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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Secrets 2.1

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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 Willow 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.”

Previous Next

Interlude I – Kazuya

Previous Next

Kazuya smirked with satisfaction, sailing across the night sky at speeds the human eye could barely register. His tails swam through the air as he jumped from the rooftop of one skyscraper to the next, his golden kimono driving back the vivid darkness. Kazuya took the time to appreciate the bustling nightlife along the city waterfront below before he looked toward the horizon.

No, Ravensworth wasn’t as beautiful nor as technologically or spiritually advanced as Paradise. This city was no golden capital of Dragonbornnia; it was no pride of Valteria. But it would do.

It was always nice to see how far humanity had come. With the help of Valterians acting behind the scenes, of course.

Compared to most cities in North America, Ravensworth was a hotbed for spiritually aware beings. Of the approximate one million and two hundred thousand people that lived in the city, at least a fourth of them could have been considered hallowed or had supernatural abilities.

All things had vapor. Sapient beings, animals, and even inorganic objects to an extent. To Valterians, vapor was the life-force that powers and was self-generated by the soul or the consciousness of a being. It was as vital to the spirit as blood was to a physical organism.

Sensing the amount of vapor in the atmosphere that was unconsciously given off by Ravensworth’s residents, Kazuya felt that the SIGMA assessment was accurate: twenty-five percent of the city’s population were indeed hallowed. Unusual for most human cities in America, but Kazuya was confident in his sensory abilities. Most of the vapor signatures were fairly weak though. Kazuya surmised that probably only three percent of Ravensworth’s hallowed population had powers of any relevance.

Though hallowed made up nine to ten percent of the world’s population, for most big cities on average there were only two hallowed to every ten people. For rural areas eight hundred to every twenty thousand.

Not to mention that influence of the Forum, a group of Valterians that controlled the Earth’s governments from the shadows was an ever-present part of the city—the cult’s tendrils covertly wrapping around the human secret societies, government organizations, and the various villain and hero groups throughout the world. It was difficult to escape a connection to one of their controlled fraternal orders. Practically every major town and city had been built on a secret edifice.

The actual members of the Forum didn’t travel together in large groups, making them hard to locate. Usually, no more than three would be found together in a public area. Four at the most. Kazuya hadn’t been able to sense any hidden Valterians all night, but that wasn’t surprising. Acting in the world in secrecy for millennia, they had mastered the art of repressing their vapor signatures, leaving the masses blind to events they had orchestrated throughout history. They always managed to cover their tracks well.

Being out in the open would attract attention from the Valterian and Arcadian rulership. Powerful beings attract powerful enemies after all. However, though he could not locate the Forum members residing in the city, there were two distinct, familiar Valterian signatures he was aware of—one that was practically blaring through the atmosphere to get his attention ever since he had landed on the planet.

Making another jump, Kazuya hit the side of a skyscraper on all fours. Sending spiritual energy to his hands and feet, he morphed his fingers and toes into sharp claws, using his vapor to stick to the glass surface. Within a second, he scurried across the glass building, launching himself upward. As Kazuya flung himself over the top of the structure, he let gravity pull him toward the ground. His feet gracefully hit the edge of the building with a tap as he stood up straight, completely balanced.

Looking at the lively city below, thoughts of recent events and his current predicament rolled over in his mind. Mercy and Tiffany—even if the latter twin wouldn’t admit it—would probably be worried when they would wake to find him gone the next day, thinking he had left them to fend for themselves with their questions unanswered.

He would be back to check on them; however, it had been a rough few weeks, and he needed time away from the pestering girls that put him in that disparaging living situation. He needed time away from everyone. He needed time to himself.

Time to think, to get his thoughts and feelings sorted out. Kazuya glanced at his shoulder before rolling it twice. It looked as good as new, completely healed after his use of the Sacred Seal; yet, the phantom pain from being struck by Shekhinah’s ruby-shaded lance still lingered.

Exhaling silently, Kazuya leaped from the roof of the skyscraper, once more descending into the night. He had a meeting, someone was waiting for him, and it wouldn’t be good to be late. Getting a better sense of the subdued Valterian energy signature from below, he headed toward Ravensworth’s nightlife scene.

Finding himself deep inside the Downtown area, Kazuya approached the rooftop of a small pub that was almost hidden between the various restaurants, bars and, shops in the area. Kazuya consciously made an effort to lower his vapor as he landed in a dark alley across from the bar, not wanting to draw attention to himself. Using his ability to shapeshift, he absorbed his white tails into his body and slightly shortened his hair. He then morphed his clothing into something more casual, his kimono and sandals changing into a simple dress shirt with pants and well-polished shoes.

No need to change his face: it wasn’t like anyone here would recognize him. Before entering the bar, he looked up at the sign on top of the building. The sign above the bar read The Minister’s Hall. He had been told of this place earlier by the contact he was going to meet.

It was a truce zone of sorts, an establishment that openly welcomed halloweds. Villains would often meet here in costume to discuss future plans and even heroes were seen here occasionally. Most of the time the government-sponsored heroes came around, however, was to mediate talks between the villain groups or help facilitate negotiations between the heroes and villains.

It was a good place to find information on capes if you knew who to talk to. It wasn’t as lavish as he would quite prefer, but it was clean, nice, and comfortable. The wooden floors gave a homey feeling, the bar itself neat and polished. There weren’t any windows toward the back, but the yellow lights gave off a nice, even glow that was dim enough and perfect for the pub atmosphere.

Instead of sitting at the bar, Kazuya looked at the tables on the other side of the pub, his eyes leading him to the source of the spiritual energy he was following. Looking back at him was a man sitting at one of the tables, wearing a blue overcoat and a fedora. Kazuya’s lips quirked upward with recognition. The person he was to meet was none other than Philo, the friend that had come to his aid when rescuing Mercy and Tiffany’s true parents; Philo was Valterian god of science and mystery.

Kazuya approached Philo calmly, internally feeling a bit of anticipation. He looked forward to telling his friend all that had gone on since they had narrowly escaped Corinath’s wrath.

At that time, Corinath and the other Lords of the Twelve Celestial Kingdoms were outraged that one of their own would break the ancient laws against mating with those they considered heathens. His friends, Malachi and Sibyl, were slated for execution, the Arcadian military sent after them along with Corinath himself, presumably enraged that his son would betray him. Malachi and his wife were real parents of the twin Valterian-Arcadian hybrid children, not the two useless agents SIGMA had running about.

He chuckled internally at the thought. The reaction the girls would have after being released from the induced amnesia given to them for the last ten years would be glorious.

Kazuya sat across from Philo quietly and beckoned a waitress with a hand to come to serve the table. As the twenty-something looking girl nervously took Kazuya’s order—taken in by Kazuya’s natural charisma and alluring smile no doubt—he looked around slowly, enjoying the ambiance.

Kazuya noticed that there two hallowed on opposite ends of the pub, neither in costume. They looked ordinary enough, like regular humans. Perhaps they wanted to stay low key? They could blend in easily with the other patrons none the wiser. It made sense. Not all hallowed wanted to be capes. Some people just wanted to have a normal life.

After the young lady hand returned with the drinks Kazuya ordered, he looked at it with a dissatisfied sniff. The alcohol that humans served now was so much weaker than that of what was given centuries ago.

Philo didn’t say anything, his glowing blue eyes drifting as he observed Kazuya. Kazuya said nothing either, his own eyes tracing over Philo’s metal-encased face. The two remained in silence for a few moments longer, before Philo reached inside his coat. Kazuya stiffened, but all Philo did was begin to speak.

“You took your time,” he said, his voice low. “This place will close soon.”

Kazuya smiled. “I was distracted by the city nightlife.”

Philo scoffed. “I don’t like to have my time wasted, Kazuya.”

Kazuya leaned back in his chair, unbothered by Philo’s irritation. “You should learn to relax a bit, Philo. Instead of being cooped up in that lair of yours. Getting some light every now and then is good for you.”

Philo snorted, pointing upward toward the ceiling lights with a finger. “You call that light? My lab is ten times brighter than this.”

Kazuya shrugged, amused by his friend’s trivial complaints. “You forget the atmosphere we are in.”

Philo waved a hand in dismissal. “I never really liked taverns.”

“No? You were the one that suggested we meet here.”

“Because we could talk here undisturbed, and it was an easy place for you to find. ”

“Sure, sure.”

Philo glared at Kazuya for a moment. “Why did you want to meet in public so soon after that Arcadia fiasco? You know it’s better for us to stick to the shadows at this time. I’m almost surprised you’re still alive, considering the injuries you had.”

Kazuya chuckled.

To save the parents of the Mercy and Tiffany, Kazuya had left Valteria alone, not willing to wait for help from his people who were still disgruntled by the actions he had taken earlier that day; his fight with the ex-Valterian king. As he had arrived in at the Arcadian capital of Serenus, he had caused destruction tenfold, drawing the attention of the Arcadian military away from Malachi and Sibyl.

Though he had been a bit careless with his execution, rashly killing innocent Arcadians, in his opinion the Arcadian response had been a bit much. Though the Arcadian military had mounted a counterattack, Kazuya had been able to escape and find the forbidden pair hiding in the forgotten lands of Asterralith.

Corinath had been hot on their heels—chasing them down to the ends of the heavens. Exhausted, Kazuya had fought with his all to allow Sibyl and Malachi to escape with, Philo, and Jun, his own mate. Kazuya had gotten away soon after, managing to slip through Corinath’s fingers. He’d ended up being chased to Earth by Shekhinah and her fellow warriors.

Kazuya huffed softly. “It would take more than Shekhinah and her students to kill me.” Kazuya raised his hands, openly. “As you can see, I have fully healed. I used the Sacred Seal.”

Philo observed him quietly, not impressed by his theatrics. “You’ve healed physically at least. You’ve gotten better with your control of it.”

“Oh?”

“You held yourself from killing your little courtesan.”

Kazuya gave a laugh. Philo must have been referring to how he had kept himself from eating Shekhinah. To Kazuya, the brief forbidden relationship that he had with his Arcadian mistress had drawn interesting parallels to the relationship between Malachi and Sibyl. Luckily, for Shekhinah’s sake, he had been discreet; for the most part, Kazuya had only met with her on sparsely populated terrestrial lands. Away from the Arcadian military’s prying eyes.

Kazuya assumed Shekhinah must have jumped at the chance to chase after him when he had invaded Arcadia, considering how their tryst had ended. He smirked as he recalled the reaction Shekhinah had had when she had realized before their break up that he had used her to steal back a family heirloom of the Kairanna kingdom, an item that had originally belonged to the Valterian Fox clan. The Staff of Inari.

“You were there then?” Kazuya asked, alluding to the last fight with Shekhinah. “Standing by when I could have been in my final moments?”

Philo paused. It was hard for Kazuya to tell what exactly Philo was thinking with that expressionless metal mask on his face. He could feel an undercurrent of amusement in Philo’s vapor though.

“I knew you would survive,” Philo said at last.

“Is that because you knew I would use the Seal even though I hate it? Or was it those children?”

“I was too far away,” Philo replied. “I would have sent Jun to your aid if things were dire enough, but after Mercy had gotten hurt, I wanted to see how things would play out.”

Kazuya tilted his head, giving Philo a pensive look. “You were able to tell she had been contacted by Nature in that moment?”

“Of course, who do you take me for, young fox?”

Kazuya laughed at that. “Everything is young compared to your ancient self, old man.”

Philo ignored his barb. “Still back to what I said before. You should know better. Being out in the open while weakened is not like you.” He raised a hand to silence Kazuya before he could interject. “Yes, you have alleviated the wounds of the body but not the wounds of the spirit. You cannot afford to be careless with the type of enemies you have. You know this.”

“Careless? Never that,” Kazuya said with a slight smile. His smile dimmed as he sat up, facing his friend properly. “To be honest, I wanted to know if you were okay,” Kazuya said in a voiced laced with faux-concern. “After we nearly lost our lives and all.”

Philo stared at him. Clearly, he didn’t appreciate Kazuya’s sarcasm.

“Very well,” Kazuya said. “You already know why I’m here since you know everything. Why ask?”

Philo turned his body away from the table looking toward the bar. “I’m not quite sure…”

“The apple,” Kazuya said, looking at the hand Philo still had in his coat pocket. “Did you bring it?”

“You didn’t ask for it,” Philo rasped. “Luckily, I am not you, and I actually remember important things. I have it. I knew what you were planning to do with this ever since we had taken four of the forgotten six to Earth.”

Kazuya smiled, pleased that Philo had come through like always. “It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since we had saved those children from the fallout of the Bloodstained Festival.”

“Yes,” Philo agreed. “Time passes quickly for us that never die.” He pulled an apple out from his coat and gently held it out. Kazuya snapped it up from his hands before storing it with his powers, placing it through a golden portal.

He could have taken the time to carefully examine the fruit, but he trusted Philo. After all, he’d stolen it himself originally, right from under the Elder Gods: an apple from the Tree of Life, a fruit of tremendous power. It held the key to life; it was something that could return Mercy and Tiffany to their former glory.

“Soon,” Kazuya mused, looking off into the distance, “with the way things are going, those girls may need their powers, their divinity. Their memories back.”

“It’s not as easy as you say,” Philo said. “It’s possible that they might perish from consuming it now.”

Kazuya frowned, but before he could reply, he felt a vapor energy enter the pub, energy so strong it threatened to knock him off his chair. It was the same Valterian signature he had felt broadcasting itself all over the city the entire night.

Kazuya did not fall off his chair, of course; he was way too practiced in vapor resistance to actually show that something like that was affecting him. But it still startled him how that ridiculous woman would let her energy run free like that. She would draw all types of attention. Attention they didn’t need.

Kazuya shook his head. She felt no need for subtlety or to stay hidden. Just like her old master, Decimatus. Kazuya glanced at her as she moved deeper into the bar. The woman wore a pale brown fur coat with moss green dress and dark brown scarf. Not bad. It was moderate compared to Kazuya’s extravagant style but it complemented her well. She made eye contact with him as she approached their table, putting on her usual facade of a vivacious personality. She greeted the both of them with her cheery voice, her eyes wide and her lips drawn back in a smile.

“Kazuya! Philo! It has been too long,” she said, giving them both hugs while ignoring Philo’s protests. She glanced at Kazuya, the light in her amber eyes dancing. “So how are the wife and kids?”

Kazuya rolled his eyes. “For the hundredth time, Venus, Jun isn’t my wife. She’s just a mate.”

“Still frolicking through the realms with that Arcadian whore I see. I’m not surprised. Sometimes you make the most idiotic decisions. Challenging Decimatus to a losing battle and then running off after you were beaten black and blue to fight Corinath, to save a pair of fools? Really?”

Kazuya narrowed his eyes and frowned at her. The painful memory etched itself in his mind; the long grueling duel he had had with Abratikhu-Decimatus Dragonborne, the great Valterian dragon god.

He had challenged Decimatus to a fight, one that ex-Valterian king accepted. Perhaps that was a little foolish. For a moment, Kazuya replayed the events of the conversation he had had with the ex-king in his head. Decimatus had been in attendance of a feast held in his honor and hosted by Arden, his daughter and the new king of Valteria. Kazuya had caught up with him during the party, and midway through had challenged him to a fight in jest.

Decimatus, of course—damn his soul—took Kazuya’s gibe as a serious affront to his honor and combat prowess, demanding that they have a battle right outside of the castle dining hall. Kazuya, bored and looking for excitement at the time went through it, knowing Decimatus was one of the only beings in existence that could push him past his limits.

Though he had lost, Kazuya’s decision to actually fight Decimatus instead of giving an apology didn’t go over well with most of the Valterians present—including one of his most precious students, King Arden.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst of it. Soon after his fight with Decimatus, an aide had come to his side to give him a message: Sibyl and Malachi had been discovered together on Arcadia by Corinath. Though Kazuya had been tired from the battle with Decimatus, he’d known that he needed to go to Arcadia to save his old friends immediately.

“I won’t even dignify that statement with a response,” Kazuya said to her at last.

Venus went on, her gaze sharp. “I am serious, not making fun. What gave Malachi the gall to think that he could meet with Sibyl right under Corinath’s nose?”

Kazuya shook his head and sighed. He hadn’t pegged Malachi as the impulsive type, but Kazuya knew that he could be very impatient at times. It didn’t help that Malachi had the habit of thinking with his heart instead of his head.

“I will concede to you on that point. Regardless, Tamamo and Ninigi were fine when I saw them last.”

“Ninigi!” Venus exclaimed. “Where is that bastard? He always promises to spend time with me and never shows.”

Kazuya narrowed his eyes. Calling his son a bastard right to his face? The audacity of this woman. “My son and I haven’t talked since he had left his own family a few years ago. I’m not sure what that boy is up to now.”

“And Tamamo?”

“She resides in Paradise currently.”

“Oh? Still waiting for you to bring back Inari’s staff?”

“You know of that?” Kazuya asked with a slight smile. His young daughter would be pleased to finally get ahold of the staff of her grandfather as it was something Kazuya had promised to her long ago. Jun’s father, Inari Ōkami, had lost it a battle with Corinath about twenty thousand years ago, right before Corinath had become ruler of all of Arcadia in a skirmish between the Fox clan and Arcadian forces. Inari Ōkami was forever crippled from that battle, leaving Corinath victorious. But miraculously, the crafty fox survived.

“I know of a lot of things, Kazu,” Venus said while she ran her gloved hands through her long, orange-brown hair, fixing the sunglasses that were on top of her head. “Well, I see that unlike her older brother she’s still of sound mind. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Ninigi’s probably messing around in the Animal Kingdom again. He mentioned something about training there to get stronger last time I talked to him.” She glanced at Philo quizzically. “What is it with boys and their training?”

So Ninigi had disappeared to that no man’s land? Interesting. Kazuya filled that information in the back of his mind for later as he continued to listen to Venus’ complaints about how the Animal Kingdom shouldn’t even be considered to be part of the Nine Great Lands; she disliked the fact that it was a major territory in Valteria.

“You know, I don’t remember inviting you to this meeting, my dear,” Kazuya said.

“Ah,” Venus exhaled in an exaggerated fashion, placing an arm on Kazuya shoulder and giving him an open smile. “I couldn’t help myself after noticing that my brethren I haven’t seen in so long have arrived here in my city,” she paused. “You know how hard it is dealing with these humans. If you stay here alone in this god-forsaken place long enough, you’ll go crazy.”

Kazuya eyed her, his head tilted a little. He favored her with a smile. Her city was it? This girl was too much.

“How is it your city when you haven’t officially done anything to claim it?”

“Oh Kazu,” she coddled. “I play the long game, you understand?”

“Why are you really here?” Philo asked.

“Something you had caught my eye. What you had given to Kazuya. An apple of life.” Venus put a hand on Philo’s shoulder, moving her face close to his silver one, causing him to flinch away. “How did you get it?”

If Philo had any less control, he would have probably dipped his head into his palms right there. “Is this your way of mocking me? Kazuya is the one that took it. Even I don’t know how he had managed that.”

Venus snickered. “Yes, that I do know. It seems you’re not as smart as you think you are, Philo. That’s something you need to work on. Your pride in your knowledge will only get you so far, you know.”

“Is that the only reason you’re here?” Philo asked. “For the apple? Or perhaps you’re spying for the Forum?”

Venus expression turned sour, her face losing its liveliness. She let go of Philo and glared at him. “As if I would associate with those Luciferian mongrels.”

“Really?” Philo asked. “Considering your ultimate goal, the fact that you aren’t working for them is a surprise.”

Venus fixed him with a glare that could freeze the sun. “I told you. You’re not as smart as you think you are. Don’t presume to know me.”

Kazuya regarded the Valterian god of corruption as she fiddled with her golden necklace; she was busy having a staredown contest with Philo. For a second, he looked at the pendant running through her figures. The gem in the center filled with energy and corruption, like a ball of fire and molten rock. Venus looked toward him, drawing his gaze.

“Now to get what I really wanted to speak on. Kazuya, you have an Arcadian problem, and it’s only going to get worse. We all know Corinath won’t be satisfied with the current turn of events.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying that I would like to offer my help.”

Philo stiffened, giving Venus a skeptical look. Kazuya, though not worried, felt a little suspicious.

“Why would you go out of your way to help us and fight a battle that isn’t yours?”

Venus gave him a slight grin. It was the most genuine smile she had given him all night. “Because I have a vested interest in the six children you rescued in Avalon. Especially the two hybrids.

Previous Next

Awakening 1.7

Previous Next

R.I.P.

“Well?” Dad repeated, his gaze sharp. “Where were you?”

Tiffany opened her mouth to speak, stuttering over her her words. I decided it would be better to tell the truth than try to make something up. There was no way we were getting out of this.

I stepped forward. “Timothy was throwing a party after the game and we wanted to go.” Seeing Dad not pleased with my answer, I weakly added. “Everyone else was there.”

Dad shook his head, hand going through his brown hair. “The both of you snuck out in the middle of the night without telling anybody where you were going. What if something had happened to you?”

I glanced down, unwilling to look my dad in the eyes. Shame and guilt burned in my stomach.

“Sorry,” Tiffany and I said in unison.

Mother stood up straight from the wall she was leaning on, narrowing her piercing blue eyes a bit to get a better look at me and my sister. Her mouth dropped as she noticed the torn rags I was wearing as a pitiful excuse for clothing.

“What happened to you guys?” Mom asked with a stern voice of concern, noting the condition of our dirty clothes. “Mercy, why is your shirt torn?”

On reflex, I covered myself, turning around and cowering from my parents gaze. Not knowing what to say, I clammed up.

“Mercy, what happened?”

“Did someone hurt you?” Dad asked.

Internally, I felt annoyed as Mom and Dad kept pressuring me to answer. I didn’t feel like talking but they would keep going until they found out the truth or were satisfied with what I said.

“Mercy!” Mom demanded.

“She had been drinking,” Tiffany said. “We all were. Things kinda went bad and she got into a fight with another girl.”

I glanced at her slightly. Would they buy Tiffany’s lie?

Dad shook his head while Mom sighed, rubbing her temple with two fingers.

“Goodness,” Mom muttered. “A fight! Jesus, Mercy, are you hurt?”

I shook my head. “I’m fine. I don’t want to talk about it.”

My mind went back to the memory of Tim pretty much forcing himself on me while I was too out of it to defend myself. Even after the near-death experiences and close calls we had after the party, my ex-boyfriend’s actions still bothered me more.

“I know how you both are getting older and want a bit of freedom but you’re still teenagers that live under this roof. You could have at least told us before you went to the game that you wanted to go to a party. You know better.”

“It’s not like you would let us go anyway,” Tiffany said, bitterly.

“We would have considered it,” Dad said. “But staying at a boy’s house party until two o’clock in the morning? No, we wouldn’t have let you go.”

Dad paused. “His parents weren’t home, were they?”

Tiffany and I shook our heads. Dad looked disappointed but not surprised.

“Jennifer said they’d be out of town for the weekend,” Mom offered, talking about Timothy’s mom.

“I’m going to have a talk with them when they get back,” Dad said. ” They have that kid running the whole house.”

I almost flinched at that. He wouldn’t say it but Dad was never really fond of my ex, especially after we had started dating. Tiffany dating the effeminate looking Terra threw him for a loop too, but I think he liked Terra more.

“You both are grounded for the week,” Dad said definitively. “No cell phones and no internet. I’ll let you have phones at school in case you need to call someone, but that’s it. After school, you come straight home. No extracurriculars, no hanging around. No nothing. Come home, do your homework and study. Tell coach you’re grounded and why you can’t practice.”

I frowned inwardly. Coach Stephen wouldn’t be happy, to say the least. No soccer practice meant that Tiffany and I would probably sit on the bench for a couple of games, having to earn our playing time back. I felt heated with anger while still knowing it was my fault.

Dad turned away from us heading back upstairs. “We’ll talk more about this tomorrow.”

Before Mom turned to follow, her stern gaze had softened. “You girls go get some rest. And Mercy, make sure you throw that shirt out.”

I softly acknowledged Mother before turning to look at Tiffany. Her eyes met mine.

“Well, that could have been a lot worse,” she said.

I agreed, relieved we weren’t grounded for a month. Tiffany and I made our way to our rooms, heading to bed.

oOo

I woke up in a cold sweat, having vivid nightmares about what had happened the night before. I remembered the faces of the Arcadians that were killed by Kazuya, how they yelled as they saw their teammates fall. How easily they had been torn apart. Thinking about it made my stomach curl. I exhaled briefly, before sitting up and pulling the covers off of my legs.

“Did all that really happen?” I muttered to myself.

I still couldn’t believe it. But it was most certainly real; pulling up my shirt I could see the faint outlines on my body that were left by Tartys’ twin blades. The scars had faded with the help of Kazuya’s healing, but they still felt a little tender as my fingers traced the lines on my skin.

I paused.

For a moment I wondered what Tiffany and I would do this weekend considering the fact that we couldn’t leave the house. Getting up, I went to the bathroom in the hallway, adjacent to my room. After brushing my teeth, I went downstairs to find Mom sitting at the kitchen table.

“Good morning,” I said, stifling a yawn.

“Good morning, dear,” she said pleasantly, her sandy blonde hair glowing from the sunlight coming through the kitchen window. “Breakfast is ready if you want to eat.”

I took a glance at the covered pots and pans on the kitchen counter full of warm food. My mouth started to water. I felt like I hadn’t eaten in days. Must have been the stress from last night. I fixed a plate and sat down at the table next to my mom.

As I dug in, I noticed Tiffany was nowhere to be seen. “Where’s sis?”

“She’s been in the basement since earlier morning. I don’t know what she’s doing in there.”

The image of Kazuya is his small fox form came to me. Even though he seemed relatively harmless like that, the thought of Tiffany alone with him made me feel nervous.

“She hasn’t come upstairs?”

“I tried telling her breakfast was ready, but she said she wasn’t hungry.”

“Mm.”

Considering my sister’s actions, Kazuya must have woken up. Surprisingly, the house wasn’t torn down. Maybe having him here wouldn’t be so bad after all. Still eating I looked up from my plate.

“Where’s Dad? I didn’t see him upstairs.”

“Your dad went to Timothy’s place. Tiffany told him you had left your phone there last night. He’s going to pick it up for you.”

Well, at least Tiffany and I didn’t need to go over there again. I wondered how the meeting between Timothy and my father would go. He’d probably be terrified that a parent came over to check up on him, without warning. I didn’t really matter though. It’s not like Dad wouldn’t talk to his parents about the house party he threw in their absence. He would be in trouble no matter what.

The edges of my lips quirked up as I thought about how pleased Tiffany would be that he would get scolded twice. Seeing my face, Mom asked what was amusing me, but I told her it was nothing important.

Finishing my meal, I got up from the table and put my plate in the sink before I prepared to clean the rest of the kitchen. After I finished washing dishes, I walked downstairs to the basement finding Tiffany watching TV while sitting next to Kazuya, who had changed to his human form.

I was actually shocked, noticing he had on clothes for once. His long white hair was neater than before, refined as if he had spent hours going through it with a long comb and brush. Kazuya wore golden robes adorned with golden disks. A beautiful kimono with a brown hakama. He seemed… more dignified than before.

“Mercy,” He greeted with a smile. “How kind of you to join us.”

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Hey, Ems.”

“I’m surprised you’re awake,” I said to Kazuya.

“Of course. Were you hoping that I die?”

My eyes widened. “What? I—no! I wasn’t sure if you were okay or not, after everything that happened last night. Are you alright?”

“Knock it off,” Tiffany said, rounding on Kazuya. “Mercy was concerned for you the most. If it were up to me, I’ve gotten that Arcadian woman to take you so you’d be out of our hair.”

Kazuya chuckled. “But then you’d be in trouble when the Twelve Celestial Kingdoms sent more warriors to come after you and finish the job.”

Tiffany made a sound of disapproval. “Fair enough.”

“So, are you okay?” I asked.

Kazuya leaned back on the sofa and put his arm on the top of the backrest, near Tiffany. Tiffany glared at Kazuya, miffed about how he unabashedly invaded her space—but he paid her no mind.

“It will be a while before I reach my full strength,” Kazuya said, after ragged breath. “It seems Triple Lotus Meditation sessions are in order.”

Tiffany frowned. “Say what now?”

“A rigorous meditation method, my dear. I must absorb and condense spirit matter from the environment before transmuting it into my own, allowing me to use it without relying on something as dangerous as magic. It should allow me to recover my spiritual energy faster.”

I looked at him thoughtfully. “How long will that take?”

“At most, a few weeks. The concentration of environmental vapor is lower here than that of the Realm of Heavens.”

Tiffany huffed while turning her head to look back at the TV. “Mercy, you’re not asking the most important question, which is where did he steal that ridiculous outfit from?”

I gave her a questioning look. “What?”

“Oh come on, Ems. He looks like a freaking cosplayer, dressed like one of those guys from those animes that you watch.”

I laughed at that. She wasn’t wrong, although Kazuya’s clothing looked more authentic than a cheap outfit some cosplayer put together. Kazuya shook his head with an amused look on his face.

“I’m aware that basking in the aura of my magnificence may cause you to start babbling nonsense, but I’d prefer it if you didn’t make fun of my clothing.”

Oh my god. Kazuya was so insufferable. I shook my head and giggled with mirth. “She’s not making fun of you, Kazuya. Tiff’s just saying you dress similar to something we saw before on a show.”

“Where did you even get those clothes from anyway?” Tiffany asked Kazuya before turning to me. “I swear he pulled those out of nowhere. He was butt-ass naked, I look away for one second and after I turn around, he was clothed the next.”

“I have recovered enough that I’m able to pull things from my dimensional storage chambers. They hold many things, such as a particular brand of outfits.”

“Dimensional storage?” Tiffany asked. She glanced at me. “Christ. How many powers does this guy have?”

I shrugged slightly. That’s what I wanted to know.

Before Kazuya could speak, we heard a knock on the basement door. I hesitated, holding my breath as Mom cracked the door open, looking down. Luckily, she couldn’t see Kazuya from upstairs since He and my sister were sitting on the sofa opposite of me—the seat against the wall next to the staircase.

“What are you girls so excited about down there?”

Crap. Did she hear us talking to Kazuya?

“We’re just watching a show on TV, Mom,” Tiffany called back. “Glavemore Girls.”

Mom chuckled. “Oh. I see. I won’t stop your fun then. Oh, by the way, your dad is back home. Mercy, he has your cell phone.”

“Tim gave it to him?”

“They had to go looking for it. The house was a mess. I still can’t believe that boy. Jennifer and Will are going to be in for a surprise.”

Mom left without coming downstairs, leaving us to our own devices. I let out a sigh of relief. “That was a close one.”

“Please. She wasn’t gonna come down here Ems.”

“I know. I thought she noticed he,” I pointed at Kazuya. “was down here at first, though.”

I looked at Kazuya for a moment, looking into his golden eyes. “So… what are you going to do now? Are you gonna stay with us?”

“Uh—not if that means more of those Arcadians are gonna show up and come after us,” Tiffany commented.

“If Shekhinah returns empty-handed, considering that I killed her subordinates, the Twelve Celestial Kingdoms will be hesitant to come after me again so soon, for fear of losing more warriors pointlessly. I’m not someone to trifle with at full strength and they know this.”

Tiffany hummed. I looked at Kazuya the slight fear I had when I first saw him rekindling in my chest. Even though he seemed to be on our side, I couldn’t forget how dangerous he was and his carefree attitude toward taking the life of another.

“The Arcadians won’t be a problem for some time,” Kazuya continued. “The Kairanna kingdom doesn’t like to look incompetent. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried something underhanded in secret. They tout about being a righteous and honest kingdom, but they are no different than the rest.”

“Kairanna?” He had used that word before.

Kazuya paused to look at me. “The name of one Twelve Celestial Kingdoms that govern Arcadia. Kairanna is said to be the most powerful and has the highest standing amongst the kingdoms. That is where Shekhinah and the group of warriors following her hail from.”

“Wow,” I said, thinking about what he told us. “So then, are you going to leave, if they try to find you?”

Kazuya glanced at me thoughtfully. “I’m considering it.”

I shook my head. “You should stay with us. At least until you’re better.”

Tiffany harrumphed. “Too bad we can’t keep outside in the backyard. We would be able to if we had a dog house or something,” she looked at Kazuya gleefully. “I always wanted a pet.”

“You’re like a dog yourself,” Kazuya remarked. “so it’s not really surprising.”

“Fuck you,” Tiffany growled, approaching Kazuya with a scowl as he looked on calmly.

I stepped in front of her, blocking the way. I gave her a look. Had she lost her mind? “Hey guys, stop it! No fighting.”

Kazuya looked at us, pleased with himself. Apparently, he was enjoying the fact that he could easily get underneath Tiffany’s skin.

Kazuya shifted a bit on the sofa to get more comfortable. He gave us a faint smile. “I wouldn’t mind staying here for some time after all.”

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “See what you did Ems? Now we have a big hairy freeloader stuck living in our basement.”

Kazuya glanced at her bemused. With the wave of a hand a golden portal had formed in the middle of the air. A small but fairly decorative goblet full of strong wine had slowly floated out of the portal and into his hand. Tiffany and I looked at him, shocked as he gracefully took a swig of the golden silver cup.

“Anything you could offer me I probably have tenfold,” Kazuya said, after letting out a sigh of relief. “Of the finest quality too.”

So that was his dimensional storage power in action… I wondered how many things he could hold. Maybe it was like an infinite hammerspace.

“I was going to offer you something to drink,” I said. “But I guess I don’t need to get you anything.”

“Ah, but I appreciate the thought, my child,” Kazuya said. He turned to Tiffany giving her a playful smile. “I see at least one of you knows how to be a gracious host.”

“Don’t make me come over there and slap you. I won’t let Ems hold me back this time.”

Kazuya ignored her threat. “It has been a while since I had tried food from this planet, however,” he nodded toward me. “Fetch me something good to sate my appetite, if you would.”

“Are you serious?” Tiffany asked distastefully with a frown. “Such a useless freeloader. At least have the decency to ask politely. Mercy, don’t bring him anything.”

Tiffany and Kazuya continued to go on and on, taunting each other and shooting out thinly veiled insults one after another. I shook my head at their continued bickering as I turned around to head upstairs and to bring Kazuya something to eat. I felt a little bothered by Kazuya ordering me around but Kazuya was probably doing that on purpose, having fun picking on my sister and me.

Getting to the top of the basement steps I closed the door, hoping our parents weren’t close enough to hear Tiffany cursing Kazuya out. I walked to the kitchen thinking about the weird visions I’d had been having about Kazuya and that dragon king. I chose not to burden Kazuya with questions since he had just woken up from nearly dying, he needed to rest. But who was he really? Why did I feel a deep connection with him and what was that place of seven moons? Or that place of golden cities surrounded by clear water as far as the eyes could see? I knew he could tell us.

I wanted answers and I would have them. Soon enough.

Previous Next

Awakening 1.6

Previous Next

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.

Previous Next

Awakening 1.5

Previous Next

Killin’ It

“I can’t believe I agreed with you to take him back to the house,” Tiffany said as I carried the little fox—Kazuya in my arms. We moved quickly and quietly, continuing to make our way through the silent street of Easton Avenue, hoping to make it home within the next few blocks.

“We’ve already decided on this,” I said, referring to her last statement. “So stop complaining and deal with it.”

Tiffany scrunched her face, giving me an exaggerated look of faux-irritation. “My god, how’s has it come to this? My naive little sister has become a slut willing to bring strange old men home!”

“Oh, shut up,” I said while rolling my eyes in annoyance. “And what do you mean little? We’re the same age.”

“I came out like a second earlier which makes me the older sister, Duh. It’s simple logic. You should know this stuff, Ems.”

Kazuya turned around in my arms, fixing his glaring slit pupils on Tiffany. “Would you children stop with the bickering, you’re giving me a headache.

I was startled a bit as Kazuya’s voice echoed through the top of my skull. His telepathy would take some getting used to. Tiffany, on the other hand, looked pleased that we were annoying the fox Valterian.

“Good,” she balked at him scornfully. “Now you know how we feel after getting dragged into your mess.”

I smiled despite myself, rubbing Kazuya behind the ears in an attempt to soothe him. Tiffany had a habit of getting under the skin of people, but she only teased people she liked. Kazuya growled at me a bit as my fingers traveled through his fur, causing me to stop with a flinch.

Tiffany started to complain again, reprimanding Kazuya for trying to bite me until I could get her to calm down. Both Kazuya and Tiffany eyed me carefully as I tried to sneak my hand around Kazuya’s neck, striving to pet the fur around his ears.

Tiffany warned me but Kazuya didn’t protest, instead, he closed his eyes—seemingly ignoring us. As we continued to walk through the quiet streets, I observed the environment around us. Different vehicles were parked near the side walked we traversed, all of them empty. We passed by various shops and storefronts at a hasty pace. Most were closed. It was pretty late.

Even with Kazuya by our side, I didn’t feel comfortable walking through the city at night. It was just me and Tiffany—the two of us unarmed girls with a weakened cape. Luckily, we were in the safer parts of Ravensworth—the upper residential area, usually devoid of the distinct criminal activity and cape action that plagued the lower part of the city. Even though the city seemed peaceful and ran smoothly during the day, the hallowed gangs that ran Ravensworth’s underworld would rise to the surface at night. Particularity around the lower end of the city—the shopping district, downtown, and the waterfront as well.

I was grateful we didn’t have to deal with that on the way back, but something—a slight feeling of fear was worming its way through my mind. After everything that happened earlier, was the craziness of this night over? I huffed. Only a few more blocks before we were home.

“I wonder what our parents would say if they found out what happened to us tonight,” I said.

“They’d be horrified,” Tiffany replied. “Probably start screaming at us for going to the party in the first place. We’d be grounded for months.”

I shuddered at the thought of Dad’s angry face and my Mother’s disappointment. “That would be bad.”

“You’re worried for no reason,” Tiffany said in an effort to comfort me. “We don’t have to tell them. Check your phone. They haven’t called or texted, right? They haven’t called mine.”

Taking a hand off of Kazuya, I felt around my jeans pocket for my cell phone. I could feel cold jagged edges of metal against my fingertips. After scrounging around, I realized objects in question were my house keys after hearing them jingle. My phone was nowhere to be found.

“Crap,” I blurted out. “Don’t have it. I must have left it at Timothy’s place,”

“Seriously?” my sister asked. “I don’t wanna go back to that asshole’s house again.”

I sighed, thinking about my ex-boyfriend. Remembering how he tried to take advantage of me earlier. “Me neither.”

“I can get Terra or someone else to go by and pick it up tomorrow.”

I tilted my head pensively in thought. “Tim might bring it to school.”

Tiffany glanced at me carefully. “You think he’s gonna bribe you with it or something? Don’t worry, Terra and I will be there with you if that’s the case. He wouldn’t be stupid enough to try anything.”

I shook my head. “Timothy isn’t like that. The both of us made bad choices tonight.”

Tiffany mouth opened in surprise, she tilted her head—looking at me like I said something crazy. “Mercy. Are you serious?” She touched my shoulder firmly. “He tried to have sex with you, without your consent. He was fully aware of what he was doing. I don’t buy that he was buzzed bullshit either.”

Kazuya opened an eyelid and looked at us in annoyance. “Well, it is my opinion that whatever you two are babbling about can wait until we get to a safe haven.”

Tiffany scowled at him. “Nobody asked you, fox-boy.”

Be quiet. I need to rest so I can regain my strength. It wouldn’t do for me to be in this weakened state if the Arcadians manage to find us, now would it?

I looked down at the bundle of fur in my arms. “You mentioned something about getting in a fight with the leader of Arcadia before. What exactly happened? That woman said you were wanted for acts of aggression or something.”

Kazuya’s irritated sniff vibrated through our heads. “I don’t think that’s any of your business, my dear.”

“Uh—yeah, I think it is. Considering how you landed right in front of us, dragged us into a dangerous situation, and threatened to kill us. Plus the fact that we’re taking you home?”

Kazuya snorted. Tiffany grabbed one of his tails and tugged hard, but not enough to hurt. “Ems is right. You owe us, answer up.”

Kazuya growled at her. “Insolent girl! Have you no fear? Remove your hand,” Kazuya spat in disgust. “That is your problem. Humans this era have no respect.

I took hold of Tiffany’s hand unclasping her grip. She removed her hand without any complaint. No need to further antagonize the dangerous fox I carried in my arms.

“Look, Mr. Kazuya, I understand if you don’t what to tell us everything,” I said. “But I think we at least deserve to know that much. I had visions with you in them. Before I tried to help you. I can’t shake the feeling that you know something about us.”

Kazuya looked at me quietly for a moment before he sighed. “Just call me by my name, normally,” he said. “I can tell you more about it later, but the Arcadians have always had a complicated relationship with Valterians, especially us of the Fox clan.”

“What do you mean?”

They were never big on letting Valterians travel the worlds of lesser third-dimensional beings unmolested.”

“Third-dimensional—what?” Tiffany asked.

Lesser beings?

I frowned slightly looking at Kazuya. “When you say lesser beings are you talking about humans?”

Kazuya nodded. “That and more,” he opened his eyelid again to look at our surprised faces.”Please. Don’t tell me you believe your the only sapient life in this universe? Why are you so surprised after what you witnessed tonight? Even now gods walk your planet and you don’t even know it.

“Gods?” I whispered.

Of course. Nexus, the Type-Eater and more.

Tiffany looked at him, shocked. “Wait, Type-Eater? You mean PTE? That thing is a Valterian?”

I paused for a moment, trying to think what my sister was talking about. My eyes widened slightly as I remembered who PTE was. A huge crystallized metallic creature that looked similar to a gigantic jellyfish, like an alluring eldritch abomination. It was nicknamed ‘The Jellyfish” by most people until the Special International Guarding Military Agency or SIGMA and the American government had renamed it to Primordial Type-Eater years later. It first appeared from space during the sixties and after a few resolving a few misunderstandings with Earth’s governments, it began traveling the world non-stop, randomly helping people during times of need or other calamities. Type-Eater was considered the first hero of the modern era.

Kazuya confirmed that PTE was a Valterian, from the same place as Nexus and himself. He claimed PTE was one of the first Valterians created in fact. Interestingly enough, I noticed that all the ‘gods’ in question all looked very different from one another. Nexus looked like a normal human, Kazuya had fox ears and nine tails, and PTE was something indescribable altogether. Perhaps the word Valterian was a classification of sorts, like a genus, that of multiple species.

“I still have so many questions,” I muttered. “Are the Valterians like a broad group of races under the same umbrella? You seem so different from one another, and when you called us third-dimensional beings… are you saying that you’re from a higher one?”

Kazuya harrumphed. “I told you, you would have your answers soon didn’t I?” He sighed in annoyance. “Great Elders, these children will be the end of me.

“I was—”

Yes, curious child,” Kazuya said cutting me off. “You are correct to a point. Valterians are distinct as a group, however, even though we may have ‘breeds’ we are not divided the same way humans or other species on this planet are. When everything began, the start of our race, we were spiritually created from the Elder Gods, unlike the Irregulars who were born from them biologically. As for your second question, I’m sure Nature spoke of the Seven Realms did she not?

I nodded. “She mentioned something about it. She told me we were in the Realm of Contraception when we talked.”

The first realm,” Kazuya acquiesced. “Here, the realm which you exist in now is the seventh, the Realm of Solids. It is full of first, second, and third-dimensional beings such as yourselves. You have a spirit but you need a physical body to exist and interact in this realm. Fourth-dimensional beings such as Valterians or Arcadians requires no such thing.

“You guys aren’t physical?” Tiffany asked.

Not in the way you may think. The more we solidify ourselves, the greater impact we can have on the physical world. Unfortunately, that can make it harder to control our abilities.”

“So, what realm do you Valterians come from then?” I asked.

The fourth. The Realm of Heavens, where the gods exist,” Kazuya said. “Where the great land of Valteria exists.”

I hummed. “I assume those Arcadians are from there too? Arcadia?”

Arcadia exists in the Realm of Heavens, yes. Separate of Valteria, as well as others.

Tiffany whistled in appreciation. “Seems like the afterlife is full of grandeur.”

Kazuya snorted at her proclamation. I absentmindedly smoothed his fur-coat, softly kneading it through my fingers. “It seems like Arcadians don’t really like Valterians that much. Considering what that woman said before.”

Kazuya chuckled, amused. “You’ll never be able to agree with Arcadians on anything. They envy us for being the first race created by the Elders since they will be forever second. The Arcadians feel that they are superior to us; They look down on us for mating with lower beings, feeling we should be punished by the Elder Gods.

“Lower beings?”

Yes,” Kazuya said in a charming voice, entertained by the fact that I found being called a lower being insulting. “Even the humans of this world. You didn’t think the hallowed gene came out of nowhere did you?

My mouth dropped. “But we were told—”

That it was due to evolution?” Kazuya let out a humorless laugh. “Humans weren’t originally designed to have powers. That is only possible because some of your race has Valterian ancestors.

Designed?

I glanced at Tiffany her eyes meeting mine, our gazes solemn. Could it be possible?

“Do we have Valterian ancestors?” I asked him.

Kazuya laughed again, refusing to answer.

“Drop him,” Tiffany demanded, tapping my shoulder. “If he won’t answer he can walk rest of the way.”

I shook my head. “We can probably get him to tell us, eventually.”

You’d have to make it worth my while,” Kazuya said.

Only a few more blocks from home, we cut through a neighborhood park. But, as soon as we stepped onto the thin grass of the park fields, Kazuya surprised me—jumping out of my arms landing on the ground with his four paws.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Soon after, for golden lights appeared from the shadows. The Arcadian warriors that were chasing us before revealed themselves. Aleph, Caphriel, the one who nearly killed me, Tartys, and leader of the group, Shekhinah. They walked toward us, majestically with weapons in hand—their golden armor mixed with silver shining radiantly in the night.

Kazuya instantly transformed to his humanoid form, growing in size as most of his fur coat shed to reveal human-like skin. He was still unclothed, but Tiffany and I really didn’t care at the moment. I could feel the fear erupt deep inside, twisting my stomach in knots. We had narrowly escaped the Arcadians before when Kazuya was still able to fight. Now, with Kazuya even weaker, we had no chance.

Shekhinah stepped forward; She flashed her pairs of wings and pointed her crimson lance at Kazuya. “You didn’t think you could escape, did you? I’d recognize your fox form anywhere.”

Kazuya sighed. “Of course you would, Shekah. I must say, you’ve really become an annoyance. You did never know how to give a man space.”

Shekhinah growled, her visor reforming under her helmet hiding her golden eyes from view. “Enough of your nonsensical stalling. You fall here!”

The Arcadian knights surrounded us as Kazuya moved ahead a few feet. Shekhinah approached Kazuya from the front, slowly walking toward him with her deadly lance in hand.

Kazuya gave her a confident smile. “You know me well Shekhinah, but there are things I haven’t even told you about.”

Shekhinah looked a little discontented by Kazuya’s claim but she continued to move forward, waiting for Kazuya to make a move. Kazuya turned his face a little to get a better look at us.

“You two should stand back,” he said. “If there is an opening, run, don’t look back.”

“Will you be alright?” I asked, fearing the worst.

“That’s not important. I will hold them off long enough for you to escape.”

Shekhinah huffed. “Still giving out empty promises, Kazuya?” she mocked. “You were hit by my lance. Your body is probably feeling the effects it’s poison now. You won’t be able to do anything.”

What? I looked at Kazuya, aghast. Was he poisoned this entire time?

“You know,” Kazuya said, “I was actually surprised how you found us at first. I kept vapor signature was low enough to be undetectable. There was no reason for you lot to be here. Then I remembered,” Kazuya smirked while looked at Shekhinah, “How you came into contact with these girls before.”

Kazuya motioned a hand toward Tiffany and I. For a moment, it seemed as if the other Arcadians hesitated like they were demanding for Shekhinah to defend herself.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

“You never do. Sadly, you’re a woman that does not understand subtlety. It never ceases to amaze me.”

“Attack!” Shekhinah yelled angrily, her warriors charging toward Kazuya at her command.

Tiffany clutched my arm, pulling me further away from Kazuya. “Ems, we need to run now.”

“But, Kazuya!” I complained.

“All we can do here is get killed!”

“Your sister is right, Mercy,” Kazuya said getting on all fours, his tails whipping through the air. “Step back if you don’t want to die.”

“Still bluffing?” Aleph yelled running up to Kazuya swiftly with his blades in hand.

Kazuya chuckled before breaking out into a maniacal laugh. “You left me too much time to recover,” Kazuya started to glow with with with golden aura as an elegant fox tattoo with nine-tails spreading from the center became visible on his back glowing a bright orange. “I didn’t want to use this man’s power; I can barely control it. But I have no choice! Let’s die together shall we?” he exclaimed.

Kazuya roared toward the sky as his body had increased in size. Fur grew from his skin rapidly. Within moments he changed into a giant fox, as big as most of the houses in the area. Aleph faltered as he looked up at the growling monster, frozen with fear. Kazuya quickly swiped him with a huge paw. Aleph attempted to dodge but it was too late, he was bisected in two as Kazuya’s claws tore through his abdomen. Blood and guts, Aleph’s intestines, poured out the bottom of his torso as he fell, his legs thrown across the park fields. He squirmed in excruciating pain on the ground for a moment coughing up blood, reaching for his teammates before he died.

I was horrified. Even though he was an enemy, seeing him die right in front of me made me sick. Lightheaded. I hunched myself over and hurled, vomiting the lunch I didn’t know I had eaten. I felt like I was about to fall over. Tiffany had the presence of mind to hold me up for balance. I glanced at her, her facial expression oddly detached.

“Aleph!” Tartys yelled, after seeing his disemboweled ally. “Bastard!”

Tartys flew up into the air as a luminous energy formed around his golden blades, extending them. He aimed a for Kazuya’s neck preparing to behead him.

“Tartys!” Shekhinah warned while flying trying to reach him.

It was too late; one of Kazuya’s colossal sized tails had lashed him from behind, sending him flying before he was grasped by Kazuya with one paw-like hand. Kazuya summarily crushed Tartys, squeezing him tight enough for blood to drip from his hand. Shekhinah and Caphriel tried to save Tartys, but they were held at bay by Kazuya’s swaying tails.

Kazuya threw Tartys into his mouth, chomping down on him hard as he screamed for mercy. Hearing the disgusting sound of skin and bone being twisted, torn, and crushed by razor-sharp teeth as blood-drenched the ground made me feel nauseous inside. Kazuya spat Tartys out, his lifeless body hitting the ground with a pitiful thud before it was crushed by Kazuya’s hand.

“You monster,” Caphriel gasped, seeing how quickly her friends had fallen. Kazuya wasted no time as a ball of white light, of pure energy, formed in the front of his open maw. Before I could blink, Kazuya projected the ball outward. It shot like a laser beam from his mouth, the sound of it ringing through the air. The beam immolated Caphriel, disintegrating her before she had time to react.

Kazuya roared again his voice echoing through the sky. He turned to look at my sister and I. My heart stopped. He was going to kill us next. Before I could even piss myself, Kazuya turned to look at Shekhinah, who had fallen to the ground in despair looking at where her friends stood before only a few moments ago.

“So that was it,” Shekhinah said in a shaky voice, disillusioned as her lance rolled out of her weak grip. “You were given one of those seals…”

Tears welled up in her eyes. “This was pointless from the start.”

The giant fox stopped over to Shekhinah and then stopped in front of her. Shekhinah glanced upward, look Kazuya in the eyes as tears ran down her face. She was unafraid. Shekhinah may have been defeated but she would die like a warrior, with pride and honor.

“What are you what are you waiting for? Kill me.”

Kazuya roared in her face saliva raining down on Shekhinah before he closed eyes tightly and locked his jaw shut. Kazuya started to shake forcefully like he was struggling to make a decision. Soon after, a bright aura wrapped around his body as he shrunk back down to his human size, fur disappearing from his skin as it was shed off. The tattoo on his back that glowed orange from before had turned black.

Kazuya rubbed his forehead softly as if he had a terrible headache. “Is that what you want me to do, my love?”

Shekhinah looked down at the ground. “I failed my mission, against you that means death. I let my team die. It won’t be acceptable for me to appear before Lord Corinath like this. I cannot face him with such disgrace… It’s only fitting for me to be with my subordinates.”

Kazuya rolled his eyes. “You didn’t kill them. I did.”

He smirked as Shekhinah looked at him angrily her fists tightening. “I won’t kill you Shekah. I can’t, even if I wanted to. The Sacred Seal was the last thing I had in my arsenal and it’s not really my power in the first place. I don’t have any energy left to fight. You on the other hand…”

He glanced the lance that near his feet. Shekhinah didn’t make an effort to reclaim it.

“You could if you wish to. I’m in your hands now. What will it be?” Kazuya asked.

Shekhinah turned away from him refusing to answer. Kazuya simply grinned at her before turning away. She had lost her desire to fight. As Kazuya approached us I gawked at the destruction he had caused. If anyone saw us and took video or pictures, we’d on the news in a heartbeat. Surprisingly the police or SIGMA didn’t appear yet.

“Ladies,” Kazuya said with a smile. “Are you alright?”

Tiffany nodded but I didn’t move.

“You killed them…” I whispered.

Just like that three lives had vanished before my eyes. Kazuya nodded. “And they would have killed you if I didn’t. Or report you to the Lords of the Twelve Celestial Kingdoms at least. Trust me, we don’t need the entire Arcadian military on our necks.”

Tiffany eyed the Arcadians warrior still on her knees. “Then why didn’t you kill her? Won’t she tell? ” she asked.

I looked at my sister, appalled. Was she really advocating for Kazuya to kill someone else?

“She won’t, so it’s not worth it. I don’t need to kill an opponent whose will has been broken.”

Tiffany frowned but I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Maybe she didn’t believe him. I had my own reservations about that as well, he didn’t seem to have a problem with getting rid of the other Arcadians, even Caphriel who knew attacking him after he transformed was futile.

“She won’t attack us,” Kazuya said trying to ease our worries. “I can promise you that.”

“Seems like you guys have a history,” Tiffany remarked.

Before Kazuya could reply, he grabbed his chest hard—with a hand over his heart. He locked his eyes shut, gritting his teeth in pain as he fell to the ground on his stomach. Kazuya coughed while writhing in the grass. Breathing heavily while spitting out thick phlegm as he started hyperventilating. The tattoo on his back started to glow, but he wasn’t moving.

“Kazuya?” I asked in a worried voice. I touched his shoulder feeling the heat seep off of his skin. Hot! It was like his whole body was having a fever. “Kazuya!” I shook his body but he still wouldn’t respond. “What’s wrong? Kazuya!”

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Awakening 1.4

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A Peaceful Dream

I felt warm. Warmth wrapped around my body and covered me like a cocoon. I wasn’t totally aware of my body or my surroundings, but I was conscious enough to know that I existed, that I had form.

I could feel the heat of bright sunlight on my face. I opened my eyes slowly, revealing a clear blue sky. My back felt wet, my body felt like it was floating.

Wait.

What?

I found myself floating naked in the middle of a river that was crystal clear. I righted myself up, frantically trying not to drown, and make my way over to the river bank close by. Crawling out of the water and off the bank, I laid down on the grass—breathing hard.

I sat up, looking at the water I was floating in. It was still and serene. I pause for a moment and look at the various trees and vibrant undergrowth around me in the endless garden. I looked down at my body; a slight breeze nearly caused me to jump out of my skin. I needed some clothes.

Where was I?

I heard the sound of rustling bushes. Something transparent—a freaking ghost!—popped out to greet me. I tried to grab something to cover my naked self but realizing I had nothing good to use, I had to settle on an arm and a hand.

The hell?

She looked like an alien—or at least I thought it was a she. The being had white glowing eyes and a body like a bombshell, showing visible misty swirls constantly moving on her skin like a bunch of typhoons. Or was it beneath her skin? She was transparent after all. Ridiculously long and ghostly deer antlers were connected to her head.

“Who are you?” I whispered. “What the hell are you?”

The spirit woman made a sound akin to a giggle.

“I am Nature,” she said. “The Elder God responsible for creating the Seven Realms.”

What. I mean what?

I couldn’t really tell but judging by her slight smile, she seemed amused. “Do not worry. I will explain. I am an Elder God. One who maintains and watches over the realms with the other two Elders, Death and Karma.”

My mind was blank. Gods? Elder Gods? Everything she had just said turned what I had learned about the afterlife and religion on its head.

The fuck?

My mouth ran dry. “So you’re a god then? Am I dead?”

Nature shook her head. “You are still of the living, my child. I am not a god in the way you think I am. Come.”

Nature beckoned me with her hand To follow her through the tree covered fields.

“You’re not?” I asked, walking quickly—almost jogging to catch up with her.

“I’m the creator of the Seven Realms along with Karma and Death, but we are not The Most High. That would be a more accurate term for the one you and most humans on Earth believe to be God.”

I frowned in thought. “So you guys are like… lower gods then.”

Nature chuckled.”In a way. We all come from The Most High, The All-One in the end.”

As we walked, I observed the environment in front of us, taking the time to admire the trees rustling in the wind and breath in the crisp air. I could feel the soft grass between my toes as I looked at the clear river next to us.

“So…” I said. “If I’m not dead, why are you here? Heck, why am I here? Whatever here is.”

Nature didn’t respond right away, silently guiding me through the fields. She found a nice spot to sit, under a tree next to the river bank—providing shade from the sunlight. Nature sat down and I followed suit, sitting cross-legged. I stared at Nature in silence. She looked at me quietly, unoffended as my eyes trace over the stormy swirls I saw in her body. Nature was so… fascinating.

Lost in captivation, I sat in peace for a while; Nature didn’t disturb me. Soon my attention was drawn elsewhere. Ahead of us—where there was no undergrowth in the way, I could see the fields in the distance being cut off by a wall of giant, no—freaking hugeburning swords. Fucking burning swords!

“This is the Realm of Conception,” Nature said. “The first one we created. It was a test run of sorts. Here we hold the Tree of Life. Those blades you see prevent beings from acquiring what lies beyond. “

My brow furrowed. “And what lies beyond?”

Nature smiled. “My, my, such an inquisitive child. Beyond the blades of fire exists the source and paths to other dimensions. The omniverse if you will.”

Well, that sounded like a pretty big deal.

Nature nodded her head like she had read my thoughts.”It is. Alas, discussing the creation of the Seven Realms is not why I called you here. Like I said before, you’re not dead: I only wanted to talk to you.”

Some god who created the freaking universe wanted to talk to little ole me?

“Of course,” Nature said. “I wanted to personally speak to you because of the events that may happen in your future.”

Suddenly, I felt an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I hoped this wasn’t the part where the mysterious god gives the main character a grand prophecy—in which I had to save the world or something. That wouldn’t be good.

“What do you mean?” I asked, slowly.

“Soon you will come into remembrance of who you really are.”

“Is that supposed to be deep or something?”I asked. “Or easy to understand? Because that’s pretty vague.”

Nature actually laughed. “You and your sister were created in The Most High’s and our image. The half of a creator and a messenger.”

She knew about Tiffany? Of course, she did, she made everything. But I still didn’t understand what she was on about.

“That’s still vague,” I said.

Nature smiled mischievously. “Is it?”

The edges of my lips lifted upward slightly. It looked as if that would be all the information I would get out of her on that. I was kind of annoyed she wouldn’t give a straight answer, but I couldn’t stay that way for long. Her peaceful, joyful demeanor was infectious.

“I am sure Kazuya will explain everything to you in more detail. In due time.”

Kazuya? The fox guy?

Nature nodded. “Now that he has realized who the both of you are, he will probably have a vested interest in protecting you and your sister. But I want to talk to you about Tiffany.”

My posture straightened as my face became serious. She had my full attention.

“I ask a favor of you,” she said. “As I see it, the future may become a struggle for you both. You may have to face the darkest parts of yourself, great trials and tribulations. Even death. But you will come across old allies. Ready and waiting to aid you.”

I inhaled deeply and then let go. Trying to take everything Nature had dropped on me.

“I need you to protect your sister and keep her on the right path no matter what happens because you both will need each other more than ever before.”

I snorted. ”Of course. I promise.” She didn’t even need to ask.

Nature gave me a warm smile.

The world started to fade. I was pulled back through a black void, looking at Nature still sitting on the grassy fields, her face still smiling. It was like I was looking at a television screen from afar. Soon the image of the endless garden disappeared only leaving pure black.

I felt myself floating through the darkness. The void of space.

Then—

oOo

I opened my eyes. Tiffany and the injured Kazuya were hovering over me as I was lying on the grass. I sat up with a start, looking around. We were next to a river, close to a bridge a few feet away from the sidewalk that went under it. It was still night.

Was all that a dream? I mused.

“Ems! You’re up!” Tiffany exclaimed, hectically grabbing a hold of me “Are you alright?”

“Tiff…” I muttered. I was still disoriented from that dream. Kazuya was inspecting his gaze, looking at my body. I looked at Kazuya’s injuries—he still didn’t have any damn clothes on! I could feel the blood rushing to my face as my eyes wandered downward; I hurriedly shifted my gaze upwards, focusing on his muscled chest so as not to stare at his dick. Christ. I wasn’t a prude but that didn’t mean I wanted all that waving around in my face.

I shook my head and then looked down at my own body. The shirt I was wearing was torn to pieces, my bra the only thing shielding my upper body from the elements. Two long lines that looked like scabs traveled from my shoulders to the abdomen, crisscrossing at the middle of my chest forming an ‘x.’

That was surprising. I was pretty sure that Tartys guy had nearly sliced me in half. My wounds didn’t feel deep. Heck, I didn’t feel them at all.

“Ems, are you alright?” Tiffany repeats, worried as she hugged me tightly. This girl was going to kill me. “How could you be so stupid?”

I gave her a soft smile. “What happened?”

“You were an idiot,” Kazuya growled. “That’s what happened. You stepped in the way of that Arcadian’s attack.”

“Yeah. To save your ass,” Tiffany snarked.

“I don’t need saving, especially from little girls.”

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Says the guy bleeding all over the place after nearly getting his head put on a pike by that ninja angel woman. Great. Not only are you a useless cannibal who walks around butt-ass-naked like a degenerate, but you smell like a wet dog, and worst of all you’re sexist!”

It was Kazuya’s turn to roll his eyes. “Really child?”

“If you’re gonna be a fucking douche, I’ll be one right back. “

Kazuya smirked. “How uncouth.” He muttered something else about acting like humans before looking back at me.

“That guy cleaved through me with his sword, right?” I asked. “Why wasn’t I cut to ribbons?”

“You should have been,” Kazuya said. “If I didn’t have enough energy to stabilize you, you would’ve bled out. Nine times out of ten you would have been killed instantly by that kind of attack. Fortunately for you, you’re more durable than most.”

“You healed me?”

Kazuya nodded, briefly. “Something like that. I used magic.”

Tiffany scoffed.

Kazuya ignored her but continued his explanation since I looked skeptical. “Do you remember what I told you of vapor? I don’t have much left so I did the next best thing. I manipulated the natural vapor of the environment. Unfortunately, I’m too tired to properly control it. Magic is dangerous to use when low on spiritual energy even if you’re controlling an external source. An inexperienced caster can kill themselves. I was barely able to revive you.”

“Hmm…” I mumbled looking down at where the scars left by Tartys’ twin blades.

“You heal rapidly,” Kazuya says. “In a few days, those will be nothing but light blemishes on your skin.”

“That’s not what I was worried about,” I said. “I’m trying to figure out what excuse we’ll give to Mom when she sees us come in the house with torn up clothes .”

Kazuya snorted.

“That’s the last thing you should be worried about,” Tiffany said, still holding me firmly.

“How did we get here anyway, where are those… Arcadians?”

Tiffany titled her head toward Kazuya. “Fox-boy saved us. He threw his spear down and made it explode. Like a flashbang.”

“A diversion, yes,” Kazuya agreed. “Then I carried the both of you as far I could.”

“Won’t they come after us?”

“Yes,” Kazuya said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I won’t be able to hold them off this time. A problem that could have been avoided if someone didn’t jump in front of an attacking Arcadian like an imbecile.”

“It was to save your life!” Tiffany said.

I grabbed her shoulder, holding her back before she could launch herself at the Valterian. “Stop! We’re in too much shit to fight among ourselves. Kazuya, you’re right I was stupid, but I didn’t just run in there on a whim. Well, I kinda did. But still. I have a strange feeling about you. You know us. Right? Nature told me about you.”

I felt apprehensive adding on the last few words about Nature. What if she wasn’t real, only part of a dream world? Kazuya would think I’d lost it.

“Nature? What do you mean Ems?”

Kazuya gaze changed, his golden eyes became sharp pupils like a fox. He stared at me solemnly.

“She mentioned me, hmm? Interesting,” Kazuya turned his back toward us. He looked up at the dark sky. “We need to move. The Arcadians will probably track us to this place soon”

“Why?” Tiffany asked. “They’re only after you. Why don’t you go and leave us here?”

Kazuya shook his head chuckling. “I already told you. They would assume you’re accomplices based on how much I’ve protected you and the fact that your sister attempted to stop one of them. Besides, I know they wouldn’t leave you alone anyway.”

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “It seems we still have means of an escape. They haven’t noticed your vapor signatures, and my vapor is at an all time low. I don’t have to put in that much work to hide it from their awareness.”

“Then it’s settled,” I said, standing up. “Kazuya, will you come home with us?”

Tiffany looked like she swallowed a frog. “Are you crazy, Mercy?”

I had to stifle a laugh as I looked at her expression, but managed to put on a stern face. “He knows something about us. More than we do, and I want answers. Think about it. We could be Hallowed!”

Tiffany shook her head. “You think by taking him home and asking nicely he’ll answer for free?”

“Ladies,” Kazuya said, cutting in. “As much as I find this conversation amusing, I must remind you that time is of the essence.”

Kazuya changed, his body getting smaller. He morphed. His skin rapidly grew fur as his hands turned into paws. Within seconds, the tall man before us had transformed into a small fox, with abnormally fluffy tails. He was still wounded, but there wasn’t as much blood coming from his body as before.

He turned to face us. “I take this form when I am at my limit and need to recover out of sight. The Arcadians will not notice me like this.

Kazuya spoke, not through his snout of the fox, but through our minds.

“You’ve gotta be shitting me,” Tiffany muttered.

I huffed. “This actually works better for us. We don’t have to sneak a half-dead naked guy into our basement.”

Tiffany shook her head with a smirk. “This is freaking crazy.”

“I know.”

I grabbed Kazuya from off the ground and carried him, ignoring his complaints. Tiffany and I walked to the main road away from the river bridge, noticing we were only a few blocks away from our suburban complex. Only a half an hour until I could relax in a nice warm bed.

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