Secrets 2.8

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Bae, Ask About Me

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

“You-”

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

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

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

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

“What?” Ashley gave Terra a questioning glance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Believe what you want.”

“Excuse me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am… now I am.”

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

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

“No problem,” Nathan said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

oOo​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They can live without me for a day.”

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

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

“Hm?”

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

“You mean personality wise?”

I wondered if she was thinking about what Tiffany said.

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“What’s she like?”

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

“Wait a minute. King?”

“Yes, king.”

“Shouldn’t she be the queen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really? Shame.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hmm, that’s debatable.”

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

“I’m well aware.”

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

“From BRIM, I presume?”

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

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

“And he happens to the brother of Davis.”

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

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

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

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

“Human-Monster war?” I asked.

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

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

What?

Nathan and Tiffany looked as stunned as I was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Secrets 2.7

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Venom II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Emmy, that is so untrue.”

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

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

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

“Did she just say, five kids?”

“That’s crazy. Way too many.”

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

I snorted in disbelief causing Tiffany to glare at me.

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

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

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

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

“That’s not what you’re saying.”

“It’s not? Please, enlighten me.”

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

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

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

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

Brittany rolled her eyes.

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

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

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

“It doesn’t fit me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

What? He is.”

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

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

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

“Michael is already dating Allison,” Lorie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you want to call it that.”

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

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

I sighed. “Oh my god, Lorie.”

“Nathan?” Diana offered, entering our conversation.

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

What—Nathan is just a friend!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Brittany, really?” Tiffany asked.

“She’s not denying it.”

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

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

“…back,” Katherine muttered, looking down.

“Excuse me?”

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

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

“You took something from her?” Ashley asked.

“No. She’s fucking losing it.”

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

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

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

Katherine remained mute, unable to look up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?” Tiffany asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Worried?” Tiffany asked.

“A little. But not just of Katherine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That familiar filling of guilt throbbed inside me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why the hell should I trust you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They took everything?” Tiffany asked.

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

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

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

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

“Why?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I asked confused.

“Why do want to help me now?!”

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

Katherine seemed mystified. “Afraid?”

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

Katherine swallowed, hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, we’ll see.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Such a nerd,” Lorie called out.

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

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

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

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

“Mercy, what the fuc—“

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And I had about enough of your bullshit.”

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

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

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

Previous Next

Secrets 2.6

Previous Next

Venom 

I hummed and licked my lips, flexing my fingers above the keyboard as I readied myself for an hour of extensive research. My sister, who was sitting at the computer next to mine, had her seat angled toward me as she glanced at what I was doing.  Nathan, seated on my left, was focused on his own screen and Terra didn’t even turn his on. He was content to focus on us with lazy half-lidded eyes, the side of his face resting on his palm.

I was kind of curious as to why Terra had chosen to sit by Tiffany instead of his own research partner, but I guess Nathan didn’t care if he and my twin flirted all day.  Ms. Frazzle just gave us this project, and Terra was never serious about classwork until the last minute. I wondered how he passed his classes. Maybe being a master procrastinator was his super-power.

Our assignment was to write a four-to-five page paper discussing current hallowed events and to create a presentation in which we would explain our findings to the class. The subject could range from anything; we could choose to write about how the hallowed affected the current political climate, the military, or creation of new technology. The influence of cape culture in entertainment and sports. Advancements in the medical field. Their impact on society.

I wasn’t sure what aspect I wanted to write about and Tiffany didn’t offer any ideas yet, obviously waiting for me to do all the hard work.

“What are you looking up?” Tiffany asked.

“Hmm…” I swallowed my lips in thought, scanning The Hallowed Eve for news of interest.

“What do you want to write about?” Tiffany asked.

“Dunno. Why don’t you come up with some ideas instead of being lazy?”

“I don’t want to hear that from someone who hasn’t been keeping up with their work until recently. I’m not being lazy, I’m not sure how you wanna do it.”

“Mercy, you know Tiffany can’t help herself,” Terra said.

Tiffany gave him a look.

The edges of my lips lifted. “Yeah…”

“I can’t believe you guys. Hey, Nathan. Give me some back up here. I’m not lazy, right?”

Nathan hesitated for a moment, glancing over from his computer screen. “Sure… let’s go with that.”

Terra chuckled.

“Oh, fuck you.”

“Yup.”

Tiffany gritted her teeth in annoyance, glaring at Terra.

“Huh.” A thread on the message boards had caught my eye. Apparently, forum posters had more information about the alien invasion that happened toward the end of last month. A day or so before Kazuya dropped into our lives.

For about two hours,  New York City was covered in the clouds of burning smoke as the aliens had hit the area, fighting each other rather than the humans as media had led us to believe. The ensuing battle had wrecked a swath from west Brooklyn, across lower Manhattan, and into Newark before they up and left.

Thousands of spaceships, two armadas had entered through the sky from a giant portal opening from space.  Like a wormhole. The various ships had started to shoot at each other as hallowed-like soldiers of both fleets disengaged from their ship hulls to fight on land, air, and sea.

I scrolled down the thread looking at new pictures. Explosions galore. I had seen a video of the attack before, the day it happened.   It was like a scene right out of a sci-fi movie.

“You found something?” Tiffany asked.

“New pictures from that invasion thing. Some cape chasers that were near ground zero posted some online.”

“Man, I don’t understand why people do that,” Nathan said. “There’s colossal warships blowing the shit out of downtown, why don’t we walk into the middle of a fucking war zone so we can post videos on Snapchat. Seems like a great idea!”

“You know how people are,” I said. ” They need the thrill and validation. Fifteen minutes of fame.”

Nathan shook his head.

Tiffany leaned over to get a better look at my screen. “It’s been like three weeks. Why post new stuff now?”

“It’s possible that SIGMA was scrubbing information about it offline,” Terra said. “The moderators may edit or delete posts soon.”

“What would they want hide?” I asked. “Everyone already knows that aliens exist.”

“Maybe SIGMA was the reason for it,” Tiffany said.

“People were saying we just happened to get involved in a war between two interdimensional races,” Nathan said, “with New York City as the battleground.”

I paused, looking at blurry pictures of alien soldiers treck across the war-torn streets around the bridge. The aliens on both sides looked like animals from earth, but they were humanoid. Anthropomorphic.

The alien armies had caused a rampage, slaughtering dozens of people caught in the crossfire. SIGMA had done it’s best to evacuate people in threatened zones, moving them to the subways or to streets further out, but the stories about people found buried under debris or in fields of laser fire hadn’t stopped coming in.

“Where were the Omniversals, the heroes?” I asked. “They could have stopped all those people from getting hurt.”

“Weren’t they on a mission in outer space or something?” Nathan asked.

I faced him, intently. “And the Alliance? The Quixotic Quartet? PTE?”

Nathan shrugged. “They showed up with local capes soon after to help with the fallout. After the aliens vanished.”

“It wasn’t long before all those ships had disappeared after that tornado,” Tiffany said. “Maybe the other hero groups were busy and it’s not like PTE works for the government.”

“Still, you’d think they would have people on hand,” I said. “Earth has been invaded how many times in the last three years?”

I thought back to the time Ravensworth was enveloped by a swarm of thousands of biomorphic robots and large humanoid machines. The whole world was really, we didn’t learn until much later that our planet had been invaded by a race androids.  I wasn’t too sure about the details but somehow our heroes were able to fight them off and prevail. The ex-villain, Lightspeed—known as the Red Haired Flash at the time—came into prominence, turning the tide of battle.

I was in middle school then. I still remembered how terrified my sister and I were as Dad and Mom hurried us to one of the underground shelters.

“They’re probably busy protecting the President after the Vader clusterfuck,” Nathan said.

I frowned. That was the name of the alien that attacked the Washington D.C. last year, leaving the city in shambles. Vader had brought an entire army from space to invade the white house, taking the President hostage and murdering the entire cabinet.  Heroes and villains were forced to work together to stop him, criminals that were released from the Oubliette were promised pardons if they helped fight.  Vader was eventually killed in the ongoing battle, but we were still rebuilding to this day, with all the destruction caused.

I skimmed through more forum posts my mood feeling somewhat off, I paused as a picture caught my eye. Someone had taken it from a rooftop. It was fuzzy, no doubt due the all the commotion, but I could see faint outlines of a humanoid lion and dragon facing each other, a group of warriors behind each. Now that was interesting.

I edged forward toward the screen with a squint, my finger gliding across the dragon. He wore blood-red armor that was sleeveless, his arms as dark as charcoal. He was absolutely ruthless, his jaws covered in blood. His tail and horns were even bigger than Ashley’s.

“That dragon… I’ve seen him before. In my dreams. Are they from Avalon?”

“Wait, is that… the dragon king?” Tiffany asked.

“Yeah,” Terra said. “That’s Dusk. Behind him are his Empire Knights.”

Nathan examined my screen, his face too difficult to read. “Dusk, huh?”

“Empire Knights…” I winced and massaged my temples. I tried to get a better look at the armored woman next to king-emperor. Her hair was rich wine color. I was reminded of a girl with vampire teeth. “And that’s…”

“Felicia Shinso,” Terra said, getting a better look. “The Third Princess of the Duskanian Empire, The Knights’ second in command.”

“Princess?” Tiffany asked. “Is everyone you know royalty?”

“Tiff, that’s has to be the vampire girl I told you about.”

“Really? Hey, look at this.” Tiffany pointed toward a winged figure in the air with a group of soldiers further on behind Dusk’s knights. “You said you had a guy with wings in those dreams too right?”

“Hmm. I can’t tell, it’s too hard to see. That could be anybody.”

“That’s Maximilian Millis, the Fifth Duskanian Prince,” Terra explained. “He’s not blood-related to Dusk like Felicia though.”

“How does that work?” Nathan asked.

“It’s an honorary title.” Terra glanced at me. “If you saw Felicia in those visions, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he was there as well.”

“They were shorter than that, younger. Is Maximilian a knight too?”

Terra shook his head. “Nope, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets knighted soon. He’s got the skills to pay the bills.”

Tiffany pointed at the lion leading the group opposing Dusk and his knights on the opposite side. “Terra, is that the Fireclaw guy you were talking about?”

“Yeah. That’s Kimba Fireclaw, he’s leading the Saviors.”

The majestic lion man stood tall in front of his soldiers, a blade in hand. His golden fur and his long reddish-brown mane were so captivating.

“Is that a hero group?” Nathan asked.

“In a way. The Saviors are Kimba’s personal task force,” Terra said. “A bit like the Empire Knights but they’re not as hard-ass. They don’t really hold territory, they’re separate from Guardian’s main military.”

“So he’s the leader of Guardian…” I muttered. I hadn’t seen him in any of the dreams I had but I knew he was important. How did all these pieces fit together? I read some of the comments underneath the picture. People were posting the usual conspiracies about how aliens had secretly taken control of the world again. “What were they here for?”

“They were looking for something. Someone.” Terra said. “On Avalon, Kimba and Dusk have been fighting each other in wars for ages, millennia. Dusk wants to rule the entire planet but Kimba is fighting for the sovereignty or Guardian and the other free nations.”

“Talk about sibling rivalry,” Tiffany said.

“They’re related?” Nathan asked. “What the hell makes a dragon and a lion?”

“It’s a long story.  Kimba, Dusk, and their other siblings were born from the Vanguard. She was the first Valterian ever created,” Terra said. “When you hold the genetics of all species in your DNA, it doesn’t really matter who the father is.”

“That explains it,” I said. “All the Valterians we know about so far look different from one another.”

“That doesn’t mean that all of them came from the Vanguard. The Elder Gods created many Valterian races after her.”

“Nature…” I murmured.

“Who now?” Nathan asked.

“Death and Karma too,” Terra said. He glanced at Nathan. “Ashley and Ms. Frazzle didn’t tell you about them?”

Nathan seemed perturbed. “No.”

“Wait—hold up,” Tiffany said. “Before we go off on that tangent. Back to the first thing. Why exactly did they come here?”

“I’m getting to that.” Terra paused for a moment. “Did I tell you guys about my cousin?”

Terra mentioned that lived with his aunt and uncle before, they had a nephew a bit older than him. I wasn’t sure how that was relevant as Terra told us that family had adopted him. They weren’t from Avalon like he was.

“He’s the reason. Both sides wanted him.”

“He has powers?” Nathan asked.

“Yeah, but Trinity told me they wanted my cuz for his potential.”

“That’s not the only reason.” Heels clacked on the floor behind our little ensemble, causing us to turn around. Ms. Frazzle was glancing over us, examining my computer screen, a stack of papers in hand. “Sounds like guys are having such an interesting discussion over here!” She handed each of us a sheet. “How are you coming along?”

I took a glance at the paper. It was a basic research guide.

“What do you know about Davis?” Terra asked her, getting straight to the point.

Ms. Frazzle dropped her cheerful mask, her lips thinning. “So that’s his name? Good to know.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

Ms. Frazzle frowned at Terra and he assessed her right back. With a slight turn of the head, Ms. Frazzle observed the rest of the class, a long pause before facing us again.

“Terra, you know that’s no way to talk to your teacher, but I’ll let it slide for now,” she said. “Anyway, there is a high possibility that your cousin possesses a Fallen Star.”

Terra actually seemed surprised.

“I scouted the area after things died down,” Ms. Frazzle said. “There was a lot of vapor concentrated in that atmosphere and interwoven in the ground, it was reminiscent of an unbounded eternal realm.”

“What did you figure out?” Terra asked.

“That cyclone that we saw? It wasn’t a one. Not really.  It was a singularity, activated by the Fallen Star. Your cousin opened a pathway back to Avalon and it sucked him in and everything near it.”

“You learned that using your magic?”

“That and by stealing some confidential footage from SIGMA.” Ms. Frazzle glanced away like she was embarrassed. “The footage wasn’t that helpful for seeing what happened toward the end of that mess, I had to go there physically and use memory projection.”

Terra nodded. “For him to have something like that…”

“The portal to Avalon may still be accessible,” Ms. Frazzle said. “Maybe that’s why SIGMA has been quiet about it.”

I felt so lost. “What’s a Fallen Star—”

I stopped, noticing Tiffany and my friends staring at the girl that appeared behind Ms. Frazzle. Katherine. She was shocked, her mouth open.

“…do you need help, Katherine?” Ms. Frazzle asked, just realizing that she was standing next to her.

Katherine’s lips moved like she wanted to speak, but no words would come out. She closed her mouth.

“Is something wrong?”

Ms. Frazzle’s question jolted Katherine out of her stupor. Katherine stared at us and then our teacher. “N-nothing… I just—I wanted to know if I could use the restroom.”

“Sure,” Ms. Frazzle urged her on. “Go ahead.”

Katherine left the classroom in a hurry without another word, almost bumping into a classmate sitting at the computers next to the entrance.

“Damn. How much did she hear?” asked Nathan.

“Probably everything?” Tiffany said.

“I don’t think so,” Terra said. “She just got up.”

Ms. Frazzle studied the doorway that Katherine had just bulldozed her way through. She was frowning. “I wonder…”

Anxiety rose in my gut as I bit my lip. Did Katherine think all of us were capes?

Previous Next

 

Secrets 2.4

Previous Next

In Plain Sight 

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t lop off your head,” Ashley said, commanding Terra, her voice harsh as she attempted to prick his neck.

I wanted to yell at her, to make her stop—but my voice was stuck; it was caught in my throat.

“Wait—hold on!” Ms. Frazzle said at once, grabbing Ashley by the arm to stop the movement of her blade. “Let’s not be hasty. It’s not good to threaten your friends like this.”

Ashley studied Ms. Frazzle with the corner of her eye, her golden glare vicious, no less threatening than when she faced Terra. “You… dare?”

Ms. Frazzle, gaze remained impassive as she refused to let go. “Calm down.”

Ashley’s face morphed from an expression of irritation with a tight-lipped frown to a look of turbulent animosity. Golden energy started to swarm around her body. “Who are you to order me around, weakling?”

Ms. Frazzle let go of Ashley’s arm, taking a step back. Her lips tightened as she looked at Ashley shielded by her golden aura of energy. I could have sworn that Ms. Frazzle was shaking out of fear.

“I’ve had it up to here with you, serpent-elf,” Ashley said in annoyance, spitting out the words as she spoke. “I was merciful until now since your aid may have been useful. But if you’ve decided to stand in my way, I’ll destroy you. You had your warning. Know your place.”

Both Ashley and Ms. Frazzle stared at each other as Ashley’s aura continued to charge with that strong energy. They were sizing each other up, but they didn’t attack one another.

“I don’t think it would be wise to start a fight here,” Ms. Frazzle said, after a moment.

Ashley’s eyes widened like Ms. Frazzle had slapped her. “Oh—that confident, are we?” Ashley stuck her golden sword into the ground and rested her hands on the pommel, her violent golden-brown tail waving through the air. The ground around her started to contort as long columns of silver blades extruded from it like spikes—the slow-moving swords almost enclosing her in a barrier of metal. “Such a blatant show of disrespect cannot go unpunished. I have decided. I will kill you now.”

“Goddess, please,” Ms. Frazzle pleaded, raising her hands in protest. “I’m not challenging you. I’m only offering advice.”

Ashley paused. “Advice? As if I need such a thing.”

“If we fight seriously, yes, there is a high possibility you would kill me—”

“I would,” Ashley said, cutting Ms. Frazzle off. “Let us leave no doubt.”

“Okay. You would. But unleashing your power here would cause you unwanted attention.”

“You’re speaking of those useless humans from SIGMA, or perhaps our mongrel offspring from what they call the Alliance?”

“Them and more. The heroes of this city—of this world. The Forum, the Arcadians, the Valterian rulership, and not to mention your very own father.”

Ashley frowned as the ensemble of metal blades surrounding her sank into the ground at a slow pace. “So you even know of the Forum? You’re more resourceful than I thought. But then again I’ve heard that they’ve become a bit sloppy during the last millennium. Comes with being so close to their goal. Even so, none of those groups worry me that much. I don’t consider them threats.”

“Maybe not, but word of your appearance here would reach back to Avalon. To the Eternalists. To the Duskanian Empire. BRIM and the other nations. How do you think they will react knowing the ruler’s seat of the largest country in Foresta is currently unoccupied? ”

“So not only do you try to threaten me but my country as well?”

“What would I have to gain from that?” Ms. Frazzle asked in a strangled voice, as she closed her eyes in exasperation. “Aryva Vasta is located smack dab in the middle of your territory, still there as you’ve have graciously allowed it to be when you first came to power. Anything that effects Artisans would affect my homeland as well.”

Ashley’s lips curled in a delightful smirk. “My homeland, she says. Is that really the case anymore?”

Ms. Frazzle frowned. “Perhaps we should focus on the matter at hand.” She motioned a hand toward Terra.

Ashley’s cruel smile dimmed, her lips tightening. She rolled her eyes before breaking eye contact with Ms. Frazzle, seeming reluctant. I couldn’t tell if she was more annoyed at being ordered around or being unable to view the sore expression on Ms. Frazzle’s face, something caused by her digging.

“Well then, Terra Eatos,” Ashley said in a booming voice, after turning to face him, giving him sweet smile that looked so fake it made me sick. Even with Ms. Frazzle here to watch Ashley, each step she took toward Terra filled me with dread. Ashley stopped a few feet in front of him, towering over him as he was still crouched. Her golden blade was dangerously close to him. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

The edges of Terra’s mouth lifted into a slight smirk and he gave a small huff before standing up. Now taller than Ashley, he looked her straight in the eye. “It’s not every day that you get to see the hundreth princess of Dragonbornnia in her full glory.”

“You know about that?” Nathan asked, shocked, startling me. He was giving Terra an accusing look of betrayal.

“Yup.”

I shook my head. It felt as if my normal life was coming apart at the seams. No. It already had while ago. Mom and Dad. Ms. Frazzle and Ashley. Terra. Did everyone we know secretly have powers or some rich backstory? At this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Nathan was a cape as well.

“… a princess?” I asked, in a low voice, glancing at Terra and Ashley.

Terra’s smile widened as stepped beside Ashley to face me. “Ashley here is the real deal. A Valterian of pure royalty.”

She’s a Valterian? So that’s why Ms. Frazzle called her a goddess…

“Of course, she is,” Tiffany said as she folded her arms. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Right?” Terra asked in agreement, I heard a hint of teasing in his voice. He slowly walked around Ashley in a circle, his careful gaze scrutinizing her. Ashley’s sharp eyes followed him wherever he moved. Terra paused once he was in front of her again. “She’s one of the Dragonborne, the remnants of the Dragon Clan. The most powerful Valterian clan to ever walk the heavens, part of the royal family that rules all of Valteria. And that’s not all—our goddess here has a nation of her own, all to herself. On a pretty little planet, we like to call Avalon.”

“That’s enough!” Ashley asserted as she sheathed her broadsword in a brown sheath covered with golden trim, drawing our attention. “Having such a pitiful introduction would be in poor taste.” She gave Terra an irritated glare. “I’d rather kill myself than have you explain my history in such a manner.” Tiffany had found her way over to my side; Ashley faced my sister and me.

“That would solve things quicker,” Terra muttered, offhand.

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Just a little joke.”

I glanced at Tiffany with my peripheral vision since the majority of my focus was on Ashley. I slid my hand down next to my thighs; I wafted it through the air until I came in to contact with Tiffany’s hand. I gave her hand a slight squeeze for comfort.

“Since everyone else here is aware,” Ashley started, “It’s only right for you then, to know who I am. My true name is Audrey Genia Citrine Arcaria Dragonborne.”

That was a long name.

“I am the glorious Ruler of Artisans that will one day regain my birthright, and take the throne of Valteria. As of now, like those two,” she motioned toward Nathan and Ms. Frazzle, “You three,” she pointed at me, Terra, and Tiffany, “belong to me.”

There was a slight pause as Ashley—no—Audrey Genia made her declaration.

“Belong to you…?” Tiffany asked, hesitant. “Don’t we already? I mean you practically act like you own us in school. Ever since you’ve forced us to join that group of yours.”

Audrey Genia shook her head. “No. You’re more than that now. Your status is akin to that of my most loyal subjects.”

Tiffany gave a dry laugh. “Like that’s any better?”

“It is,” Audrey Genia confirmed. “You’d be surprised at what I do for those that are mine.”

“Oh really, like you what you do for Mercy when you still allow that douchebag to hang around us?”

I gave my sister an incredulous look. “You’re bringing that up now?”

“Why shouldn’t I? Didn’t our grand leader here promise she would handle it?”

“I have and I will. I always keep my promises. But there is no need to remove him from us completely at this time.”

Tiffany looked furious. “No need—”

“Do not raise your voice against me,” Audrey Genia warned with a snarl, her eyes fierce.

“Hey, let’s relax,” Ms. Frazzle said with her hands out in a placating manner, worried. “Who are you guys talking about?”

“Timothy,” Terra answered.

Terra,” I warned, hoping he wouldn’t explain his answer further. Everyone was making such a big deal out of it.

“…What happened?” Nathan asked, his voice quiet and detached.

Terra glanced at him in silence. From what I could tell, Nathan didn’t seem too angry at Terra anymore. His gaze was sharp, focused. I found it peculiar because it seemed like now Nathan was more focused on me. Terra looked back at me. I was quiet, pleading for him not to say anything, fully aware of Tiffany tensing up beside me—my hand still encasing her’s.

“A house party at Tim’s place. You know how Mercy’s no longer going out with him? They got into an argument. Got a little ugly. We had to break it up.”

Tiffany didn’t say anything to refute her boyfriend but her hand squeezed mine harder.

It didn’t seem like Nathan or Ms. Frazzle bought that explanation, but they didn’t ask for anything else. But the way Nathan was looking at me, I could tell he would demand more information later.

Ms. Frazzle sighed. “Okay, now back to the first issue.”

“Oh, come off it, serpent-elf,” Audrey Genia scoffed.

“It’s not nice to be rude, Ashley.”

“Has your mind finally broken? Why are you calling me by that alias now? Everyone here knows who I am.”

“I’m in the process of reminding you that if we are to continue to play the roles we have chosen so that we could remain in this world, you must remember that here, officially, I’m your teacher. And as a student, you should show some respect, not just to me but to your classmates and friends as well.”

Audrey Genia harrumphed. “It seems coming into contact with Nathan has helped you gain a backbone,” she said, the heat draining from her voice. “However, I did not come to this planet to be lectured a fallen queen, serpent-elf.”

“Fallen queen…?” I asked. Was Ms. Frazzle royalty too?

“Are you Valterian?” Tiffany asked her.

Ms. Frazzle faced us. “Like Audrey Genia, I am not originally from Earth but I am not Valterian nor part of any race of gods. I’m an Avalonian. From the planet Terra so kindly mentioned for us before.”

“Avalon,” I said.

“Yes,” Ms. Frazzle confirmed. “My real name is Myadin Sagittaria, my home is the land of Aryva Vasta.”

“Your home was,” Audrey Genia said, almost looking like she wanted to gloat. “Such a shame that Naga banished you.”

“Yes,” Myadin said through gritted teeth.

“…I was wondering where I remembered you from,” Terra said.

Myadin gave him a curious look. “Have we met before?”

“No. But I’ve heard of you. Seen your work.” Terra’s sly smile caused Myadin to fidget with the sleeves of her robes.

“What… did you… hear about me?”

“Heard lots of things. Had to confirm stuff about you on some missions. They say you can’t be trusted. That you’re the Witch of Lies, the blasphemous serpent.”

Audrey Genia smiled while nodding in agreement. “The Queen of Madness.”

Man, had we stumbled into some serious and heavy stuff. I had so many questions and I didn’t know where to start.

“Avalon,” I said, my gaze alternating between Terra and the two other capes, “That’s where you guys are from right? Why did you all come here? I mean—it’s not that I don’t like you guys or anything—but… I’m just…”

Baffled that we’ve been surrounded by people with powers.

Terra chuckled. “It’s okay Mercy, I’m sure we all get what you mean.”

Tiffany gave Audrey Genia a careful look. “Isn’t she Valterian though? She has to be from the same place Nexus and PTE are from.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “and Kazuya.”

“Where did you hear that name?” Audrey Genia asked, her voice sharp.

Tiffany and I glanced at each other. “We’ve met him before?”

“You met Kazuya?”

“Uh, we got dragged into the middle of a cape fight Friday after the party,” I explained. “He appeared in front of us after while being chased by Arcadians.”

“Arcadians?” Audrey Genia clamped her eyes shut and swallowed her lips like she was trying to keep herself from losing it. She groaned. It was such a weird response to me, as I always used to her being so prim and proper. “That man…”

“You know him?” Tiffany asked. “He stayed with us for a day or two.”

“What don’t I know about him is the question,” Audrey Genia said. Her eyes became unfocused as she glanced away from us. “He was my teacher. A mentor to me and my sister. A devious one, truly,” Audrey Genia shook her head and then looked at Terra. “Regardless, we can discuss that loose fox at a later date. Terra, it was my mistake letting you run free as an assassin.”

“He’s an assassin?” Nathan asked in disbelief.

“I’ve should have known better, really,” Audrey Genia mused. “After your battle with that BRIM agent—Anton Ryan.”

Mr. Ryan? She was talking about our assistant principal. Did something happen between him and Terra? I gave Tiffany a questioning look but she was just as surprised as I was. Myadin also seemed shocked by Audrey Genia’s words.

“Terra,” I said, drawing his attention. “That gang member we ran into after school that one time, didn’t he say he was an assassin? Wasn’t he with the group of people that kidnapped you?”

Audrey Genia huffed. “That kidnapping was a ruse or an initiation ritual of some sort. He’s in league with them now. Isn’t that right, Eatos? You’re a full-fledged member of the Sinister Seven.”

“That can’t be,” Myadin muttered.

“But it is,” Audrey Genia said, her gaze still lingering over Terra. “I’ve should have known something was off after we had fought those bastards together that night. I didn’t use my abilities and yet they still knew who I was.”

Terra snorted in amusement. “It’s not like you’re hiding your face. Anyone from Avalon would know who you are.”

“So that’s what it was about,” I muttered, glancing at Terra. “I was wondering you said you had to lay low for a couple of days.”

“The both of you fought against the Sinister Seven?” Myadin asked.

“I thought they were targeting me with how they were acting, having members follow me everywhere,” Audrey Genia said. “Now I know they were only preparing a test for Terra.”

“You’re almost right, Audrey,” Terra said. “But I’ve been with the Seven for a very long time. Way longer than you think. That thing we set up? It was cover to follow you around. To get closer to you. We needed someone to keep a better eye on you.”

“Unbelievable,” Myadin said.

Terra gave her a slight smile. “Sorry, teach.”

Myadin frowned at him. “That still doesn’t explain why you—why the Sinister Seven is targeting Nathan.”

“What exactly is the Sinister Seven anyway?” Nathan asked while glaring at Terra, with folded arms. “I haven’t heard of that name before. Is it a new gang that picks random people to kill?”

“Nah, man. We don’t kill indiscriminately. We’re an organization of assassins and mercenaries that originate from Avalon. We’re pretty well known there as a group but not a lot of people actually know our true identities. I mean usually, if you did know, you were a target and when you’re our target, you don’t live long.”

“Does that mean I should be worried?”

Terra shook his head.

“The Sinister Seven should have disbanded years ago,” Myadin said. “After the Bloodstained Festival.”

“Officially, yeah,” Terra said. “We still take jobs, private assignments that pay big. But we disappeared from public view for a few years. Constantly moved around. I came to Earth first. When I was five.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Terra an assassin at five years old?

“Everyone else trickled in here slowly from various other planets but we’re all back together now. ”

Myadin’s brow furrowed and the creases of her forehead increased in number as her mind seemed to juggle the implications of Terra’s words.

“And Nathan was one of your assignments.” Audrey Genia’s words sounded more like a statement than a question.

“Yup.”

“Why? Who gave you this job?”

“Dusk.”

At Terra’s answer, Myadin frowned and bit her lip. Audrey Genia didn’t seem surprised, but her face hardened; she looked more serious.

“How in creation would that dragon know about Nathan?” Audrey Genia asked in a whisper loud enough for us to hear.

“Dusk?” Nathan asked. “Who is he?”

“He’s the king-emperor of Duskan and the Duskanian Empire,” Terra explained, as he moved to the fence close to the field so that he could lean on it. “The strongest Legendary God Monster on Avalon. Well, his strength is considered to be tied with the leader of Guardian, who lives in the free world.” Terra waved a hand through the air in a frivolous gesture. “But you know—semantics.”

A dragon king. I thought back to my visions. Could it be possible that I knew the person Terra was talking about? I felt a soft hand squeezing mine, gently. Tiffany had grabbed my hand this time. I glanced at my sister who was looking at me, worried. I gave her a cautious smile.

“God monsters,” Nathan looked at Terra with an expression that could only be described as a mix of confusion and irritation. “The fuck…”

“Why would the Dragon King want Nathan dead?” Myadin asked, her voice piercing through the air—causing Nathan to flinch.

“I would like to know that reason as well,” Audrey Genia said.

Terra faced Audrey Genia. “It’s simple. Because of Nathan’s potential. I don’t know the full picture, but apparently, Nathan has to power to fix you up.”

“Excuse me?”

“Weren’t your majority powers sealed away by Decimatus?”

Myadin’s eyes widened.

Audrey Genia scowled. “You even know of that.”

“Yeah. Nathan has the power to undo that. He can unseal your powers but I don’t know the specifics. Dusk doesn’t want you to regain your power because then it would be easier to remove you from the picture and conquer Avalon. Lord knows he has enough on his plate already, with all the important players on the planet making moves.”

“So that’s why Decimatus told you to watch and protect him,” Myadin said to Audrey Genia.

Audrey Genia growled in annoyance. “I didn’t want many people knowing of this. It causes too many problems. I can never understand what father is thinking.”

“Wait, your dad sealed your powers?” Tiffany asked. “You still looked like you had them to me.”

Audrey Genia smiled at her. “That was nothing. Just wait until I regain all of my abilities.”

Nathan didn’t seem convinced about their comments. “This doesn’t make any sense. I don’t have any powers. I’m not a cape.”

Myadin caressed Nathan’s shoulder in a soft but firm grip. “You don’t know, but Decimatus had been the ruler of Valteria since it was created. Before he stepped down a year ago. If he thinks you’re important, Nathan, it’s a pretty big deal. Honestly, I’m surprised he even knows of you.”

“Yes,” Audrey Genia agreed. “My father’s wisdom is unparalleled. He never does or says anything without reason.”

“Mmm,” Myadin hummed while looking Nathan over. “If Nathan has the potential to become hallowed, perhaps we can find a way to pull that power out of him.”

Audrey Genia gave Nathan a searching look. “Probably going to need something more intense than a fist fight.” She faced Terra. “Were you serious about assassinating Nathan? From what I could tell you approached him directly. You didn’t use your powers now like when you killed Anton.”

I tensed, viewing Terra in a new light. That wasn’t possible. Terra wouldn’t—he couldn’t have killed our assistant principal. Mr. Ryan was just here a day ago. I knew Terra just admitted that he was an assassin, but seriously?

“Man, come on,” Terra said. “I couldn’t kill my best friend, even if it was a mission. I was really waiting for you to come here and stop me.”

“I thought as much.”

“Myadin beat you to the punch though. I didn’t expect her at all.”

“Haven’t I told you to always expect the unexpected?” Myadin said favoring Terra with a smile.

“Yeah, well, we’re not exactly writing essays here,” Terra said, teasing.

“True.”

Audrey Genia stepped up to Terra, eye to eye. “Be glad that you haven’t taken your mission seriously. Otherwise, I would have slain you. I still might if you anger me again.”

Terra smile widened. “I’d always welcome a challenge,” he said, letting his statement linger.

“Don’t tell me you’re flirting with another girl right in front of me,” Tiffany said, causing Terra to chuckle.

“You’re my one and only,” Terra said making Tiffany roll her eyes. He glanced back at Audrey Genia. “I’m not gonna try to kill Nathan. I promise. I’m done with this mission.”

Audrey Genia nodded in acknowledgment, she gave all of us a pensive look. Myadin looked deep in thought as well.

“It’s almost beyond belief that the Sinister Seven would take missions from Dusk.” Myadin glanced at Terra. “Even more so that they would order you kill your own friend.”

Terra sighed. “Trinity rarely cares about the mission parameters.”

“Darkshadow,” Audrey Genia hissed under her breath. “That woman has been a pain in my backside ever since I had come to that planet.”

Terra laughed. “You know how Trinity is. A cold-blooded Tainted assassin. She’d take a mission without a second thought.”

“Of course,” Audrey Genia said, unamused. “The Tainted. Another race the Omniverse could live without.”

Terra grinned but said nothing else.

“Wait,” I said, taking the moment of silence as a cue to speak. I didn’t want to ask but I had to know. “Terra, did you really kill Mr. Ryan?”

Terra glanced at me, resolute; but before he could respond, Myadin came to his aid.

“Mercy,” she said, careful. “Mr. Ryan was… He wasn’t from here, like us. He was a foreign agent from BRIM, a country on a different planet with different rules. Different laws. Based on what we know he was basically here to watch and then kill Terra.”

Audrey Genia sighed. “Humans, no matter what land they appear on always do such useless things.”

“You don’t have to sugar-coat it, teach,” Terra said, as I felt the apprehension increase in my chest. “Yeah, Mercy, I killed him.”

My heart fell through my chest. Even though he could be strict with students, our assistant principal was always nice to me. Logically, I knew and understood that there was more to the story than what I was told. That everything, Myadin said about Mr. Ryan was probably correct. Still, it made me feel uneasy being so close to his killer. My friend.

Kazuya, Audrey Genia, and Terra. Would I continue to be surrounded by people that could take the life of another without a second thought?

“When did you kill him?” Tiffany rasped.

“Yesterday, after you left,” Terra said, referring to when Tiffany stayed with him during after-school detention. “He was trying to follow me home before he attacked. I guess, he was getting impatient. That didn’t work out for him.”

I burned inside as Terra made light of his murder, my stomach churning. I knew it shouldn’t have affected me this much but I felt disgusted by him.

“What are your plans now, Terra?” our serpent-elf teacher asked, her violet eyes filled with intent.

“I want a normal life,” Terra said, contemplative. “For a while at least. I’m going to stay here and protect my buddy instead.” He gave Nathan a pointed glance.

“Won’t that put you at odds with the Sinister Seven?”

“I’ll contact Trinity and explain myself. Since you and Audrey Genia are here protecting him, she’ll understand if I couldn’t complete the mission. Might have to fib a little though.”

“What about the werewolf guy from before?” I asked.

“Oris?” Terra asked for confirmation and I nodded. “Don’t worry about him. He wouldn’t try anything now that he’s probably realized Audrey and Myadin are here. Once I talk with Trinity, he’ll back off.”

“So, Oris Keubare is nearby?” Myadin asked, looking past the football fields toward the hill wear the school was.

I remembered that I still had my class presentation in Japanese II with Rika. She was probably pissed that I hadn’t shown up, but I didn’t care. What I was involved in here was way more important and Myadin could vouch for us later.

“He goes by the last name Kester now.”

Myadin sniffed. “Trying to hide his origin?”

“Something like that.” Terra turned away from Myadin and Audrey Genia walked up to my sister and I. He paused, turning around to look at Nathan. “Nathan, Mercy,” he said, “Tiff. I apologize about all of this. For not telling you any of this stuff and who I was. I didn’t want to cause you guys stress from knowing my history, about why I was here. But I don’t have any excuses. I still want to be friends with all of you.” Terra paused. “Are we good?”

After a moment, Tiffany broke away from me and ran to her boyfriend enveloping him in a hug, before giving him a small peck on the lips. Terra looked at me, expectant. I gave him a slight nod before looking down and away. I heard gravel kick up from the track and glanced up. Thick tension filled the air as Nathan walked up to Terra and stared him down with an unreadable expression.

Still serious, Nathan extended a hand, Terra smirked and grabbed it.

“We’re good,” Nathan said as they shook.

Previous Next

Secrets 2.3

Previous Next

Schoolyard Rumble 

What?

My eyes widened as Oris made his demand. He wanted Terra to kill Nathan? Why?

“Look,” Terra said at once. “I will handle Nathan Blackwood myself. On my own time.”

The edges of Oris’s maw curled upward into a ferocious grin. “Then you best handle it quickly. If it’s left up to me, things will get a little messy. Either way, you wouldn’t be able to stay here anymore.”

“If you touch him, I’ll kill you,” Terra said, his voice flat. “I don’t need you ruining things for me here.”

Oris chuckled at that. “You’re already compromised. Your cover has been blown.” Oris made a pointed glance my direction—causing me to quickly hide behind the wall, obscuring my face from view. He snorted. “But you already know that, don’t you?”

I didn’t hear a response from Terra. I suspected that Terra may have gotten a glimpse of me when I first took a peek from behind the door entrance after I spent all that time tailing them. But was it possible that they knew I was following them all along? Oris seemed to be a werewolf. From what I knew about them from fiction and popular culture it was plausible that he had enhanced senses of some sort.

It was quiet. I slowly let my back slide down the wall until my bottom touched the cool solid rooftop. My eyes were sealed tight as I focused on calming myself. Hoping that if they couldn’t hear me breathing really hard, they would forget all about me and think that seeing me was a figment of their imagination.

“Well?” Oris asked.

“Well, what?”

Another pregnant pause.

“That girl has followed us all the way up here. Even when you had given your word, that you knew what you were doing.”

“Damn it, Oris,” Terra hissed. “Shit happens. I didn’t expect her to chase us all over the freaking school building.”

“That’s apparent.”

“She has nothing to do with this.”

“She’s a liability,” Oris growled.

“I know.”

My hands curled up into tight fists. Breath in… and out. Breath in… and out. I needed to move. I couldn’t wait here like a sitting duck. The door entrance was the only way the Terra and Oris could leave the school roof.  It wouldn’t do to be naive and hope that they would let me go.

“Then if you know,” Oris began, “prove yourself. Kill her.”

My body stiffened as my blood turned to ice. Terra didn’t respond.

“Why are you hesitating?” Oris demanded.

“Oris, I thought I just told you I’ll handle it on my own time,” Terra said, his voice flat. “Mercy, come out,” he called, louder than before.”We know you’re there.”

I jumped up and ran through the door with a start, refusing to look back. I could hear Terra say something else; I think he was attempting to call me back, but I wouldn’t stop. Not when there was a risk that he would kill me.

What should I do? What should I do?

My brain was frantic, scrambling for any idea on how to get out of this situation. Should I tell someone? Go to a teacher or the principal?  Or maybe I should just call the police? I had to decide quickly before Terra and his werewolf friend caught up with me.

As I reached the first floor I paused and looked around the empty hallway. “I need to find Nathan… and my sister,” I murmured. That’s right, they were originally after Nathan and there was no telling whether they would go after him or me first, especially if I managed to hide and make myself disappear. If I could find him, I could keep him out of danger. As for Tiffany, I need to warn her about Terra. Anyone else that was close to me could be a target for them now.

It didn’t take long to get to my Algebra II class after I had reached the first floor. Oris and Terra still didn’t catch up to me, causing me to wonder if they bothered to give chase at all. I wasn’t complaining.  I looked around. The classroom was vacant except for pile small belongings and backpacks that littered the floor between everyone’s desks. Our lunch period had started.

Turning heel, I made my way to the cafeteria. Entering into the crowded lunchroom I was swirled by a couple of friends. Brittany, Lorie, and a few other of my other classmates pulled me over toward our usual lunch table. Tiffany perked up as she saw us approach, waving us over. I sat down—squeezing in the middle seat, between her and my friend Nicholas. I gave him a brief hello before turning to face my sister.

“What happened?” Tiffany asked. “I was looking all over for you.”

I frowned. “Have you seen Nathan or Terra?”

Tiffany paused, the edges of her lips curling downward. Hand under her chin, she looked away—seeming thoughtful. She shook her head before returning her eyes to me. “Mm-mm,” she murmured, answering my question. ” I wanted to wait for Terra after he got out of Spanish—so we could come here together, but by the time I got there someone told me he already dipped.”

“Hmm.”

Tiffany gave me an odd look. “What’s wrong? Didn’t Nathan leave class with you?”

I glanced at her side-eyed, focusing majority of my attention on the other people sitting at the table. Most of the guys weren’t paying attention to us and girls were off in their own conversations. Tonya and Nicole were busy ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ as Brittany recounted information about some classroom drama they all took part in before lunch while Lorie spent most her time fawning all over Timothy and Ashley as they looked over the group with amusement. Thank goodness, we sat near the end of the table instead of the middle.

I couldn’t stand to look straight at Timothy, still acting all chummy with our oh-so-perfect blonde leader. Still sitting next to her and smiling like he didn’t do anything to me that night. I glanced at my sister. “Something’s wrong,” I said while leaning next to my sister’s ear; my voice almost a whisper. “Terra’s after Nathan.”

“What?” Tiffany asked, a look of confusion on her face. “What do you mean?”

“I mean like he’s after-after him. A freaking hallowed, a freaking werewolf mosied his way on in here and told him to kill Nathan.”

“You’re yanking my chain here.”

“I saw it happen. I heard them talking about it. On the school roof.”

Tiffany pursed her lips, nonplussed.

“We need to do something.” I exhaled and tried to keep myself calm. “I barely got away as it is.  They realized I was there. That I had followed them. Terra called out to me but I ran away. That werewolf guy… Terra called him Oris. He wanted Terra to kill me.”

Tiffany’s lips thinned, while she looked at me. Her gaze was sharp. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

I gave a quick shrug. “No. But it still happened.” I thought back to the time Terra got involved with an unknown gang a few weeks back. “Do you remember the time Terra got kidnapped?”

“You think that has something to do with this? Terra said they had got the wrong guy. That’s why he wasn’t hurt as much he could’ve been. Thank god.”

“What else could it be?”

Tiffany scrunched her lips. “He didn’t really say whether capes were involved or not.”

“You didn’t think to ask him?”

“That wasn’t my first thought when he snuck through my window half beat to death, looking for help.  No.”

Before I could respond further, a food tray hit the table startling us out of our private conversation. I looked past my sister, feeling a bit surprised. Nathan was here. He took a seat beside Tiffany and then dove into the plate, taking a bite his wide pizza slice.

“What are you two whispering about?” he asked with his mouth full. He nodded toward Nicholas in greeting before returning his attention to us.

“Where have you been?” I asked.

“Worried about me?” Nathan asked in a teasing voice, taking another bite of his pizza. When I didn’t speak, he put his food down and faced us properly. “I was wondering where you went off to since you weren’t there when Mr. Nelson let us out of class. Anyway, I was looking for my wallet. Thought I lost it so I went to check my locker. When I didn’t see it in there, I almost freaked out until I realized I had it with me in my back pocket the whole time,” he smiled at us, sheepish. “And then… I went to the restroom and took a leak. Answer your question?”

My sister and I glanced at each other.

“Hey, now! I don’t appreciate that look,” Nathan said.

Tiffany snorted. But I felt like humoring him.

“What look?” I asked.

“When you both give each other the ‘he’s stupid’ look. I know it when I see it. I’m an expert at reading people.”

“Or maybe you’re just stupid,” Tiffany said, her voice flat.

Nathan sighed. “Ah, my heart.” Nathan placed his hand upon his chest. “That hurts, Tiffany. Right here.”

I giggled.

“You’ll be okay, you’re a big boy,” Tiffany said with a smirk. “I believe in you.”

“I thought we had a connection,” Nathan complained.

“Just stop.”

“No,” Nathan said, pretending to be woeful. “I guess Terra is the only one for you.”

“Speaking of Terra,” I said, thinking about why I was so worried for Nathan. “Have you see him?”

“Nah,” Nathan said. “He didn’t come with you guys?”

Tiffany placed a hand on top of mine. “Hey, I’ll ask Terra about it. Alright? It’s probably a misunderstanding.”

I glanced at her, my gut feeling uneasy. “It’s dangerous.”

“What’s dangerous?” Nathan asked.

Tiffany waved him off. “It’s nothing—relationship stuff.”

“Oh man, don’t tell me you guys broke up,” Nathan said.

Tiffany laughed. “Nah, nothing like that. Just need a little talk.”

Oh shit. Now I’m more worried.”

Tiffany and I both chuckled at that one.

“You should be,” Tiffany said.

Nathan continued to talk with us until lunch period finished, however, we didn’t bring up the thing regarding Terra again.  He didn’t show up but considering how a werewolf wasn’t busy rampaging through our cafeteria, I figured everything was okay for the time being. Well, until I had to go to Japanese II.

After getting my bags from Algebra II, I made my way to the third class for the day.  Without really thinking, I picked the hallway that went toward my locker. It was closer and a faster way to get to class compared to some other routes but I’d often avoid it. Considering that my locker was adjacent to Katherine’s.

As I walked further in the corridor, I could see a familiar group of girls huddled around a particular locker. Katherine’s. They surrounded her talking to each other in hushed voices, pretending to mind their own business. But I knew better. They were doing their usual routine of saying mean things to her without actually saying it to her face.

It was so they couldn’t be accused of bullying. To make it hard for Katherine if she went a teacher. They could just claim they were having regular conversations and that Katherine took something they said personally by mistake. The teachers would always take the word of their favorite students over the quiet girl that sat in the corner of the class alone, scrunched over with her head down. My stomach curled.

I could hear their viperous gossip as I walked by.

“I can’t believe we have such an ugly girl in this school,” Lorie said to Nicole while sneaking glances at Katherine with a nasty smile.

“She looks like a guy,” another girl crowed.

“Isn’t that like offensive to like most of the guys in the school?” a short girl with red hair asked.

“Maybe not all of them,” Brittany said in a loud whisper. “But most of them.”

“That girl needs a lot a makeup if she wanted to look decent,” Diana murmured.

“Yeah,” Tonya agreed. “But she’d need so much she’d end up looking like a clown.”

“That would be an improvement.”

The posse of girls giggled and laughed among themselves all while giving Katherine condescending looks of disgust.  Katherine didn’t say anything but it was bothering her. I could tell as she fumbled with getting books out of her locker. It was weighing her down.

“Can’t believe Ashley let a girl like Katherine hang out with us.”

“She just felt sorry for her.”

“And then for her to piss Ashely off after all that. What a dumbfuck. I thought Asian girls were supposed to be smart.”

“Hey, I resent that,” Rika said to the girl facing her left. “Katherine is too much of a failure to be lumped in with us.”

I kept my head forward, pretending not to pay attention. I didn’t want to be noticed by the girls and brought into it. I felt a hand clasp my shoulder in a soft grip. So much for that.

“Mercy, where are you off to? ” Rika asked louder than before, causing the other girls to notice I was there. “Wait for me.”

I looked at Katherine who was still facing the lockers before giving Rika a hesitant nod. Rika gave me a smile before stepping in stride with me. I turned back to give Katherine and the girls one lace glance. I flinched before turning around as Katherine’s dark eyes had met mine. She was angry, a definitive scowl on her face as she clenched her fists. The look she gave me and Rika could only be described as pure hatred. I deserved every bit of it.

“I saw that,” Rika said as we walked toward class. “That look the twerp gave you.”

I glanced up at Rika to look at her face. Being five foot eleven, she was quite tall for a girl. Since almost everyone we knew had to look up to her, she was used to looking down on people in a physical and mental way.

“What’s your deal with her anyway?” I asked, feeling irritated. “They only bother her because of you. You may have got them to believe that Ashley and Katherine had a fight but I know the truth. You the one that had a problem with Katherine, not her.”

“It’s none of your business,” Rika hissed, blowing me off. “You still want to be her friend? You don’t talk to her anymore.”

I frowned and turned away. She had me there. Glancing toward our class, I could see two figures hanging back away from the other students in the in the hallway. Toward the end. They looked familiar. I squinted at them for a minute. It was Terra and Nathan, talking.

I started to walk toward them at an even pace, but Rika didn’t follow. “Hey,” Rika called, “make sure you’re back before class starts. I’m not doing that presentation on my own.”

I waved back to her, shouting some gibberish about not worrying as Nathan and Terra had turned the corner. I wouldn’t let Terra get away from me. Not this time. I should’ve told someone instead of following them. I had no idea if Terra had powers or not. If Oris was waiting for Terra to arrive with his target. But I didn’t care. I pushed forward, following them as with as quietly as I could. Keeping my distance.

They had gone to the gym. It didn’t seem like anyone was in there. No classes were taking place. There were cameras, small ones attached to the ceiling, but even so, if they wanted to leave the school without quick interference from faculty, this was the place and time to do it. I waited for them to exit the building from the double doors before following.

Stepping outside, I paused feeling the dry air against my face. Nathan and Terra were walking down the hill, closer to the football practice fields. I pursued them. Terra and Nathan had stopped walking once they had reached the fence of one of the practice fields. They leaned on the fence facing each other while standing on the gravel track that surrounded range.  I stood back a little bit, hiding behind some of the trees.

Peeking around, I watched in silence as Nathan and Terra conversed in hushed voices. What was Terra telling him?

“You’ve been a good friend,” Terra said at once, so loud that his voice echoed across the field. He didn’t need to do that, he was right next to him. Did Terra notice me again? He was probably speaking loudly for my own benefit.  My body stiffened; I felt nervous.

“What are you on about?” Nathan asked, sounding suspicious. “You’ve been acting weird all day.”

Terra sighed and looked at the trees on the opposite side of the clearing. “I guess you’re right.”

“Look, man—if you got something to say, say it. I gotta go. I can’t be skipping class, bro.”

“You won’t have to worry about that any longer.”

“Wha—”

Nathan cut himself off and ducked, avoiding a swift hook from Terra’s fist. Nathan jumped backward putting up his hands to defend himself. “What the hell, man?” Nathan’s face twisted from the expression of sudden shock to anger. “What the fuck is your problem?”

Terra gave Nathan a blank look, his face betraying nothing—like he didn’t just try to take his best friend’s head off without warning. Terra blurred, moving faster than I could see as he punched Nathan straight in the gut.

Nathan coughed and cried out in surprise as he dropped to the floor, unable to react to Terra’s quickness. Before Nathan could get up Terra kicked him and implanted his foot on Nathan’s chest to hold him in place.

“It’s nothing personal,” Terra said while pressing his foot down.

Nathan yelled something incoherent before tossing Terra’s foot off him. Nathan took off from the ground, his arms wrapping around Terra’s waist and thighs as he attempted to throw Terra to the ground. With a great heave, Nathan forced Terra to the floor. He tried to get on top of Terra, layering him with quick punches but Terra wasn’t having it.  The two boys found themselves in a tight wrestling match; both trying to impose their will on each other. Terra maneuvered himself until he was back on top of their tussle with his arm wrapped around Nathan’s neck. He was trying to choke him out.

I ran toward them without thinking, aiming to stop Terra before things got worse.  I grabbed Terra from behind, trying to pull him off of Nathan. Damn. Terra was a lot stronger than he looked. He didn’t budge an inch.

“Stop it, Terra!” I screamed. “Stop this now!”

Terra attempted to shrug me off but I held on. “…Stay out of this,” he growled out. His elbow connected with my chest and I fell back on the gravel. It didn’t really hurt. I was like I didn’t even feel it. Must have been the adrenaline. Nathan yelled something else over their struggle, having a few choice words for Terra after he hit me.

Terra froze. An aura of purple energy covered his body holding him in place. Still angry, Nathan readied himself to take another swing at Terra, but then he vanished in a flash of purple light.

A hooded figure wearing purple robes with golden ornaments and gems draped around its clothing appeared in midair. A woman. She floated from the sky, holding Nathan in a secure bridal carry. At a slow speed, the hooded woman landed right in front of Terra who was still frozen in place. Terra didn’t say anything, if he even could, but seeing him up close I could tell that he was afraid. I was too, as realized who the woman in front of us was. She pulled down her hood after letting Nathan stand on his two feet.

“Get out of here,” I muttered as I stared at our English teacher in shock. Her face was uncovered; she wasn’t wearing a mask. Her usual brown eyes were now swirling with waves of violet. Her pupils were slits, reminding me of Kazuya. Her ears were longer than before, elvish. Ms. Frazzle looked different but I could still tell it was her. Her hairstyle was still the same. “Ms. Frazzle…?”

Ms. Frazzle’s lips quirked upward. “Yes… and no.” With a wave of her hand, the aura that was kept Terra from moving was released. Terra exhaled in relief, but he didn’t stand. He remained in a crouched position not daring to take his eyes off our teacher.

“You’re a cape?” I asked her.

Ms. Frazzle gave a light shrug. “I guess I could be considered one. That term sounds so lazy and banal though. What about hallowed that don’t wear capes?”

Terra snorted. I was too flabbergasted to say anything.

Ms. Frazzle’s brow furrowed as she looked at Terra, disappointed. “You’ve been a naughty boy, Terra,” she said.

“… Are you sure this is a good idea?” Nathan asked quietly, prompting Ms. Frazzle to glance his way.

He knew our English teacher had powers?

“It’s fine, Nathan. With the way things were going the truth was going to come out eventually. Besides, I had to protect my precious students from getting hurt.”

“What are you even talking about?” Nathan asked, pissed off. He still seemed angry at Terra. “You didn’t need to reveal your powers to stop us from fighting.” He waved an arm toward us. “They could tell everyone. The whole school would know your secret identity by the end of the next class.”

Ms. Frazzle and Terra had a brief stare-down before she gave me a glance. She looked back at Nathan. “They could. But they won’t.”

Before we could ask her what she meant, a wave of energy burst from the trees, from the area I was hiding before. “No, they will not,” a regal voice called. A recognizable voice. A girl in golden armor with a sword in hand approached us on the gravel track. I could see Tiffany running behind her at a frantic pace, trying to keep up.  It was Ashley.

Like Ms. Frazzle, Ashley also looked different. Changed. A pair of dragon-like horns covered in jewelry sprouted from the top of her head. A long reptilian tail—her reptilian tail—whipped through the air as it passed by me, she didn’t spare me a glance as she moved me out of the way. Ashley glared at the Terra, who was still crouched on the gravel track, with glowing eyes. She didn’t care about me, Nathan, or Ms. Frazzle. Her only focus was Terra.

She raised her broadsword in a fluid motion pointing it at Terra’s neck. Terra stiffened like he wanted to move, but he didn’t back away.

“What is the meaning of this?” Ashley hissed.

Previous Next

Secrets 2.2

Previous  Next

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 to 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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Prologue II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is what it means to be a god.

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

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

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

“Not interested.”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

“I’ll be there,” she said.

“I’ll pick you up,” Timothy replied.

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

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

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

oOo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Twenty-two ma’am,” he replied.

“Wow, so you just graduated college?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Just call me Selena.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was that?” Shaun asked.

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

She started to move faster, heading toward the disturbance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey!” Nicole said.

“Ashley!?” Lorie exclaimed.

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

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

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

Ashley stalked off without saying another word.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes Sir,” Shaun replied.

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

oOo

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right. So what do you think of him?”

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

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

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

“Really, shitting where you eat?”

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

“If you’re paying.”

“Oh come on.”

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

It looks like things are starting to get interesting.

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