Awakening 1.7

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~R.I.P.~

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry,” Tiffany and I said in unison.

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

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

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

“Mercy, what happened?”

“Did someone hurt you?” Dad asked.

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

“Mercy!” Mom demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

oOo

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

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

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

I paused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She hasn’t come upstairs?”

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

“Mm.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Hey, Ems.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, are you okay?” I asked.

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

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

Tiffany frowned. “Say what now?”

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

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

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

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

I gave her a questioning look. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crap. Did she hear us talking to Kazuya?

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

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

“Tim gave it to him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kairanna?” He had used that word before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Awakening 1.6

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~Caught~

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

“I don’t know,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is that?” Tiffany asked.

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

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

“What is it?” Shekhinah asked.

“Don’t take him.”

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

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

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

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

Shekhinah frowned. Tiffany tapped me on the arm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?” I asked.

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

“Is he okay, somehow?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh yeah? What about?”

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

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

I snorted but smiled all the same.

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

“Yeah?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Stop it.”

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

Tiffany held Kazuya while I opened the door.

“He still hasn’t woken up,” I said.

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

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

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

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

“Tiffany, can you be serious for once?”

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

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

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

“Better than nothing,” I muttered.

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

“It’s kind of weird,” I whispered.

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

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

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

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

“Feel what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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