Return From Heaven II
“What do you mean?” I asked, feeling uneasy. Was she referring to the research I was doing for our paper?
“Don’t be coy now.” Ashley’s voice was soft making me fidget with my hands. Her eyes shifted from me to Nathan and Tiffany. “I know you three have been curious about us ever since you have learned we are not from this world. However…”Ashley overlooked me. “If you want to know more about Arcadians and Valterians, more about me, all you need to do is ask.”
My face contorted in confusion. Where was this coming from? Ashley rolled her eyes at my puzzlement.
“The thread on The Hallowed Eve posted a week or two ago. Asking questions about a dragon girl and nine-tailed fox? Specific descriptions of ‘angels.’ That was you wasn’t it?”
A hint of fear crept up my spine as I stared at Ashley, sitting still. I did make a thread on THE’s local board around the time we had learned that Ashley, Terra, and Ms. Frazzle were capes. After what happened to us with them and with Kazuya, after what was revealed, I wanted as much information on the gods as possible. I wanted to know if others had noticed us with Kazuya and the Arcadians from that night. If anybody else knew about Avalon. I even searched for any info regarding the Terra and Sinister Seven but of course, nothing came up.
“That could have been anyone,” Tiffany argued, taking a glimpse at me before shifting. “How do you know it was Mercy?”
Ashley glanced at her side-eyed. “I have my sources.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“No, she’s right Tiff. Not sure how you found my username, Ash, but it was probably me,” I said, causing my sister to turn my way in surprise. I still focused on Ashley. “After everything that’s been going on lately, you can’t blame me for wanting to know more. You can be intimating to talk to sometimes.”
“That’s fair I suppose,” Ashley mused.
“Mercy, even though Ashley is a spoiled princess, she’s still a big softy at heart,”Terra said, teasing. “You should know that by now.”
Ashley glared at him. “I’ll remind you not to overlook my grace and kindness, Terra.”
Terra leaned over and put an arm around Tiffany, corralling her in a tight half-hug—forcing her head to rest on his shoulder, much to Tiffany’s annoyance. “I’d never.”
Tiffany pushed Terra off and broke away from him. “No, don’t even. That joke is terrible and you should feel terrible.”
I shook my head, knowing what Terra was hinting at.
“To get back on topic,” Ashley said, quieting the two of them. “Mercy, though you tried to be discrete with your online presence, those in the know can infer things. Those with the power and resources to find you, and me through you. I would prefer it if most don’t know I’m away from Artisans for an extended period time and who knows what Arcadia will do if rumors about their warriors on appearing on Earth start spreading.”
I nodded, thinking back to Kazuya’s words about the threat of the Arcadian kingdoms.
“That sources of yours,” Nathan said while judging Ashley with narrowed eyes. “It’s Ms. Frazzle is it?”
Ashley smiled with amusement. “No. As if I would rely on that witch. You’ll learn Nathan that I have eyes and ears everywhere. From various governments of Avalon and this world to SIGMA.” Ashley placed a hand under her chin and pondered. “Or more accurately, one could say the Forum.”
Terra smirked. “How does King Arden feel about you fraternizing with an enemy of the Valterian government?”
“It’s irrelevant,” Ashley said unperturbed. “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I’ll get rid of them once I reclaim the throne from her.”
Terra hummed to himself, doubtful. Ashley appeared displeased by it.
“So, I guess the Forum is another gang from Avalon,” Nathan said unsure, his statement almost sounding like a question.
“Nah, it’s more like a secret society that runs things behind the scenes.”
Nathan scrunched up his face as he frowned at Terra. “Like one of those fake-ass conspiracy theories?”
“Oh, it’s very real,” Terra said, still smirking.
“Indeed,” Ashley agreed. “Anyway, I’d prefer it if you all would take care when using the internet.”
Tiffany folded her arms. “We were planning on using stuff from that battle you guys were talking about for our English papers. The New York one.”
“Searching events that everyone is aware of should be fine. I’ll let you know more about my history and powers at a later date. Perhaps I’ll even explain more about the gods.”
“Kazuya gave us a quick rundown after we met him,” Tiffany said. “What’s the need for all the secrecy?”
Ashley paused. “Really now? No matter. You will learn the reason for my silence in due time.”
“Maybe… it has to deal with Nathan?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Nathan said. “I would like to know if you know anything else special about me.”
Ashley frowned and stood up, turning away from us. “Not as much as I’d like too.”
“The hell’s that mean?” asked Nathan.
Ashley ignored him.
“Uh, Earth to Ashley.”
She refused to turn around.
“Ookay.” Tiffany studied the blonde. “So what is the endgame here? You and Ms. Frazzle simply want to protect Nathan?”
“I don’t know of the intentions of our teacher, “Ashley said, facing Nathan. “But I suspect that she knows more about your hidden potential than she lets on, like my father.”
“And you?” Tiffany asked.
“I simply want full control of my abilities and to get them back I must keep watch over Nathan for a full year. Presumably, my father’s seal should wear off by then.”
“Only a year?” I asked. “Do you plan to return to Avalon… or Valteria?”
“That’s a good question, Mercy,” Terra commented. “I’m curious too. Do you intend to lead another rebellion?”
My brow furrowed at Terra’s question.
“I’m not too keen on fighting another war against my sister, not right now.” Ashley’s voice was laced with a surprising bitterness. “All I care about is doing what is needed to regain power.”
Terra nodded, dropping the subject. He turned to Nathan and his best friend looked him in the eyes in turn.
“Have you manifested any hallowed abilities?” Terra asked him.
The edges of Nathan’s lips lifted into a reluctant smile. “Yeah. I’m a healer.”
He lifted a hand and waves of energy pooled around it, a soft tea-greenish aura forming. Pulsating with warmth one moment then coolness the next.
“I’m not really sure how it could help in a big cape fight, but it’s better than nothing,” Nathan muttered.
Tiffany fell into a fit of rapid eye blinking, before pausing. “Are you serious?” She glanced at us. “Better than nothing, he says.”
“What?” Nathan asked.
Ashley chuckled. “It’s a useful power.”
I agreed. “It’s important to have healers since there aren’t many. It’s rare powerset.”
Nathan shrugged. “I guess I was expecting something cool or flashy. Like a warrior or powerhouse power. I’d even take infiltrator type over this.”
“Healers can fall under the infiltrator class,” Terra said.
“Really? Still, it feels kind of lame though.”
“Don’t say that,” I admonished. “It’s freaking awesome. Do you know how much I’d love to have a power like that? How powerful is it?”
“Not sure. I do know it works wonders for Ms. Frazzle’s headaches though.”
“Mmm…” Tiffany smirked while leaning over her knees, her face and hands resting on the top of them as she peered at Nathan. “Don’t tell me you’ve been feeling up our English teacher—you rascal, you.”
“Of course,” Nathan drawled in good humor. “I couldn’t resist running my hands up and down her body.” Nathan ran his hands across an invisible body in the air, accentuating some parts of the female form.
“Ew…” I shivered, trying the purge the image of Nathan groping Ms. Frazzle out of my brain. Nathan could never help himself when it came to taking a joke too far.
Ashley huffed and scrutinized Nathan, her sour look notable. “Please. Nathan knows better than that.”
“I bet,” my sister said.
“Well, I think it’s cool that you have powers,” I said to Nathan. “You should be grateful and more excited that you’re a cape.”
Nathan mulled over my words, tilting his head from side to side. “I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.”
The five us talked a little bit more before Ashley led us back to the cafe. Though we spent the majority of our lunch period on the roof, Katherine never showed up to join us.
Tired from soccer practice and homework, Tiffany and I spent the most of night in the living room sprawled out on the couch like the living dead. Our bodies were entangled into a pile of limbs as we watched TV with our parents.
Mom had the channel on the local news since she was the first to arrive home to take command of the TV, much to the rest of our detriment. Well, it really only bothered Tiffany and me.
I spent time alternating between the television and scrolling through my iPad. I checked some of my social media accounts, looking and ‘liking’ pictures from my teammates and friends with Tiffany peering over my shoulder like a mischievous little devil, whispering thinly veiled insults and juicy gossip she heard about various girls in our clique.
Annoyed at her constantly talking in my ear, I switched webpages to read some fan-fiction while checking to see if any new readers commented on my own writing. She stopped soon after that, rolling her eyes at me and sitting on her side of the couch with a thump. I glared at her as she pretty much sat on my legs. She ignored me, playing with her phone. I kicked at her, causing her butt to shift on the seat so I could sit up straight.
The woman on the news said something about capes, causing me to perk up and view the TV as I adjusted how my back felt against the sofa, my toes touching the floor. A new gang, the Inheritors, had been terrorizing the boardwalk for the past few weeks, finishing off their lucrative crime spree today with the robbing a popular casino called The Scarlet. The reporter continued talking about the increase of cape crime plaguing the boardwalk and waterfront, interviewing victims—civilians and the store owners that were directly affected by cape burglaries and fights.
With their last stunt, the Inheritors aroused the ire of the racist gang, Albatross, getting to a skirmish with the group of white supremacists capes around the beach. No cape was killed and luckily since people were out of the way, no one else was hurt. The fight was a pretty even matchup since not all of the Albatross capes were involved.
As the reporter continued to talk over video footage of the cape fight, My twin and I had our eyes glued to the screen, absorbing everything.
Though they were criminals, the Inheritors were an intriguing group of capes, mostly because they were new on the cape scene and no one knew much about them. The boards of The Hallowed Eve were littered with speculation about Ravensworth’s new costumed crooks; the gang was active since January but they didn’t start any large scale operations until recently. Tons of threads with posters discussing who they are, what their aim was, people theory-crafting about their powers. Others claiming that they were a team that rebranded and moved from a bigger city to a place with less heat. All things considered, most of the information online pointed to the leader of the group of five being their flying pyrokinetic who went by the name Ignite or Ignition.
On the other hand, almost everything about Albatross was public knowledge except for their secret identities. It was a family gang, one that had hand been around since the nineties. They were stable, able to avoid being taken out by flourishing rivals such as the Spades and Noroi and the local heroes groups—like the Watchkeepers. The fact that they had a high number of capes, maybe about twelve in all, along with manpower of a few thousand gang members, kept them on top of the Ravensworth’s underworld for years. They were led by the enigmatic Swan, a cape that could project metal blades from his skin at high speeds. His powers reminded me of Ashley.
Mom sighed sounded exhausted. “These gangs are nothing bad news.”
“The new policies the SIGMA and the Watchkeepers are implementing; the increase of manpower toward the nasty side of the town,” Dad said. “That should hit the operations of the gangs pretty hard, if not take them down.”
“Can only hope,” Mom said.
The news program showed a quick interview with the leader of the Watchkeepers, Vitiate as she surveyed the wartorn beach that the Inheritors and Albatross, trampled only a few hours prior. The space warper cape had on silver and blue armor and was positioned in front of the camera, surrounded by some of the teen heroes from NextGen. SIGMA agents and cleaning crew members were in the background removing rubble and taping off wreaked areas of the boardwalk.
Vitiate gave her spiel about renewing efforts to stop gang violence and our mom switched the channel to the national news when she finished. It seemed like each station was still talking about the ramifications of the invasion by the Avalonian forces. Heroes were still helping with the cleanup.
Tiffany squealed with glee when her favorite hero, Crow Valentine, appeared on the screen from an aerial view. His dark wings cast a huge shadow below as he flew from wreaked building to building, helping workers move and get rid of debris. Members of the Alliance and the Quixotic Quartet were also seen helping from the helicopter footage.
Tiffany squeed again once Crow Valentine was back on screen.
My eyes nearly rolled out of my head. “Your hero crush is way too edgy for his own good,” I said, pointing out the ridiculousness of his wild ‘all-over-the-place’ hair and his outfit: the red leather coat and pants, covered under belts full of weapons with a cape too large to be practical.
Tiffany scowled at me. “I don’t want to hear that from a girl that gets hot for a guy in an orange fursuit.”
“Tiffany,” our mom warned, already sensing an argument brewing.
I could feel my face turn a shade darker, burning as irritation rose deep in my chest. “Stop it. It’s not a fursuit, it’s skin-tight!”
“Like that’s any better,” Tiffany said, she tilted her head glancing up in dramatic fashion before taking stock of me. “Oh, I forget that you’re into looking at ample butts.”
Okay, saying that in front of Mom and Dad? Now she was just being obnoxious. I waved her comment off in a frivolous manner. Fine, I can play at that game.
“Like you’re not?” I asked her.
Tiffany grin widened but before she could speak our dad cut in.
“Alright, this conversation is taking a turn for the worst,” he said. “Knock it off, you two.”
Mom shook her head. “Really.”
“But seriously, Ems, your favorite hero is so lame,” Tiffany said. “Why not someone cool like Nexus or Lightspeed?” She gave me a pointed look. “What’s with your fixation on foxes?”
I narrowed my eyes at her as I caught her double meaning, but with our parents her I couldn’t really confront her about it. “Magnificent isn’t lame,” I said, mentioning the name of the fox based cape. “He’s probably the most popular hero in the country.”
My sister shrugged. “I guess. His costume is good for merchandising since it’s not overly complex. So it doesn’t count because he’s popular with kids by default. That reminds me—are you still talking with Catwhip?”
“Catwhip?” Mom asked.
“Tiffany and I exchanged numbers with the Unity triplets when we met them at the mall, remember?” Since my Ipad was connected to my phone, I could read at my text messages on it; I scanned my contacts until I found the Catwhip’s name, Marissa. I swatted at my sister. “She wants to know why you stopped texting her.”
Tiffany gave an overdramatic sigh. “I have way too many people to keep track of.”
“Excuses, excuses. Anyway, I talked to her on the phone yesterday. She said something about us meeting with her sisters this weekend. I think she wants us to go to her book club thing.”
“I really don’t want to spend two hours going over terrible fanfic.”
I gave Tiffany a light punch to the shoulder. “Do you always have to be so obtuse? We’re reading classical literature.”
Tiffany frowned. “You know that’s not my thing, but I’ll I go since you’ll drag me there regardless.”
“Yup. You’re coming whether you like it or not.”
“When are you going to meet with them?” asked Mom.
“This Sunday,” I answered. “Around the afternoon. We’re gonna meet them at a bookstore in the Emporium.”
“Do you need a ride?” Dad asked.
“Mm-mm, we’ll take the train.”
Dad’s gaze shifted toward Tiffany. “Your boyfriend going?”
“We’ll probably meet him there.”
Our dad’s attention had returned to the TV as he was satisfied with our answer. Somehow, without us noticing, he swiped the remote from the center table like a thief in the night and began to swap through the channels. He paused when Mom told him to stop the on ‘The Golden Wheel’—a game show that our parents would often watch together during the week.
After our parents retired for the night, we spent a few more hours on the couch relaxing and watching reality TV before going to bed. Sleep was nice and peaceful for once as I didn’t really have any strange dreams. I woke up early in the morning since I felt a bit hot under the covers.
My throat parched, I slid out of bed almost falling flat on my face, I broke my short tumble with a hand and pushed myself off the floor. I stood up straight with a grunt, still stiff. I yawned and dragged a hand across my face as I attempted to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Mm. It was a poor effort but no one could blame me I was tired and felt like going back to bed. The only thing kept me awake was the feeling that I’d croak if I didn’t get water soon. I scrunched my face with a cough, the nasty feeling of stagnant saliva was stuck in my throat.
I exited my room in my eyes adjusting to the darkness as I opened the door. I headed downstairs at a slow pace until I reached the hallway leading to the kitchen. Dawdling past the basement door I heard a loud thud. My head cut around to face the door, toward the source of the sound. Nothing happened. I must have been imagining it.
I entered the kitchen and made a beeline for the fridge. Opening it, I nabbed a bottle of water and started to drink, quenching my greedy thirst. Another thump echoed from the basement, I could hear it from the middle of the room. I frowned, tense as I walked toward the door. Creaking it open, I heard soft muttering of someone that sounded like my sister … and another voice. Terra? My sister giggled. Don’t tell me he snuck inside our house during the middle of the night again.
The muttering stopped for a moment and my breath hitched. My sister screamed.
“Tiffany!” Saying her name a loud whisper, I ran down the steps in a frantic pace. My jaw dropped as I turned the corner and flicked the light on.
Kazuya had returned in his pompous golden glory, an aura of strong energy enclosing his form, his imposing tails covering the lower part of my sister’s body as he pressed into her, his hand pinning her wrists to the carpet. He was busy was staring at Tiffany with his open mouth hovering near her neck revealing his fanged teeth as he was in the process of clawing my sister’s shirt off with his other hand, revealing her bare chest.
He titled his head up and leered at me. “Ah, Mercy, care to join us?”
I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even talk. I was stunned as Kazuya fixed me with his predatory grin, my arms and legs wobbling like they were made of jelly. I was reminded of the absolute terror, the agonizing fear I’d felt when we first met the sadistic Valterian as he crouched over my twin.
“Ems…” Tiffany mumbled, her voice off. She leaned her head back, her eyes catching mine. Her expression seemed almost guilty as she wavered. “…this isn’t what it looks like.”