intent on waiting for me to explain. Doing that would take a while and keeping her here would only make our mom angrier. Making things worse for both of us.

“Go talk to Mom. I’ll tell you later.”

Tiffany frowned but she didn’t complain. She turned away from me and made her way upstairs to our parent’s room to face the music. It sucked that she had to get yelled at, but at least she wasn’t grounded for another week. Missing two weeks of practice may have gotten her kicked off the soccer team. After dinner, I told her about Shekhinah’s abrupt appearance in our house. Tiffany was as freaked out about it as I was, but she also was averse to telling our mom and dad.  Shekhinah was a god who could level our house with the wave of a hand and she could appear in the middle of home whenever she felt like it. I wasn’t so sure about keeping that fact a secret from our parents. Nevertheless, the rest of our night was peaceful enough.

oOo

The next day at school was pretty normal. As normal as you could get at Franklin High, at least. Homeroom had just finished and I was the second to last person to leave class as I was late in packing up my books. Nathan Blackwood approached me, his visage careful and patient. We’d often walk to second-period together since we were in the same class. He was a good friend. Someone I enjoyed talking too when I had the chance.

Terra, who was unironically Nathan’s best friend, had left homeroom before us for some reason. Normally he would walk with us to Algebra II even though his second class was on the opposite side of the building. Terra could care less if he was late his Spanish class. I was pretty sure he liked it but his Spanish teacher, Ms. Lopez, had a soft spot for him—something that he was sure to take advantage of. I wondered why he didn’t walk with us today. Maybe Ms. Lopez actually threatened him with detention for once.

“Finished your Algebra II homework?” Nathan asked.

I gave him a warm smile before standing up, my backpack in hand. “Mm-hmm. Finally! Man, he gives way to much homework. What’s the point of learning all this stuff? Functions? Graphing linear equations? We’re not even gonna use this crap real life.”

“Just wait until we get into pre-cal.”

I leaned my head back in aggravation, over-exaggerating the motion a little. “Oh my gosh, don’t even talk to me about that. I don’t know if I’m gonna survive this.”

Nathan smirked. “Mr. Nelson does give a lot of homework.”

“Too much. And I still have to start working on that essay Ms. Frazzle gave us.”

Nathan and I continued to talk as we exited the classroom. We said goodbye to Ms. Frazzle, our English and homeroom teacher, who was standing by the door the way out. She was preoccupied with observing people as they passed through the hallway, making sure students didn’t violate the dress code, no doubt. Or maybe she was checking that her students came to class on time.  As we left Ms. Frazzle’s class, some of her second-period students trickled into the English classroom. It would be full within ten minutes or so.

“So…” Nathan said as we traversed through the crowded halls. “Have you seen Katherine around? I don’t think she was in first-period today.”

I inhaled deeply, stifling a sigh. “No, I don’t think she was.”

“Hmm. I thought I saw her earlier. Isn’t your locker close to her’s?”

A familiar undercurrent of irritation started to course through my veins, entering the center of my body. It made me feel like I was burning from the inside out. How long would he continue to bring up Katherine in our conversations? If Nathan cared about Katherine so much he could go find her by himself. He didn’t need me for that.

“I don’t really talk to her anymore. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know that,” Nathan said, his gaze cautious. “I don’t know why, though.”

“I just don’t. Don’t be annoying. You’re always so nosy.”

“My bad. I wanted to see her so I could find out if she’s available for tutoring today.”

I glanced at Nathan with renewed interest. “She’s a part of the tutoring center?”

“Nah. Way too skittish for that. You know how she is. Katherine isn’t a people person.”

I huffed. “Yeah,” I paused before facing Nathan’s direction. “I’m surprised she’s helping you.”

Nathan chuckled. “Yup, me too. I didn’t expect her to agree but I knew she was smart so I was like fuck it, what’s the harm in asking? It’s cool. I think she could use someone to talk to considering everything that’s been happening to her lately.” Nathan turned to me so he could analyze my reaction to his words.

That nasty feeling in my stomach returned and I looked away. “What class is she helping you with?”

“Physics.”

“Ugh. That sounds rough,” I said. “Wait. Do you have the new physics teacher?”

“Mr. Thompson? Yeah. He’s cool.”

“I heard he was pretty attractive,” I murmured to myself, causing Nathan to shake his head. “How’s that working out for you?”

“Honestly, I’m in way over my head. Without Katherine, I wouldn’t be able to survive in that class. I’d die. Like literally die. That’s how hard that shit is. She’s saving my life right now. ”

“Why did you take such a hard requirement?”

“Eh,” Nathan shrugged. “Wanted to do something I haven’t learned about before. Oh, that reminds me. I also wanted to invite Katherine to the AMCVG after school.”

“Ah, that?” I asked. The anime, manga, comic book, video game, and movie club. A small student-created organization that Nathan was a proud member of. I had learned from Nathan that the AMCVG would at least meet once a week to play games, watch anime, or discuss other various hobbies for us nerdy folk. It seemed intriguing enough. I never really had the time to join, being a part of the soccer team and all.

“Yes, that,” Nathan said giving me a smirk. “Do you actually wanna join now that you have been banished from fields of elite foot swinging warriors?”

I looked at Nathan like he had grown a second head. “No. Don’t do that. Please don’t. Christ, you’re such a dork.”

“Don’t hate, baby-girl,” he said, not caring in about my judgment in the least. “You know I’m irresistible.”

“Yeah—okay, super-fly,” I said while tapping him on the shoulder, feigning pity. Though he would sometimes act dorky, Nathan was always amusing when he attempted to make me laugh. “You know I can’t stay after school. My parents banned me and Tiff from all extracurriculars this week. Didn’t Terra tell you?”

“Yup,” Nathan said, not missing a beat. “It’s a real shame. You could have been one of us, you know. With us nerds, your true people.”

I snorted at that.

“You know that we are your true calling,” Nathan said. “When you’re done abusing people’s balls with your feet, realize that we will always welcome you with open arms. Or open legs if you prefer.”

I glared at him. It wasn’t a serious glare, but it wasn’t a light one either.

Nathan laughed. “Alright, I’ll stop.”

I sighed. “Thank you.”

“It really sucks though, you’d love it,” Nathan said. “Isn’t that why you’re taking Japanese—to read all that untranslated manga you look at?”

I hummed while thinking about the oral presentation I had to give in my Japanese II class. “I guess that was the original reason.”

Our talking died down. We walked in comfortable silence. Normally, having dead spaces in conversation with a boy I wasn’t super close to would make me anxious, but I felt relaxed around Nathan. He was cool like that. I waved in greeting to a couple of other classmates that walked by. We would arrive at our second class soon.

“You should talk to Katherine,” Nathan said at once. “You should see how she looks at you sometimes in English.”

Like I hadn’t noticed?

“Look. I’m not her friend. I don’t talk to her. Stop bringing it up.”

“What are you even worried about?” Nathan countered. “None of the other girls that hang around Ashley are in our English class.”

“Diana is,” I said, “but it’s not like she would tell on me.”

“Ms. Frazzle’s class is like a safe haven,” Nathan said.

“True. But even if everyone was in our English class, Ms. Frazzle wouldn’t let them get away with bullying Katherine.”

“Mm-hmm,” Nathan said. “So what’s the problem? Why don’t you want to talk to Katherine? I thought she was your best friend.”

“Best friend? That’s kinda stretching it.”

“To her you were.”

I closed my eyes with a frown. “Of course, I was,” I must have been the only girl she talked to. I looked away from Nathan’s brown eyes, feeling uneasy about his forcefulness. “I feel a little guilty about it.”

“About what? You don’t pick on her.”

“That’s not it. I cut her off so I wouldn’t have any problems with the rest of the girls,” I bit my lip. “I can’t face her now.”

“Honestly, I don’t think Ashley really cares if you talk to her or not. I’m sure Katherine would understand why you stopped talking to her if you explained yourself, how bad you feel about hurting her.”

“Hmm, yeah,” I said, giving Nathan a casual response. “But Ashley isn’t the person I’m worried about.”

“No. You’re worried about Rika.”

I shrugged, not saying anything else. Rika could be hard to deal with but I didn’t feel like talking to Nathan about her right now.

After a few more steps, we entered our large Algebra II classroom. Nathan and I talked a little bit more before taking our assigned seats. The classroom filled up within a few minutes; the class quieted down as Mr. Nelson walked to the board and asked for the previous night’s homework. I pulled out a binder from my bag and retrieved the homework assignment I had put the finishing touches on in homeroom before our teacher began his lesson. I also took out a spiral notebook and two mechanical pencils, readying myself for an extensive hour of notetaking. After thirty minutes or so of mindless copying from the board, I excused myself from class so I could go use the restroom. Only a few more minutes before lunch, but I was getting tired of working on math and I didn’t feel like holding it in anymore.

I walked to the restroom at the end of the hallway but before I made it halfway there, something caught my eye. I saw Terra on the stairway adjacent to the restroom, talking to a hooded figure—the person was wearing a dark full-body cloak. Huh. That was different. Noticing my approach, Terra nodded at his hooded acquaintance before leaving the step he was perched upon and turning the corner. The hooded figure went after him.

Hmm.

Instead of using the restroom I followed them. I wasn’t sure why Terra urged the hooded figure to follow him after he noticed me. Suspicious. Did he not think I’d pursue him? I made my way around the corner. I blinked. They were gone. The wide corridor was empty like they weren’t even there. Whatever Terra was up to, he didn’t want me knowing about it.

Well, I was going to find out about it now. I spent some time ambling around the empty corridors, looking any hint of Terra or the cloaked person he was talking to. I hoped that wouldn’t come across any teachers. They’d probably want to know why I was strolling around the school like I had nothing better to do instead of being in class.

Where could they have gone? I considered the some of the places around the school Terra liked to go when he wanted to hang out with people in secret. Ah. The rooftop. Students were forbidden being on the school roof but that wouldn’t stop Terra from bringing people up there when he felt like it. I remembered how Tiffany and I had chilled with him there toward the end of last year when most teachers started to become lax with attendance. When school was almost over and there was nothing to do in class. I was pretty sure Terra and Tiffany had used that place to mess around more times than that though. Terra was notorious for skipping classes he didn’t like and he’d sometimes he would bring Tiffany with him when he did.

I was moving fast, so it didn’t take me long to reach the third floor. I looked both ways in next hallway to make sure the coast was clear before making a quick stride to the final staircase. I was careful as I climbed the steps, feeling a bit nervous. If Terra had gone to the roof to get away from me, I wonder how he would react once he found out that I followed him. I opened the door at the end of the staircase with a gentle twist, the golden doorknob making the sound of a sharp click. A slight squeak caressed my ears as I pulled, opening the door wide. I paused for a moment as I looked at the emptiness of the school roof. This was just the front of the roof, what you could see from the doorway entrance; I needed to check the back area as well.

I trod the side of the roof entrance with care, sticking to the wall before glancing around the edge to view the other side of the rooftop. There they were—Terra and the mysterious hooded figure, who was standing right in front of him. There was a substantial height difference between the two of them. The hooded figure was huge. Much taller than Terra. Had to be over six feet.

Terra moved, snapping his head around to look my direction. I was fortunate; I was able to hide behind the wall before he saw me. I waited before resuming my previous position at the edge of doorway area. I peeked around the corner of the wall as the hooded figure started to talk.

“It’s been a while,” The hooded man said. His voice sounded gruff, almost feral.

“It has been,” Terra agreed.

Who in the world was Terra talking to? I covered my mouth with a hand to stop from crying out in shock as the cloaked man removed his hood with clawed and furred hands, revealing the face of a wolf.  The man was a werewolf! He had long wolf-like ears attached to the sides of his head and harsh blue eyes as dark as the ocean depths. Razor-sharp teeth extruding from his maw. His cool gray fur, striking.

“How long will it take you to complete your mission?” the werewolf growled.

“Oris, my man,” Terra said, calm like he was speaking to an old friend, “Relax.”

Oris grunted. “Relaxation is the only thing you’re good at. Should I tell Trinity that you’re slacking?”

Terra paused. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking—his back was turned to me and there was a considerable distance between me and the two of them.

“It’s unusual to see you out in the open like this, Oris,” Terra said, ignoring Oris’s previous question. “Not really befitting of an assassin.”

A what?

A low growl rumbled in Oris’s throat. “I won’t be out for long. I’m just here to give you a little kick in the ass.”

Terra made a sound of disapproval before folding his arms. “You gonna fight me? Here?”

“No. Just give you a warning. Get yourself in gear,” Oris commanded. “Kill Nathan Blackwood, or I’ll do it for you.”

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Awakening 1.6

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Caught 

“What happened to him?” I whispered, looking down at Kazuya—his eyes closed shut, my hands still gripping him shakily. Worried, I glanced at Tiffany. The expression on her face was oddly muted. Tiffany looked back at me blankly before glancing down at Kazuya’s unconscious body. She shook her head.

“I don’t know,” she said.

The tattoo on his back started to glow brighter as he thrashed about ferociously in obvious pain. Tiffany quickly sat next to me, trying to help me hold Kazuya down as he flailed about. She eventually pulled me away from him as I was nearly hit by one of his powerful tails—claiming it was dangerous to stay next to him and that I was insane for even wanting to in the first place.

I tried to shrug her off but she wasn’t having it. As I struggled to pry myself away from my sister’s grip, we didn’t notice Shekhinah approach us. Eventually, we did notice her and realizing that the warrior who had threatened our lives was still near us caused us to clam up. Tiffany and I stood up backed away from Kazuya as Shekhinah advanced, looking at his body on the ground with narrowed eyes.

“Back off,” Tiffany warned, standing in front of me, attempting to shield me from the Arcadian warrior. Shekhinah gave her a sharp glance, her eyes full of grief and anger before returning her gaze to Kazuya.

“He used too much power,” Shekhinah muttered, her voice bitter. “The sacred seal is killing him.”

Both Tiffany and I stared in silence as she knelt at Kazuya’s side. Feeling Tiffany’s grip loosening, I freed my wrist from her hand and approached Shekhinah ignoring my twin’s shocked protest.

“That seal… it’s responsible for the power he used before. How he was able to transform. Is that reason he’s dying?”

Shekhinah turned her head fixing me with a glare. “The Sacred Seal was given to The Valterian clan leaders by those were once Irregulars, the Old Gods.”

Old Gods? I thought. Kazuya had mentioned something about the Irregulars before. Were the Old Gods a particular group of them? A sect?

“Kazuya must have been given the seal by the leader of the Fox clan,” Shekhinah continued, not noticing me lost in thought. “It bestows the power of the Old Gods on the user but not without a tremendous price. It requires a considerable amount of spiritual energy to use and control and he is lacking it. As he is now, he will die from the strain.”

Tiffany frowned, looking at Shekhinah suspiciously. “Didn’t you poison him? You said you did with your spear.”

I was reminded of the battle that Kazuya and Shekhinah had earlier during the night; memories of Kazuya’s shoulder being pierced by a shining lance the color of blood materializing in my mind’s eye.

Shekhinah shook her head, answering Tiffany’s question. “It was said that the powers of the Old Gods could heal all things,” she glanced back at Kazuya. “With the amount of vapor he released in that form, I can believe it. I can’t sense my energy inside him, the seal was able to burn the poison out from within.”

Tiffany hummed to herself, glancing at me slightly before facing Shekhinah. “So I take it you don’t want to kill fox-boy anymore? Judging by the way you’re talking about him and explaining everything. I mean if you were going to you would’ve done it by now.”

Shekhinah gritted her teeth while looking downward, almost like she was hiding her face in shame. “I… I was tasked to bring Kazuya back,” Shekhinah said, spitting out Kazuya’s name in spite, “by any means possible. Dead or alive. I should’ve have killed him. I should kill him. For what he did to my subordinates. My warriors.” Shekhinah’s fists tightened. “My students…”

My eyes widened as a feeling akin to fear rose in my gut.

“But killing him won’t bring them back. An easy death is not sufficient enough for the pain he has caused.”

I bit the edge of my lip as I saw tears roll down Shekhinah’s cheeks. I felt pain in my chest. A dull but warm feeling. Even though Shekhinah was an enemy, seeing her in turmoil, overcome with emotion was almost unbearable. Her students had been killed by someone she presumably had a deep relationship with. I didn’t know—I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what she was feeling but I still felt the urge to comfort her, even though I couldn’t do anything.

“Well,” Tiffany said, pulling me out of my thoughts and feelings. “If you’re not gonna kill us or that lump of fur, what will you do? Can you stop him from dying?”

“The only thing I can do to possibly save him is to bring him to Arcadia as a prisoner, ” Shekhinah said. “But now, I’m hesitant to do so.”

“Why is that?” Tiffany asked.

Shekhinah ignored her, turning away from us and grabbed Kazuya’s arm getting ready to lift him from off the ground. Kazuya had become less volatile—his body had stopped twisting and turning wildly, his tails no longer swaying through the air like walloping branches.

“Wait,” I said suddenly. My sister gave me a questioning look. It wasn’t rational but I didn’t want Shekhinah to take Kazuya away. I had a bad feeling that if she did I wouldn’t see him ever again.

“What is it?” Shekhinah asked.

“Don’t take him.”

“You want me to save him, don’t you? Then I need to take him to Arcadia.”

I shook my head. “There has to be another way. We can call for an ambulance or, maybe SIGMA, they have medics that specialize in capes.”

Shekhinah scoffed at the notion. “This illness is beyond the power of simple humans and hallowed such as capes. It is divine in origin.”

I narrowed my eyes. “And hallowed aren’t? Kazuya told us about how halloweds really get their powers. They’re descendants of Valterians.”

Shekhinah frowned. Tiffany tapped me on the arm.

“Why are you so adamant about it?” she asked. “The longer you keep her here the worse he’s going to get. He looks like he’s gonna croak any second now.”

I hissed through my teeth. “They know about us. The both of them. Don’t you want to know why? If she takes him now we may never find out anything.”

I wanted, no, I needed to know what these strange visions I had meant.

Tiffany shook her head exasperated. “Mercy, you seriously think we’re hallowed?”

“Of course!” I said looking at dismayed that she didn’t feel the same way. “Don’t you? Why else would Kazuya have said what he did?”

Shekhinah glanced at me quietly—she paused for a moment before looking down at Kazuya’s body still lying peacefully on the grass. The sacred seal on his back had stopped glowing. Her mouth opened wide in shock when she had touched Kazuya again.

“He’s no longer burning from within,” she muttered.

Within moments, Kazuya body changed—transforming back into a fox.

“What happened?” I asked.

“It seems that Kazuya has a better fortune that I’d have thought.”

“Is he okay, somehow?”

“The sacred seal was reacting violently because of the lack of vapor in his body, however, his condition has stabilized. Kazuya is a natural born master at pulling and transmuting spiritual energy from the environment. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it unconsciously.”

Shekhinah grabbed the comatose Kazuya by the scruff, but before she could disappear with him I stepped forward.

“Wait a minute. You said he was fine now right?”

Shekhinah turned her head slightly, glancing at me with the corner of her eye. “It is my duty to complete my mission and bring him to Arcadia.”

Tiffany snorted, walking up to Shekhinah fearlessly. Tiffany took the small fox from Shekhinah’s arms while looking her in the eyes daring the Arcadian warrior to strike her.

“Tiffany!” I hissed. “Are you freaking crazy?”

Tiffany waved me off awkwardly with Kazuya in her arms. “She won’t do anything. She could have gotten rid of us anytime but she hasn’t. If she really wanted to take this guy wherever she would have grabbed him and been long gone. Instead, she’s busy entertaining our dumb questions. Isn’t that right Ms. Arcadian?”

My teeth clamped shut as my body felt wrought with anxiety. Did Tiffany have to be so antagonizing?

When Shekhinah didn’t respond, Tiffany continued. “You don’t want to take this little guy back to heaven do you?” she asked, dangling Kazuya by one of his tails. “Probably too good for him. Anyway, before you said you’re not sure about taking him and now you say it’s your duty. Which is it?”

“Tiff,” I muttered harshly in a desperate attempt to get her to stop talking. She was going to get us killed.

Shekhinah’s brow furrowed deeper. Her calm and cool demeanor replaced with an expression of anger and indignation. “You really are an insolent child.”

Shekhinah took a step toward us, causing us to quickly run the opposite direction. Tiffany and I dispersed through the dark neighborhood streets, Kazuya still in my sister’s arms. I didn’t know how long we ran but we moved together without looking back to see our pursuer. After few minutes we noticed Shekhinah wasn’t giving chase. Had we lost her? We waited a little while longer before heading back toward our home, stealthily passing by the neighborhood park that had been turned into a battlefield. Shekhinah was nowhere to be found. Instead around the perimeter were two SIGMA vans and a few cop cars. I noticed a couple of SIGMA agents inspecting the dead torn apart the body of the Arcadian warrior Aleph and the giant paw prints left behind by Kazuya’s large fox form.

Tiffany and I observed the group for a little while before moving on, sticking to the shadows of the houses close by so we wouldn’t be seen. Soon we found ourselves back on Easton Ave. Internally, a cool feeling of relief washed over me. Almost home.

We didn’t talk much the rest of the way, I was too busy replaying what happened during the night over and over again in my head. Tiffany looked at me with worry, picking up on my conflicted mood.

“Are you alright?” she asked. “What’s wrong Ems?”

“I’m fine.”

Tiffany had blown a gasket after hearing my reply, her worry quickly snapping to anger. “Fine? you’re Fine?

Tiffany shook her head exasperatedly while flailing her hands in utter disbelief. “So let’s see,” she said beginning to count with the fingers on one hand.” You get drunk at Tim’s party and pretty much lose it, nearly get raped by the douchebag, on top of that you run into a battle between freaking gods like an idiot and nearly get yourself killed. No, Mercy. You’re certainly not fine!”

I rolled my eyes at her overblown antics, annoyed at her still bringing up my ex-boyfriend. “What? You want me to talk about it? Is that it? What good will that do?”

“Better than trying to lock your emotions away and forget about it. You need to talk to someone.”

I shook head. “I know that Tiff. I just—I don’t know what to feel about it right now. Any of it. I mean…” I gently took Kazuya from her arms and pet the sleeping fox, smoothing the fur behind his ears. “All this is so much to take in. I need time.”

Tiffany sniffed with the hint of a smile on her face as she looked forward at the street ahead. “Well, when you want to talk about it I’m ready to listen.”

“Thank you,” I said smiling back, before glancing at Kazuya resting peacefully in my arms. “Hopefully, once this guy wakes up, we can figure out what’s going on.”

Tiffany glanced at me thoughtfully. “So who was the person the both of you talked about earlier, Nature—was it?”

I nodded. “One of the Elder Gods, apparently she’s responsible for creating our world. The whole universe, basically.”

Tiffany tilted her head slightly. “And you saw her.”

“Yeah, after I nearly got cut in half. We talked about a couple of things.”

“Oh yeah? What about?”

I looked at my twin sister carefully, considering what Nature had told me. “She said bad stuff may happen soon and I need to protect you.”

Tiffany laughed almost doubling over. She looked up wiping the tears of amusement from her eyes. “If anything, I’ll be the one protecting you.”

I snorted but smiled all the same.

“That place, the first realm was really amazing,”

“Yeah?”

“Mm-hmm. Fields full of an endless amount of trees that went on forever and they were these huge blades of fire surrounding the edges of everything, close to the horizon. Nature said something about a Tree of Life, but I don’t think I saw it.”

“Tree of Life? Sounds like a real Garden of Eden.”

“Mm-hmm. She mentioned two other gods helped her make everything.”

Tiffany hummed quietly in acknowledgment. We walked in silence for a moment.

“What kinds of gods are they really?” Tiffany mused. “If they’re all powerful and needed us for something important why did they let you get hurt? They didn’t help at all.”

I shrugged. “Maybe because Kazuya was here. I don’t think Nature would have personally asked me to do anything if I was going to die. She said that he’d explain everything to us. Like if we’re hallowed or not. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kazuya knew her personally, based on his reaction when I dropped her name. “

Tiffany gave me a pensive look. “How do you know whatever you saw wasn’t a dream or something?”

I frowned at her. “Even if it was does that make it any less real? But I don’t think Kazuya would have responded the way he did if it was just a dream. Considering all the crazy stuff that happened to us today, it wouldn’t be wise to doubt.”

Tiffany hummed grudgingly. “You’re right, this is a lot to take in. After fox-boy crash landed in front of us I’ve been asking myself ‘is this really happening’ all night. I still feel like I’m dreaming.”

“Yeah.”

“Still, I wonder why Nature wanted you to protect me when I spend most of the time looking after you.”

I gave her a mischievous smile. “Well, maybe cause you’re not doing a good job.”

Tiffany scoffed, pretending to be annoyed. “I do but it’s not my fault you go looking for trouble.”

I chuckled. “Don’t worry, I won’t run in front of a sword swinging maniac again.”

Tiffany narrowed her eyes, looking at me doubtfully. “You better not.”

“You don’t trust me?” I asked in a whining pleading voice. “Your own twin sister?”

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Stop it.”

Within minutes we were home. We quickly scuffled across the backyard of our house, hoping to sneak inside quietly with our parents none the wiser. As we reached the cellar door next to the patio deck, I pulled the house keys from my pocket.

Tiffany held Kazuya while I opened the door.

“He still hasn’t woken up,” I said.

“We can worry about that after we get inside.”

We walked down the stairway after I closed the cellar door, my sister leading us through a small hallway that was connected to the main basement room. Turning on the lights as we entered, I looked around. Our basement actually was a pretty snazzy place. Dad had a bar installed a couple months back, kept full with various drinks to entertain guests. He even put a pool table next to it. A couple of our bean bag chairs were spread around the lounge area next some of two long sofas, close to the widescreen television.

I laid Kazuya on one of the couches before turning to my sister. “What should we do now?”

Tiffany shrugged while scrolling through a web browser on her cell phone. “I dunno. Maybe take him to the vet?”

“Tiffany, can you be serious for once?”

“Calm down, alright?” Tiffany looked at me, annoyed. “You’re too freaking loud. You’re gonna wake Mom and Dad,” My sister motioned toward Kazuya with a hand. “Anyway this guy is supposedly a god and he didn’t die yet so he probably won’t now.” She took another look at her phone. “He had a fever before. We can try putting a wet towel around his ears.”

“That’s what you’re looking up on the phone?”

“Yeah. I can only find what helps for sick dogs though.”

“Better than nothing,” I muttered.

I paused by the entrance of the stairway leading to the main floor before beckoning Tiffany to come with me to get water for Kazuya. My sister and I walked up the stairs, trying not to make too much noise, lest we wake up our parents.

“It’s kind of weird,” I whispered.

“What is?” my twin asked, her voice soft.

“I have this feeling of worry in my chest when I think about Kazuya. Not like I’m afraid of him or anything. It’s just—I really want him to be okay.”

The corners of Tiffany’s lips quirked up a little. “You’re worrying too much, about the wrong things. I don’t know why we even brought him back here. He’s dangerous and the people after him are dangerous too. There’s no telling what he’ll do when he wakes up. He’ll probably blow up our house.”

I shook my head. “Didn’t you feel it though? When he was about to get stabbed by that Arcadian?”

“Feel what?”

“I don’t know. Don’t you feel like he knows you somehow? That we know him? I just—I had this weird vision before I ran in front of him. It was like back when we really young, he was carrying us somewhere. He knows us. I’m sure of it.”

Tiffany frowned at my words as we had reached the kitchen. “But that doesn’t make any sense,” she said confused.

A familiar masculine voice cut through the air. “I agree.”

Tiffany and I froze like deer in headlights as our father flicked on the lights to the room, standing next to the hallway entrance that led to the bedroom staircase. Mother was right by him, her arms folded and looking just as disappointed. The fear of my parents’ wrath started to twist and tear through my stomach like a meat grinder.

“Where were the both of you?” Dad demanded.

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