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.”
“Oh, fuck you.”
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 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 a 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 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.”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 because of 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?