Secrets 2.6

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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 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?

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Secrets 2.5

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The Friend of My Ambition, The Enemy of My Ideal

With care, I pulled my socks up and over my shin guards, the socks reaching the bottom of my knees with the shin guards held in place. I tied the laces of my neon cleats making sure they were extra tight before standing up, my cleats clacking against the floor of the girl’s locker room.

I placed my small gym bag the in the bottom drawer of my closet locker and locked it before putting my sneakers on top of it, right under where my shirts and extra jerseys hung. I checked to see if Tiffany was finished dressing.

My sister was busy messing around with her Dutch braids while glancing at herself in her locker mirror. Noticing I was observing, she turned around to face me before tugging on my braids with a cheeky smile. I quickly slapped her hand away.

It had been about two weeks since the incident at the practice fields. Since when I learned my friends and teacher were capes from another world. The truth about Mr. Ryan’s death only for us to know.

The moment of silence held during homeroom for Mr. Ryan’s murder made me feel sick, and I couldn’t do anything. Worse was the fact that we were lied to about it. Everyone was told by Principal Hardy that he died in an apparent car accident; his funeral was held during the weekend after.

Tiffany and I didn’t go but from what I heard, faculty and a surprising amount of students were there. Mr. Ryan was always involved in the lives of student and faculty, it showed.

“What’s wrong?” Tiffany asked, her impish expression morphing into a look of concern.

“Nothing, just thinking about the announcement during homeroom.”

“Still?”

“What do you mean ‘still’? It’s bothering me. They straight up lied about Mr. Ryan’s death.”

“No duh. Would you rather they tell us everything and get Terra locked up?”

Irritation spiked inside my chest. I shook my head. “No—I don’t know,” I said in a strained whisper. “I mean, he’s a freaking murderer, Tiffany!”

Tiffany seemed like she was trying to hold back her own annoyance at my words. “Didn’t you remember what Ms. Frazzle told us? SIGMA is probably holding info back from the public like they always do.”

“Why though?”

“Who cares? They might not even know who did it. If they don’t see it fit to come up here an arrest him, who are we to complain?”

My lips thinned. “Are you really alright with this? He has powers right? You saw how easily he admitted it. What happens to you one day if gets angry and lets himself slip?”

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Ems. That can be an issue with any guy.”

“It’s not the same. Terra’s killed. He’s an assassin, for crying out loud.”

“So what? He was defending himself. Villains aren’t the only ones who kill. Heroes do too.”

“Not the good ones.”

Tiffany tutted. “Oh please. Like you’re gonna care about someone’s welfare in a fight when they’re trying to take your head off. Mr. Ryan was the same, you know. Look, I know how you say he was nice to you, but he wasn’t who you imagined him to be.”

“You say that like you knew.”

“Nope. I was just as surprised as you. Terra suspected he was fishy, ever since we started high school.” Tiffany sighed and faced her locker. “I’m just glad Ms. Frazzle vouched for us then,” she said, bringing up the day. “If she hadn’t made up some reason about why we were late to class, we would have been screwed. Coach Stephen might have sat us out again.”

Tiffany was trying her usual ploy, changing the subject of conversation by using something in close relation to it. Though I knew what she was doing, and though my sister knew I knew, I went along with it—not willing to disturb our other teammates with a heated argument. God knows it was the last thing we needed right now, before a big game. It was time to focus.

“Alright, girls!”

Coach Stephen called all of us from the locker room entrance, telling us to get ready to take the field. After everyone was finished dressing, we lined up and walked through the locker room door.

I tried to push my emotions down in a futile effort. I could at least try to act calm. “Ms. Frazzle seems more detached lately,” I said.

“She does seem a little out of it.” Tiffany gave me a pointed glace. “Like someone else I know.”

“It’s been hard to focus since all that crazy stuff happened,” I mused, rueful.

“You’ve been struggling in practice and you haven’t been doing your homework. You’re going to fail Algebra II at this rate. How will you explain to Mom and Dad that you failed Algebra?

“It can get hard… when you don’t study.”

“Exactly.”

“I’ll get my act together, Tiff.”

“You better. I don’t pay you enough to be the failing ugly twin to my hot attractive self. Well, it’s not like I have to pay you for that.”

I pretended to act shocked by her gibe. “Shut up! You don’t pay me at all.”

“True enough,” Tiffany said with a smirk, “but everyone thinks I’m prettier.”

“Everyone thinks we look the same, dumb-ass.”

“I know, it’s such a travesty. At least Terra knows better though. He told me I look at least point zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-one percent better than you, girl.”

“Does that mean anything?”

“That means everything.”

“Uh huh.”

Tiffany gave me a playful tap on the shoulder. “Hey. I’m glad you’re talking to me again. I thought you were avoiding me.”

I looked away from her as we exited the school building. I caught sight of the other team’s bus in the parking lot. “I was mostly avoiding Terra and since you seemed to be smitten with him more than ever…”

“No. That’s not fair. You haven’t been talking to me at home either. Locking your door at night? Not speaking to me when we have dinner?”

“I guess I didn’t feel comfortable talking to someone that cosigns Terra’s actions.” I was frowning, annoyed. “Sorry,” I said quickly, after seeing Tiffany’s peeved look. I sighed. “I wonder if I should tell Ms. Frazzle and Ashley about my dreams, I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”

“It would probably best to wait,” Tiffany said.

“Mmm,” I hummed in agreement. “I wish Kazuya would come back, he would know what to do.”

My sister glanced at me in disbelief but she said nothing.

The two of us were quiet as the rest of our teammates continued to chat among themselves, the rest of the girls having their own private conversations as we walked toward the field. Reaching the pitch, I glanced at the multi-shaded and stripped lawn of turf—the gridiron lines still visible under the soccer markings. It was normal to see for us, we had our games on the same field that our football team used.

Making our way over to our team bench, some of the girls that were still wearing sneakers or other shoes took the time to get out their cleats and put them on. I sat down on the cool grass and started stretching, trying to remove the stiffness I had from sitting on my behind all day. We would have team stretches in a few minutes but it wouldn’t hurt to start early.

Tiffany had taken a soccer ball from one of the ball bags lying around near the edge of the sideline and dribbled over with it, at a smooth even pace. As Tiffany focused on juggling the ball with her feet and knees, Rika approached us wearing her goalie jersey, her reddish-dyed hair gleaming in the afternoon sun.

“You guys ready for your first game back?” Rika asked.

I gave a light shrug. “I think so. For some reason, I feel a little nervous.”

Tiffany cuffed her ball in midair and sat on the ground with her foot, making sure her boot was on top. “You’ll be fine, Ems.”

“Yeah,” Rika agreed. “It’s not like you can do anything wrong. We’ll win anyway. We’re undefeated so far.”

Tiffany huffed. “That’s only because Ashley is a freak of nature.”

Literally.

We were a good team, ranked twenty-fifth in the nation last year. But Ashely was something else. Joining this season, Ashley drove us to the top of the rankings at number one, single-handedly.

“She has to be the top player in the country by now,” I said.

“Of course she is!” Tiffany said. “Forty-six goals in ten games? It’s insane.”

“Hmm. Forty-six or forty-seven?”

“Does it matter?”

I glared at my sister. “Uh—rude! Don’t be such a bitch.”

As I started to tell Tiffany off, Rika chuckled and left us, getting another soccer ball to practice with.

“Seriously, you really need to work on that attitude.”

Tiffany rolled her eyes and passed me her ball with a hard touch. I lunged for the ball in a bout of effort; I had to overextend to keep it from passing me. I cringed internally from the strain, I barely caught it. I sighed and wiggled out the kinks in my leg before passing the ball back.

Tiffany trapped it under her foot and pursed her lips. She beckoned me closer with a curled finger in a ‘come-hither’ motion. Heh. Didn’t want to kick it back? She knew I’d have her sprinting all over the field to get her back for that one.

Tiffany eyed me with suspicion before passing back the ball. She turned to look toward the center of the field. My gaze followed hers. Tiffany was looking at Ashley.

I kicked to her. “What’s wrong?”

“Nah, nothing,” Tiffany said, catch the ball off balance. She straightened up. “It’s ridiculous that no one has investigated to see if she’s hallowed or whatever. You’d think the NFHS would be all over that.”

I gave a faint hum. “There’s a bunch of tests in place to stop hallowed from competing at sports. From all levels—shoot—even in elementary school. Ashley probably had a way to bypass them. Maybe ’cause she’s a Valterian.”

“Or maybe because she threatened to off the school board.”

“Tiffany, come on. Don’t say that.”

“What?” she asked, her eyes wide like she was genuinely mystified. “You don’t think she would?”

“For not being allowed on the soccer team? No.”

Ashley may have a bad temper when she was challenged, but I didn’t think she would kill people for being excluded from something she knew she had no business participating in. Ashley was above that.

“She could try out for the U.S. Woman’s Powered team,” Tiffany said. “When she gets older.”

“Mmm. She’d have to play for a powered club or a high school that sanctions hallowed sports. Most schools don’t.”

Ours didn’t.

“Yeah but there some in our district do, like Fellowship.”

“True,” I agreed as Tiffany mentioned our rival school. “You know, I’m surprised that they do, considering how it’s Christian and everything.”

Tiffany arched an eyebrow. “Maybe they know something we don’t?” her voice was laced with sarcasm. With a smirk, she passed the ball back. “What about the Preternatural Grand Prix? She’d love something like that.”

“Combat sports…” I mused. “Pretty sure Ashley is way too strong. They’d have to limit her like crazy in order to give other teams a chance.”

“You don’t even know that,” Tiffany said in her annoying ‘matter-of-fact’ tone. “She barely showed us anything.”

“She showed us enough. And she said she’s even more powerful than that. Plus, she’s a… um… I don’t know—a god?

“Yeah, yeah,” Tiffany conceded. I passed the ball back to her and she started to dribble toward our end of the pitch. “Come on, Ems.” I followed her to the middle of the field, noticing Rika on crouched on the goal-line. Her hands were up and her eyes focused on everyone that had lined up a few feet from the goal.

Tiffany and I stood in line behind some other teammates. It was time for our practice shots.

Ashley was the first up, of course. She moved her ball to a favorable position and then took a few steps back before dropping her shoulders a bit. She glanced up and Rika stiffened. It was on. I bet Ashley was smiling. Ashley shifted in stride, her feet gliding across the grass. With her form perfect, Ashley’s leg curved down in a brilliant ark as she aimed to strike the ball with retribution.

Rika’s feet vanished from the earth as she took for the sky. It happened in flash. The sound of the ball hitting the back of the net graced my ears.

Laying on her side, Rika turned her head around to see the soccer ball rolling around inside the goal. “Damn,” she cursed.

Ashley had fooled her perfectly, acting like she was aiming for the corner of the net while kicking it straight down the middle. The perfect blonde headed to the back of the line, her faint smile showing how pleased she was. She caught my eye and I could have sworn her smile widened.

I frowned at her and paused for a moment, looking over past her head to the other side of the field. The baby-blue jerseys of South Ravensworth caught my eye. With the way they were shooting, hitting the goal from way beyond the penalty box, they looked ready to play. I turned around and exhaled while closing my eyes. Almost time.

When Tiffany was done arguing with Rika after her botched shot, I took a step forward.

oOo​

 

“Good game,” I said, shaking the hand of the South Ravensworth goalie, the last person in line.

“Good game,” the black-haired girl said. She ran off to join her teammates on the sideline her ponytail waving back and forth.

“Lions!” Coach Stephen called, “Huddle up!”

I turned to jog toward the bench with everyone else. I sat on the grass next to Tiffany and Rika, in front of our coach with the rest of the girls. Tiffany was fiddling her with shin guards, her socks and cleats already off. She leaned back, sighing in relief as she wiggled her toes. Rika shook her head at Tiffany’s antics while talking her gloves off.

“Nicely done, girls,” Coach Stephen said, gruff. “We started off a little slow, had some trouble getting shots on goal. But you guys stuck with it, Ashley and Karen made some excellent touches and we made it out with a win.”

He was making it sound like we barely made it. South Ravensworth did score first, but we came back in the second half with a vengeance. Ashley lit up the South Ravensworth goalkeeper, scoring three of our four goals.

“Also, I would like to commend two players that have returned to join us,” our coach said with a hint of amusement—a twinkle in his eye as he faced me and my sister. “Tiffany, Mercy, though we can use some improvement, that was an excellent defensive effort.”

I smiled at him, chest warming up a little.

“Thank ya, coach,” Tiffany said, her head resting on Rika’s knee and thigh.

Coach Stephen smiled. “Alright. You guys were great. No Friday practice this week. You can have the weekend off and we’ll come back Monday ready to work.”

“Stephen.” Patricia, our Assistant Coach, drew his attention walking from the fence with a recruiter that had come to watch Ashley play. “Ms. Maduka would like a word.”

Coach Stephen barely turned his head before dismissing us. “Shanice break it down.” He left us to consult with Patricia and the recruiter.

Intrigued, I gave the recruiter a quick once-over. The pretty woman in question was mixed, her light brown skin a nice even tone, her curly chestnut brown hair in a tied into a bun. Her jumper had the symbol for Alexis University near the top on the left side. The letters ‘A’ and ‘U’ overlaid diagonally on top of each other with a small star in the middle of the ‘A’.

“Alright, ladies!” Our senior captain called as she stood up, drawing my attention. “Get in here!”

All of us huddled around her, piling our hands on top of hers.

“I don’t care what happens we’re staying undefeated this year baby!” Shanice claimed. “All the way to state. Ain’t that right?” she looked around at our faces and some teammates cheered in agreement. “That’s right! Lions on three. one, two, three!”

“Lions!” We yelled, the team breaking up into our small groups with cheers and excitement.

“Yasss, girl!” Tiffany said, enveloping me in a hug. “We are back! We should so celebrate.”

“We should.” Ashley approached us side by side with Rika. “The team is going to Giovanni’s. Shanice told me before the game.”

“She’s giving us a lift?” Tiffany asked.

Ashley nodded.

“Perfect!”

The four of us left the field together, following the rest of the team back to the locker room. We took our showers and cleaned up before changing into our normal clothes before heading to Shanice’s car. It was late when we got to Giovanni’s, the sky a dark blue as the sun had set. Our team picked the six tables in our usual spot, deep inside the pizzeria.

“That recruiter,” I said, sitting down next to Tiffany, “was from Alexis University.”

“Isn’t that a school for the hallowed?” My sister asked.

“They have normal sports teams for hallowed not good enough for Division Zero,” Rika said. “They’re allowed to compete as long as they wear power limiters.”

“Really?” I asked. “Didn’t know that.”

“Or maybe…” Tiffany smirked at Ashley, who was sitting across from her.

“Maybe what?” Rika asked.

I kicked Tiffany from under the table, causing her to curse as she winced in pain.

Rika gestured with a hand, her lips in a slight frown. “Well?”

“I think… that Tiffany’s implying that I might be hallowed,” Ashley said, her stilted visage morphing as the hint of a smile showed her face. “Is that right, Tiffany?”

Not one to back down, Tiffany leaned across the table her hands, hands folded. “Why else would someone from a hero college be here?”

Rika didn’t seem impressed. “Maybe to see highest ranked soccer player in the country?”

“Yeah…” Tiffany said, rubbing a hand under her chin. “or…”

I yanked my twin’s bottom back into her seat. “Tiff, stop it.” No need to antagonize the dragon god that threatened to skewer our homeroom teacher. I looked Ashley, trying took keep the curiosity I felt off of my face. Was the Alliance keeping tabs on her?

“Tiffany, be serious. Me? Hallowed?” Ashley said, her voice smooth like silk, her eyes vicious like a serpent’s. “You know better than that.”

I know I certainly did. Being referred to as being a race beneath her… I bet she was offended. My body tense, I lowered my gaze. I could feel it. A hint of that strong energy I felt that day emanating from Ashley’s body. A warning for Tiffany to not overstep her bounds, in word and spirit.

Tiffany narrowed her eyes then leaned her head back in a chuckling fit. “Yeah, I do,” she giggled. “Just kidding.”

I wanted to glare at my sister for a sister for acting like an imbecile, but I couldn’t do that in front of Rika. I wasn’t sure if Rika noticed the little bit of aura that Ashley released, but her posture had changed. She shifted in her seat like she was uncomfortable, her attention on me.

“Mercy,” Rika said, “is something up? You still seem out of it. I know you were pissed you let twenty-three get by you on that goal, but that wasn’t your fault, my positioning was off,” she tutted. “I almost had it.”

That did bug me, but it would have felt worse I had cost us the game and ruined our undefeated season. Right now, I was just hoping that Tiffany and Ashley didn’t get into an argument or worse.

“I’m alright, Rika.”

“Yeah, we know that’s not true,” Tiffany remarked.

Oh, please help me God before I slap this child. I looked up at the ceiling trying my best to ignore my sister.

What? Am I wrong?”

“Coach didn’t sit you out early for that,” Rika said, her eyes on mine. “You’ve been off your game for a while.”

“I’m sure she has a lot of her mind.” Ashley gaze softened as she looked my way. “I’ve heard you’ve been struggling in class.”

“Yeah,” Rika agreed. “You’re lucky you were able to get full credit for that doing your presentation late in Japanese II, otherwise your grade would probably be in the shitter. I’m still pissed about that by the way.”

“We had… a good excuse,” I said, being meek. I did feel bad about leaving her to do the one we worked on together by herself.

“What? A note from Ms. Frazzle? Everyone knows she’ll make up some bullshit to cover anyone in her homeroom.”

“More like she talked to Ms. Noguchi, personally,” Tiffany said. “I saw.”

Rika waved her off. “All I saw was Mercy blundering her way through the door to hand her piece of paper, right after I did our presentation.”

“Sorry, Rika,” I said. “I’ll make it up to you, somehow.”

“Just don’t fail. Can’t have you sit out because of academic probation. Coach won’t play you.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll get my act together.”

“If something is wrong, you should tell us about it,” Ashley said.

“Jeez, stop hounding her,” Tiffany said, her hand reaching on top of mine. “You don’t have to tell anyone anything unless you want to.”

I gave her a slight smile.

oOo​

 

It was finally the weekend and I found myself ambling down the huge interior of the bustling Ravensworth Emporium with the family, trying not to bump into the shoppers hustling all throughout. I felt giddy—surveying the various stores and colorful storefronts with lustful eyes. I always loved coming here. So many clothing stores to choose from it would take forever to visit them all. With hundreds of stores, this mall was like Ravensworth’s own King of Prussia—probably almost as big.

“Mercy, don’t get too far ahead of us now!” Mom called. I turned around just in time to see her wave for me to slow down.

I frowned as I saw Tiffany whispering to Terra walking next to Mom with Dad further behind, who was carrying some of the stuff we bought, i.e. everything. I waited for them to catch up before pulling my phone out and messing with it, pretending I was checking some text messages or whatever. Glancing up, I noticed Tiffany attempting to catch my eye but I ignored her. I refocused my attention on my phone screen, a knot forming in my stomach.

“There’s a heavy SIGMA presence here,” Terra said, as two SIGMA officers in full gear walked by us in the crowd, both men with coffee in hand.

He wasn’t wrong. SIGMA agents were all around the area today. Some were along the entrances to the shopping center, along with regular security. Others on the inside. We even had to walk through scanners to get in.

“You’re right about that,” Tiffany said. “I wonder what’s going on.”

“You didn’t hear?” Dad asked. Seeing our confused faces, he continued. “Media day?”

Oooh,” Tiffany said.

“Media day?” Terra asked.

“I thought you guys were all about cape news,” Dad said. “Tiffany and Mercy spend all day looking at those videos on YouTube.”

“David, what exactly is going on?” Mom asked.

Tiffany answered for our dad. “It’s media day for Unity. They’re here today.”

“What?” My surprise caused me momentarily stop giving her the silent treatment. Why would the heroic family team be here?

Tiffany blinked at me. “Yeah. Didn’t you check The Hallowed Eve yesterday? It’s been advertised for a while now.”

Huh. I often used the website to research capes or to find any information that was posted about my cape events. I hadn’t looked at the local boards in a week, so I must have forgotten the fact that Unity would be out publicly.

“What made them pick here?” Terra asked, glancing at Tiffany.

“It’s the biggest mall in the state,” Tiffany said. “They’re doing a publicity stunt. To help stores advertise products and merchandise and help reassure the public that they’re safe. You know, the usual.”

“Hmm,” Terra said with interest as we arrived toward the center of the Emporium. “Looks like that’s them.”

The plaza was a media circus with tons of people surrounding the group of Unity capes. There were cameras and people everywhere, most with their phones out taking pictures. The adoring fans were loud, shouting the names of their favorite heroes. Unity was pretty much stuck to their large panel booth, answer questions and signing autographs. Even the local news was here.

There were way too many people in one place.

“Want an autograph?” Dad asked with a smirk, seeing me look at the crowd.

“…Maybe later. After things die down.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Terra said. “I don’t think everyone’s up there.”

So he noticed. I recognized most of the Unity capes on the booth. It was everyone except for the Unity triplets. They were all dressed in their iconic skin-tight costumes. Their faces uncovered without masks, their identities revealed for the world to see.

Vibrance, the leader of the team wore a black costume with violet highlights around the sides, a white star with an arrow rising through the middle on his chest. Crush, Vibrance’s wife was next to him, sporting her usual white and gold costume with a beautiful lightning design—running from her neck down to her abdomen before spreading outward.

Hardlight, in his armored sliver and gray costume, was seated beside his wife—Vibrance’s younger sister, Immortalis. Her costume was white with amaranth trim.

“Terra, I didn’t know you knew about Unity,” Tiffany said.

“It’s kind of hard not to know about them, being one of the most popular teams of heroes in the country.”

Unity was famous but not necessarily because of capes in their group, but because of what they represented. Consisting of two families the group claimed they had nothing to hide. They didn’t wear masks, taking inspiration from some of the Omniversals. They believed in being accountable heroes without secrets.

I wasn’t so sure about that myself, though.

I noticed Balancer, between signing autographs and answering questions for reporters, was chatting with his niece and nephew, Cosmiss and Dreammaker—the children of Hardlight and Immortalis. His hair freshly cut, Balancer wore a thin emerald visor and green suit with long white bands crisscrossing together on his costume forming green diamonds in the middle. Dreammaker’s costume was white and blue, the swirls on his costume oddly reminding me of Nature. Cosmiss’s violet and white costume had the same star design as Vibrance’s did but with arrows splitting the star from all sides.

“I wonder where the rest of the girls are,” Tiffany said.

“Did the news say they would be here?” Mother asked.

“They could be shopping.”

“Ooh, look!” Tiffany pointed at a popular clothing boutique across from the meandering crowd. “Terra, let’s go. We need to shop for some more winter clothes.”

“…We do?” Terra asked dubiously, letting Tiffany pull him toward the direction of the store.

I followed. Mom and Dad sat down on one of the benches in the mall lounge content to rest and wait for us. Entering the store, I glanced at some of the long sleeve tops and cardigans. Tiffany moved further down the junior sections, pulling a coat and a few tops of the rack.

“Oh, I love this shirt,” Tiffany said. “What do think, Terra?”

“It’s nice,” Terra said, amused. “Your style is more punkish though.”

“I can dress like a spoiled high-maintenance girl when I want to.”

“You are spoiled, so you have that part down. But do you need to try on all those outfits?”

“Uh, yeah? Terra, I have standards you know. Shocking!”

Terra chuckled. “I know. That’s the only reason we’re dating.”

Tiffany coughed, her mouth hanging open. “Sassy!”

“Gotta keep you in line. I’m not gonna help you car those to the fitting room, you won’t try all of them on.”

Ugh.”

“Don’t ‘ugh’ me. Go on, get.”

Tiffany bit her lip and walked back to Terra. She squeezed his arm with her free hand and Terra smirked.

I rolled my eyes and turn back to exit the aisle. I froze, looking at a girl that was going through the rack a few feet from me. She was dressed in a hooded skirt, with yellow arrows traveling down the sides. She was a cape, one of the Unity triplets.

“Catwhip?” I mouthed.

“Hmm?” Catwhip looked up at me; her misty blue eyes looked so weird up close. “Something wrong?”

“Uh… no—I was just surprised,” I said. “I thought you would be with the rest of your family.”

“Oh? Are you sure you’re not shocked and filled with awe after meeting your favorite hero?”

Huh?

Catwhip laughed. “Relax. I’m only kidding. What’s your name? I’m Marissa Flann. You probably you already know that. You can call me Marissa if you want.”

“Yeah… I’m Mercy Gaunt.”

“Well, nice to meet you, Mercy.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

Catwhip smiled. “Anyway, about what you said, my sisters and I are taking a break. Doing a little shopping to get away from all people, you know? I love talking and giving interviews, but we’ll be here all day. Dealing with fans and reporters non-stop wears me out.”

“Yeah, I totally get that.”

“Ems! Who are you talking too?” Tiffany asked, approaching with Terra. “Is that Catwhip?”

“Oooh boy,” Catwhip muttered, hesitantly looking around the rest of the shop.

I shushed my sister, a finger held up to my lips. This was Catwhip’s time to relax and lie low. No need to ruin her break, drawing the mass of fans in here. Tiffany crouched and tip-toed over, apologetic. Terra shook his head.

“This is my sister, Tiffany,” I said, facing Catwhip. “And this is her boyfriend, Terra.”

“Hi,” Catwhip said, greeting them both. Her face changed we she saw me and Tiffany standing side-by-side. “Oh. Wow. You’re twins.”

“Yup,” Tiffany said.

“I can already tell you two are quite the handful. Ask me how I know.”

The four of us laughed. Soon thereafter, two other girls approached us. The both of them wearing the same type of skirts with knee-high boots that Catwhip had on, but their costumes were hoodless. I knew who they were. Lightshow and Razorbash.

“Marise, we’ve been looking all over for you,” Lightshow said.

“Yeah,” Razorbash said. “Break time’s over. Mom wants us back.” She looked us over. “Don’t tell me, you’ve already started signing autographs?”

Not yet.” Catwhip moved to introduced us. “These are my sister’s, Razorbash and Lightshow.” She turned. “Guys, this is Mercy, Tiffany, and Terra.”

“Hey,” Razorbash said as she started to shake our hands.

“I hope Marise hasn’t been causing you trouble,” Lightshow said, doing the same.

“No—she’s fine. We kinda just bumped into each other,” I said.

“Oh, wow!” Razorbash said, looking back and forth between me and my sister. “You guys are twins.”

“That’s exactly what I said.” Catwhip seemed amused. “You’re gonna make them think we’re robots. Like borg.”

“This is cool,” Razorbash said. “You’re kinda like us.”

“‘Kinda’ is the key word,” Lightshow said.

“I’m glad you guys change up how you wear your hair and costumes, at least,” Terra said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

I thought so too. Lightshow’s had her hair pulled back in a ponytail like Terra’s, indigo lines on the side of her dress. Razorbash wore her hair down, most of her peach and white costume covered in thick v-like arrows.

“Yeah,” Lightshow said. “That’s why we do it. I’d rather have us all dress the same so we can fool everybody, but no we can’t have thatIt would cause issues with the media. Mom and Dad just don’t want us giving reporters any trouble.”

Razorbash placed her hands on her hips. “Well, are we going back to the panel?”

“Sure, but first—I don’t have a pen—do one of you have a pen?” Catwhip glanced at Razorbash and Lightshow, both girls were empty-handed. Catwhip took a phone out from her purse. “Okay. If you do want autographs, we can text you guys to meet us back here before we leave. No one deserves to wait in that mess.”

“Awesome,” I said. I exchanged my number with Catwhip’s and the Unity triplets bid us farewell. We didn’t spend much time in the store after that. Meeting with Mom and Dad outside we decided to have some fun at the Emporium’s ice skating rink before getting lunch.

oOo​

 

Plates clattered in the sink as I looked for the sponge. I was the last person to finish eating dinner and it was my turn to wash the dishes.

“I’ll clean the kitchen,” my mom said, picking up pots from the stove so she could put them in the fridge. “Go see what Terra and your sister are up to.”

Meh. At the moment, I would’ve preferred watching boring sports highlights on the couch with Dad, but I didn’t say that. Instead, I went downstairs to the basement. The two lovebirds were intolerable, but I couldn’t stay mad at them forever.

They were sharing a bean bag, watching a movie. I sat next to Terra, causing him to inspect me.

“You finally talking to me again?” he asked.

“It’s been long enough,” Tiffany said.

I frowned at her. “I still don’t know how you can act like nothing has changed. Like nothing is wrong.”

“What are you even talking about?”

“Mr. Ryan?“

Tiffany groaned. “Are you serious, Ems? It’s been two weeks! Look, I know you wish Terra didn’t blast him away or whatever but he’s dead. It’s over. He’s not coming back. Move on.”

“…there had to be another way.”

“Oh, come on. I didn’t hear you complaining when Kazuya killed all those Arcadians right in front of your face!”

My eyes clamped shut. That wasn’t fair. I still had nightmares about Shekhinah’s subordinates, crying out in anguish during their last moments.

“Tiff. Easy,” Terra warned. I could feel his gentle grip on my shoulder. I wanted to move, but I couldn’t. “Mercy, I know what I did hurt your feelings and I apologize about that. I won’t make any promises, but if any of us are in a situation like that again and I have to fight, I’ll try not kill.”

“No…” I opened my eyes, wiping the tears away. “Maybe… I was being unreasonable.”

“Ems,” Tiffany moved closer, worried. “What…?”

I winced. Images of that familiar castle formed in my head. “I had a dream,” I rasped, focusing on Tiffany. “Do you remember?”

“A dream?” Terra asked.

I nodded. “Back when we were younger, Tiff. I remember… remember telling it to you.”

Tiffany waited for me to continue. The faint memory of seven other children racking my mind.

“If I had the power, I would create a place would no one had to kill or die,” I whispered, thinking of an endless grassland. “A…”

“Utopia,” Tiffany said, her voice hollow.

I stopped. “You remember?”

“Somehow.”

We faced each other in silence.

Terra leaned back on the bean bag, causing it to rustle. “Sounds like a beautiful place.”

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 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 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 sweat 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 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 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 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 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 for 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 2.2

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 too when I had the chance.

Terra, who was unironically Nathan’s best friend, had left homeroom before us for some reason. Normally he would walk with us to Algebra II even though his second class was on the opposite side of the building. Terra could care less if he was late his Spanish class. I was pretty sure he liked it but his Spanish teacher, Ms. Lopez, had a soft spot for him—something that he was sure to take advantage of. I wondered why he didn’t walk with us today. Maybe Ms. Lopez actually threatened him with detention for once.

“Finished your Algebra II homework?” Nathan asked.

I gave him a warm smile before standing up, my backpack in hand. “Mm-hmm. Finally! Man, he gives way to much homework. What’s the point of learning all this stuff? Functions? Graphing linear equations? We’re not even gonna use this crap real life.”

“Just wait until we get into pre-cal.”

I leaned my head back in aggravation, over-exaggerating the motion a little. “Oh my gosh, don’t even talk to me about that. I don’t know if I’m gonna survive this.”

Nathan smirked. “Mr. Nelson does give a lot of homework.”

“Too much. And I still have to start working on that essay Ms. Frazzle gave us.”

Nathan and I continued to talk as we exited the classroom. We said goodbye to Ms. Frazzle, our English and homeroom teacher, who was standing by the door the way out. She was preoccupied with observing people as they passed through the hallway, making sure students didn’t violate the dress code, no doubt. Or maybe she was checking that her students came to class on time.  As we left Ms. Frazzle’s class, some of her second-period students trickled into the English classroom. It would be full within ten minutes or so.

“So…” Nathan said as we traversed through the crowded halls. “Have you seen Katherine around? I don’t think she was in first-period today.”

I inhaled deeply, stifling a sigh. “No, I don’t think she was.”

“Hmm. I thought I saw her earlier. Isn’t your locker close to her’s?”

A familiar undercurrent of irritation started to course through my veins, entering the center of my body. It made me feel like I was burning from the inside out. How long would he continue to bring up Katherine in our conversations? If Nathan cared about Katherine so much he could go find her by himself. He didn’t need me for that.

“I don’t really talk to her anymore. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know that,” Nathan said, his gaze cautious. “I don’t know why, though.”

“I just don’t. Don’t be annoying. You’re always so nosy.”

“My bad. I wanted to see her so I could find out if she’s available for tutoring today.”

I glanced at Nathan with renewed interest. “She’s a part of the tutoring center?”

“Nah. Way too skittish for that. You know how she is. Katherine isn’t a people person.”

I huffed. “Yeah,” I paused before facing Nathan’s direction. “I’m surprised she’s helping you.”

Nathan chuckled. “Yup, me too. I didn’t expect her to agree but I knew she was smart so I was like fuck it, what’s the harm in asking? It’s cool. I think she could use someone to talk to considering everything that’s been happening to her lately.” Nathan turned to me so he could analyze my reaction to his words.

That nasty feeling in my stomach returned and I looked away. “What class is she helping you with?”

“Physics.”

“Ugh. That sounds rough,” I said. “Wait. Do you have the new physics teacher?”

“Mr. Thompson? Yeah. He’s cool.”

“I heard he was pretty attractive,” I murmured to myself, causing Nathan to shake his head. “How’s that working out for you?”

“Honestly, I’m in way over my head. Without Katherine, I wouldn’t be able to survive in that class. I’d die. Like literally die. That’s how hard that shit is. She’s saving my life right now. ”

“Why did you take such a hard requirement?”

“Eh,” Nathan shrugged. “Wanted to do something I haven’t learned about before. Oh, that reminds me. I also wanted to invite Katherine to the AMCVG after school.”

“Ah, that?” I asked. The anime, manga, comic book, video game, and movie club. A small student-created organization that Nathan was a proud member of. I had learned from Nathan that the AMCVG would at least meet once a week to play games, watch anime, or discuss other various hobbies for us nerdy folk. It seemed intriguing enough. I never really had the time to join, being a part of the soccer team and all.

“Yes, that,” Nathan said giving me a smirk. “Do you actually wanna join now that you have been banished from fields of elite foot swinging warriors?”

I looked at Nathan like he had grown a second head. “No. Don’t do that. Please don’t. Christ, you’re such a dork.”

“Don’t hate, baby-girl,” he said, not caring in about my judgment in the least. “You know I’m irresistible.”

“Yeah—okay, super-fly,” I said while tapping him on the shoulder, feigning pity. Though he would sometimes act dorky, Nathan was always amusing when he attempted to make me laugh. “You know I can’t stay after school. My parents banned me and Tiff from all extracurriculars this week. Didn’t Terra tell you?”

“Yup,” Nathan said, not missing a beat. “It’s a real shame. You could have been one of us, you know. With us nerds, your true people.”

I snorted at that.

“You know that we are your true calling,” Nathan said. “When you’re done abusing people’s balls with your feet, realize that we will always welcome you with open arms. Or open legs if you prefer.”

I glared at him. It wasn’t a serious glare, but it wasn’t a light one either.

Nathan laughed. “Alright, I’ll stop.”

I sighed. “Thank you.”

“It really sucks though, you’d love it,” Nathan said. “Isn’t that why you’re taking Japanese—to read all that untranslated manga you look at?”

I hummed while thinking about the oral presentation I had to give in my Japanese II class. “I guess that was the original reason.”

Our talking died down. We walked in comfortable silence. Normally, having dead spaces in conversation with a boy I wasn’t super close to would make me anxious, but I felt relaxed around Nathan. He was cool like that. I waved in greeting to a couple of other classmates that walked by. We would arrive at our second class soon.

“You should talk to Katherine,” Nathan said at once. “You should see how she looks at you sometimes in English.”

Like I hadn’t noticed?

“Look. I’m not her friend. I don’t talk to her. Stop bringing it up.”

“What are you even worried about?” Nathan countered. “None of the other girls that hang around Ashley are in our English class.”

“Diana is,” I said, “but it’s not like she would tell on me.”

“Ms. Frazzle’s class is like a safe haven,” Nathan said.

“True. But even if everyone was in our English class, Ms. Frazzle wouldn’t let them get away with bullying Katherine.”

“Mm-hmm,” Nathan said. “So what’s the problem? Why don’t you want to talk to Katherine? I thought she was your best friend.”

“Best friend? That’s kinda stretching it.”

“To her you were.”

I closed my eyes with a frown. “Of course, I was.” I must have been the only girl she talked to. I looked away from Nathan’s brown eyes, feeling uneasy about his forcefulness. “I feel a little guilty about it.”

“About what? You don’t pick on her.”

“That’s not it. I cut her off so I wouldn’t have any problems with the rest of the girls.” I bit my lip. “I can’t face her now.”

“Honestly, I don’t think Ashley really cares if you talk to her or not. I’m sure Katherine would understand why you stopped talking to her if you explained yourself, how bad you feel about hurting her.”

“Hmm, yeah,” I said, giving Nathan a casual response. “But Ashley isn’t the person I’m worried about.”

“No. You’re worried about Rika.”

I shrugged, not saying anything else. Rika could be hard to deal with but I didn’t feel like talking to Nathan about her right now.

After a few more steps, we entered our large Algebra II classroom. Nathan and I talked a little bit more before taking our assigned seats. The classroom filled up within a few minutes; the class quieted down as Mr. Nelson walked to the board and asked for the previous night’s homework. I pulled out a binder from my bag and retrieved the homework assignment I had put the finishing touches on in homeroom before our teacher began his lesson. I also took out a spiral notebook and two mechanical pencils, readying myself for an extensive hour of notetaking. After thirty minutes or so of mindless copying from the board, I excused myself from class so I could go use the restroom. Only a few more minutes before lunch, but I was getting tired of working on math and I didn’t feel like holding it in anymore.

I walked to the restroom at the end of the hallway but before I made it halfway there, something caught my eye. I saw Terra on the stairway adjacent to the restroom, talking to a hooded figure—the person was wearing a dark full-body cloak. Huh. That was different. Noticing my approach, Terra nodded at his hooded acquaintance before leaving the step he was perched upon and turning the corner. The hooded figure went after him.

Hmm.

Instead of using the restroom I followed them. I wasn’t sure why Terra urged the hooded figure to follow him after he noticed me. Suspicious. Did he not think I’d pursue him? I made my way around the corner. I blinked. They were gone. The wide corridor was empty like they weren’t even there. Whatever Terra was up to, he didn’t want me knowing about it.

Well, I was going to find out about it now. I spent some time ambling around the empty corridors, looking any hint of Terra or the cloaked person he was talking to. I hoped that wouldn’t come across any teachers. They’d probably want to know why I was strolling around the school like I had nothing better to do instead of being in class.

Where could they have gone? I considered the some of the places around the school Terra liked to go when he wanted to hang out with people in secret. Ah. The rooftop. Students were forbidden being on the school roof but that wouldn’t stop Terra from bringing people up there when he felt like it. I remembered how Tiffany and I had chilled with him there toward the end of last year when most teachers started to become lax with attendance. When school was almost over and there was nothing to do in class. I was pretty sure Terra and Tiffany had used that place to mess around more times than that though. Terra was notorious for skipping classes he didn’t like and he’d sometimes he would bring Tiffany with him when he did.

I was moving fast, so it didn’t take me long to reach the third floor. I looked both ways in next hallway to make sure the coast was clear before making a quick stride to the final staircase. I was careful as I climbed the steps, feeling a bit nervous. If Terra had gone to the roof to get away from me, I wonder how he would react once he found out that I followed him. I opened the door at the end of the staircase with a gentle twist, the golden doorknob making the sound of a sharp click. A slight squeak caressed my ears as I pulled, opening the door wide. I paused for a moment as I looked at the emptiness of the school roof. This was just the front of the roof, what you could see from the doorway entrance; I needed to check the back area as well.

I trod the side of the roof entrance with care, sticking to the wall before glancing around the edge to view the other side of the rooftop. There they were—Terra and the mysterious hooded figure, who was standing right in front of him. There was a substantial height difference between the two of them. The hooded figure was huge. Much taller than Terra. Had to be over six feet.

Terra moved, snapping his head around to look my direction. I was fortunate; I was able to hide behind the wall before he saw me. I waited before resuming my previous position at the edge of doorway area. I peeked around the corner of the wall as the hooded figure started to talk.

“It’s been a while,” The hooded man said. His voice sounded gruff, almost feral.

“It has been,” Terra agreed.

Who in the world was Terra talking to? I covered my mouth with a hand to stop from crying out in shock as the cloaked man removed his hood with clawed and furred hands, revealing the face of a wolf.  The man was a werewolf! He had long wolf-like ears attached to the sides of his head and harsh blue eyes as dark as the ocean depths. Razor-sharp teeth extruding from his maw. His cool gray fur, striking.

“How long will it take you to complete your mission?” the werewolf growled.

“Oris, my man,” Terra said, calm like he was speaking to an old friend, “Relax.”

Oris grunted. “Relaxation is the only thing you’re good at. Should I tell Trinity that you’re slacking?”

Terra paused. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking—his back was turned to me and there was a considerable distance between me and the two of them.

“It’s unusual to see you out in the open like this, Oris,” Terra said, ignoring Oris’s previous question. “Not really befitting of an assassin.”

A what?

A low growl rumbled in Oris’s throat. “I won’t be out for long. I’m just here to give you a little kick in the ass.”

Terra made a sound of disapproval before folding his arms. “You gonna fight me? Here?”

“No. Just give you a warning. Get yourself in gear,” Oris commanded. “Kill Nathan Blackwood, or I’ll do it for you.”

Previous  Next

 

Secrets 2.1

Previous Next

Return From Heaven

My sister and I sat down at a fairly empty table, placing our small lunch trays on its surface. I speared a nugget with my fork and popped it into my mouth, Tiffany eying me all the while. We ate in silence for a few more moments before she popped the question.

“So, you keep seeing this huge castle in your dreams?”

I swallowed before frowning. “Yeah. It’s been getting clearer.” Ever since we’d come across Kazuya, I’d been having dreams of that land and the castle where the dragon king resided—of the children who would play with us there. Two of them, a small black boy and a girl with Asian features, oddly reminded me of Nathan and Katherine, my classmates.

“You see anyone in particular?”

I paused for a moment, thinking that over. Kazuya had been there, with a group of Valterians together in a city of gold. “I saw another fox person too, a woman, like a female version of Kazuya. I think someone that looked like Shekhinah was there too—and some other Arcadians.”

“That’s so weird,” Tiffany mused while frowning. ” I haven’t had any visions or dreams like that at all. Maybe it’s a sign or something.”

“Maybe,” I muttered. “I remember our mom and dad—I think it was Mom and Dad—holding our hands, walking with us in a golden city. Mom had wings like the other Arcadians did. Somehow, though, I knew she was a Valterian, like Kazuya. But she was a different race or something, you know? Kinda like how Kazuya explained how he, PTE, and Nexus were each from different breeds.”

Tiffany nodded. “What did Dad look like?”

I pressed my lips together in contemplation.  “Not sure, it’s still kinda fuzzy. It’s hard for me to describe exactly how Mom looked too.  Dad wasn’t a Valterian, he looked similar to Shekhinah except he was covered head to toe in silver armor.”

“Huh, so Arcadian then. I wonder what that means.”

“That our parents are actually gods pretending to be human—and they never told us?”

Tiffany’s eyes met mine. “Should we ask them?”

“Do you think they would actually tell us?”

“It’s worth a shot. We’d probably get in trouble though. They’d find out we lied again.”

My head dropped in defeat. I really didn’t want to explain to my parents how we found ourselves entangled in the middle of a cape fight. How I nearly died. I didn’t want to tell them that we managed to stick a virulent god who threatened to kill us in our basement either. If we told them what happened and they weren’t really gods or capes, it wouldn’t have been worth it.

I sighed. “This is why I wish Kazuya didn’t disappear on us.”

Tiffany was about to say something else when I pointed at Terra, who was walking up behind her, to get her attention. She turned to look his direction. Terra sat next to Tiffany, quickly dropping his food tray down on the table. Tiffany automatically poked at his plate with a fork and stole one of his chicken nuggets even though she hadn’t touched her own. Terra’s lips quirked upward as he grabbed Tiffany’s unopened milk, ignoring her protests.

I grinned as Tiffany attempted to feed Terra his stolen food back. The nugget stuck on the end the fork she gently held while she stuck it in Terra’s face. Terra rolled his eyes before eating it.

“You’re way too stressed out,” Tiffany said, looking at me while she continued to prod the air around Terra’s face with her now empty utensil. Terra swatted her fork away. “That’s probably why you’re having these freaky dreams. You need a new boyfriend,” she glanced at Terra thoughtfully. “Maybe we should share this guy?”

I scrunched up my face and narrowed my eyes at my identical twin, seriously wondering why in the world she would suggest something like that. I didn’t want to be a walking stereotype.

“So I’m ‘this guy’ now?” Terra asked amused. He smirked as he saw my expression. “I don’t think Mercy appreciates that idea, Tiff.”

Tiffany hummed. “You’re right. I’m too selfish to share you anyway,” she jabbed a finger at the bridge of Terra’s nose. “You belong to me,” Tiffany paused, looking Terra in the eye with an enthusiastic grin. “For-ev-er,” she said enunciating each syllable of the word while she snapped her fingers in Terra’s face—obnoxiously snapping her head from one side to the other at the same time.

Terra rolled his eyes with a smirk but he said nothing.

“I think I need a break from dating, in general,” I said. I glanced at Terra, who was trying his best to keep Tiffany’s hand at bay, blocking the tenuous pokes of her finger; he had made her cower backward as he threatened her with a barrage of his own playful slaps. “Why are you sitting here instead of with Nathan and the rest of the boys?”

Terra let out a brief chuckle, removing strands of long hair from his face after he finished batting Tiffany’s hands away. “I’m just tired of watching Tim trying to run game on Ashley. Besides, you guys were sitting here.”

As soon as Terra had mentioned my ex, I unconsciously looked over at the crowded table at the end of the lunchroom. The one next to the entrance of the outdoor lunch area; a table full of popular underclassmen. Were we usually sat. I caught Timothy sitting next to Ashley. He was smiling and joking around with her, attempting to get more of her attention. A nauseous yet burning feeling of disgust crawled up inside my stomach.

Tiffany gave me a quick glance before she scowled at Terra. “Don’t talk about that asshole around Ems.”

I shook my head. “It’s fine, Tiff.”

“No it’s not,” Tiffany said sharply, causing me to frown. “He’s a fucking rapist and he hurt you.”

I bit my lip hard, feeling annoyed even though I knew my sister was just worried and looking out for me. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of what happened that night or draw more attention to it. It was something better left forgotten.

“I have half of a mind to tell somebody what he did. I wonder what Ashley and the rest of girls he flirts with would think of him then.”

“That would just make things worse,” I said. My fists—currently laid on the table—tightened. “Just—just forget it.”

Tiffany glared at me and Terra interrupted the two of us before we fell into an argument.

“Is that why you guys aren’t sitting at the normal table with everyone else?” Terra asked. “I passed by it on the way here. People are talking. Ashley wants to know why you two have been avoiding her all day.”

I frowned internally at his words. Timothy was only one of the reasons we had avoided sitting with our normal group of friends. The harassment and bullying that the girls had continued to foist upon poor Katherine had started to become unbearable to watch.

“Then let them talk,” Tiffany said. “Ems still feels a little bothered by the Katherine thing.”

I made a grimace in distaste, guilt and shame erupted in my chest as I looked down at my lunch tray. Katherine Willow used to be a friend of mine, since freshman year. Though Katherine was considered to be nerdy by most, Ashley Hawke had taken a peculiar interest in her and had her join our group. I wasn’t sure why, exactly. Maybe it was because she could help us with our math homework or something. Katherine and I became close, she became more attached to me than Tiffany. She would often wait for me at my locker before homeroom so we could talk about her interest in Starcraft or some of the new books she was reading.

Our friendship didn’t last. Katherine had a falling out with Rika, my soccer teammate. A girl that could’ve been considered Ashley’s right hand. Ashley soon involved herself and Katherine was unofficially excommunicated from us. Soon after that, the bullying started. Ashley didn’t do anything to Katherine personally, something like that was beneath her. But she still didn’t stop our friends from cruelly torturing the girl.

Spilling drinks on her clothing. Egging the boys on to knock her books down in the hallways between classes. Stealing her homework assignments.

Worst of all was the fact that I stood by and did nothing about it. For some reason, after everyone started picking on her, I stopped talking to her. Our conversations had died off. I had let our friendship go. It eroded into dust just like that. For a moment, I was reminded of her teary eyes as she looked at me, pitifully crumpled to the floor with her clothing in a mess. She was pleading and asking why I wouldn’t help her. Asking why I was still friends with Ashley, still apart of her bitch squad.

Terra’s smile thinned after Tiffany brought up Katherine. He looked away, his eyes scanning the rest of the cafeteria. “Someone needs to talk to Ashley about that. It’s fucked up.”

“I’ve been telling the boys to knock it off,” Tiffany said. “But they don’t listen unless someone punches them in the face.”

I mulled the thoughts of Katherine over in my head. I didn’t help her and didn’t talk to her anymore. Why? Was it because I didn’t like her actions upsetting the peace that us girls had among one another other? Because she didn’t stay in her place? Maybe it because I was afraid of Ashley and the power she held. Tiffany had an excuse. I didn’t. She wasn’t friends with Katherine like I was.

“That’s not the only reason we choose to sit here though,” Tiffany continued. “We wanted to talk about something important. In secret.”

“So I’ve heard,” Terra replied. “You mean talk about what happened to you guys that night after the party? When I talked to you before first period, you told me you guys were involved in a cape fight.”

“Oh. My. God. Terra, you wouldn’t believe what happened after you left,” Tiffany said, grabbing Terra’s arm and moving her face closer toward his, getting in his personal space. Terra remained still, allowing his girlfriend to drag his forearm around. “You should have come with us. It was insane! They weren’t just regular capes either. We met freaking gods.”

“Gods?”

“Yeah. Two types, they’re called Valterians and Arcadians.”

Tiffany went into detail, explaining the fight we were plopped into and how we had met Kazuya. What we had learned about the gods: the source of hallowed powers. How ruthless Kazuya was in killing Shekhinah’s subordinates. How I was nearly cut in half.

Terra took it all in silently. He looked between the both of us with his penetrating gaze. “Well, I’m glad you guys are alright but are you guys seriously hiding someone that powerful in your basement?”

“Don’t look at me,” Tiffany said. She nudged me with a lazy finger. “Ems’ the one that wanted him around. I think we should’ve let the angel lady take him.”

Terra narrowed his eyes at her but the corners of his mouth curved upward. “Is that true, Mercy?”

Sure,” I said, drawing out the word while giving my sister a look. Tiffany was the one that actually grabbed Kazuya from Shekhinah’s hands. She tilted her head and winked, giving me an exaggerated smirk. I faced Terra, ignoring her. “It doesn’t really matter though since he had left last night.”

“Which is a good thing,” Tiffany said.

I sighed. “I wish he actually stuck around to answer our questions. I wanted to ask him about that place with the dragon king.”

Terra shifted in his seat, ever so slightly. Tiffany, whose arm was still touching his, noticed.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, looking at her boyfriend. “You don’t believe us?”

“No, I believe you alright,” Terra said, giving Tiffany a cheeky smile. “You couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s too crazy to be a joke, even for you.”

Tiffany stuck her tongue out at him. “One of these days, if our parents are out late working you should come over and meet fox-boy.”

“I will if you don’t get caught with him in the basement first,” Terra snarked.

“Well, if he actually comes back,” I added.

“Of course he’ll come back,” Tiffany said, flailing her hands in exasperation. “He’s a useless freeloader. A bum. It’s in his nature. Ems, do you actually think will never see that hairy mutt again? Always so stupidly naive and optimistic. What am I going to do with you?”

I rolled my eyes, smiling despite myself. “Whatever.”

“Such a mean sister,” Terra chided.

Stay out of it,” Tiffany ordered, jabbing his cheek with a finger. “This is a conversation between sisters.” She looked him up and down with a scathing look. “You might look the part, but that’s not enough to cut it.”

Terra frowned. “Don’t touch me.” Tiffany continued to prod Terra’s face at an even more fevered face. Chuckling, Terra finally grabbed her wrist midway through another poke. “Keep playing, and I’mma have to do something to you,” he warned.

Tiffany bit her lip and narrowed her eyes, giving him a seductive smile. “Do something and you won’t get any pussy for a week.”

Terra’s lips twitched with barely repressed humor. “You’re grounded for a week.”

“Just because I say a week doesn’t mean I’m talking about this one.”

“Of course,” Terra said dryly.

We ate and talked a little bit longer before Ashley, the perfect sophomore queen herself, strolled up to us. We spoke in hushed voices as she approached, looking up at her silently when she arrived at our table. She had come alone. I glanced at the empty tray she had in hand, her lunch eaten. The only reason Ashley walked by us was to throw her trash away.

“Sup?” Terra asked.

“Hey Ash,” Tiffany said in a plain voice, betraying nothing.

Ashley glanced at us for a moment in silence as if she were trying to feel us out, to figure out where our heads were at. She smiled. “Hello. Any reason why you three didn’t sit with us today?”

“Not really, just talking about personal stuff,” Tiffany said, giving her a strained smile. A smile she would often give me during the times I genuinely pissed her off.

“Personal stuff?” Ashley’s gaze overlooked my sister and I, her pretty hazel eyes vacillating between us at a leisured pace. “I heard that you two had gotten into trouble.”

“Yeah our parents caught us trying to sneak back in the house after the party,” Tiffany said, her lips forming into a small pout. “Of all the days they chose to stay up late, it was that day.”

“It was a Friday night,” Terra commented.

Ashley hummed to herself. “It’s unfortunate, but I’ll put in a good word for you so you’ll be in decent standing when you come back to the team. It’s a relief that the two of you don’t start yet.”

There it is. I kept myself from rolling my eyes as the corners of my lips lifted a little. There she goes again, still rubbing that in.

“Did you find out we got in trouble from Coach Stephen?” I asked.

Ashley shook her head. “No. Rika and Nicole told me. Did you directly tell the coach you couldn’t practice?”

“Yeah. He’s not too happy about it.”

“Of course he’s not. I’m not either. You both are valuable assets to the team. However, I can’t blame you, I was at that cad’s party as well.”

Tiffany snickered at Ashley’s choice of words. “Not too fond of Tim, I take it?”

Ashley’s calm and demure demeanor changed as her slight smile thinned. She tilted her head and shifted her body weight, holding her hips with unrestrained attitude. Timothy must’ve annoyed the crap out of her. “He tries my patience like none other.”

Tiffany scoffed. “I can believe that.”

“It seems like everyone knows we got grounded for going to Tim’s party,” I said.

“You know gossip runs in this school like wildfire,” Ashley said. “Anyway, what exactly happened that night? You had disappeared and when I talked to Nicholas, he said you three left early.”

“I had gotten sick.”

“What she really means is that boy that’s been fawning all over you since the start of the semester tried to rape her.”

Ashley paused. I let out a choked cough, my eyes flashing over to Tiffany—wide with shock. She didn’t have to bring that up now. I slowly turned back to Ashley, only to notice that she was already examining me with a careful glare.

“Really now?” she asked in a cold voice, her hazel eyes on mine. They almost seemed if they were glowing gold—freezing me in place. “Didn’t you two break up?”

“Don’t worry about it,” I mumbled, looking downward. I didn’t want her to see it—I didn’t want her to see whatever I felt, the emotional turmoil that raged deep inside me like an endless storm—threatening to swallow me whole.

“No,” Ashley said with a definitive voice, her eyes still inspecting me. “I’ll handle it. He should know better than to do something so disgusting and despicable to one of my friends.”

“While you’re at it you should tell Rika and the girls to knock it off. Get them to stop picking on Katherine,” Tiffany said while folding her arms. “It’s making us all look really bad.”

Ashley looked toward her table. Everyone was clamoring to get up, squeezing out of the seats that were stuck so close together. Students moved toward the garbage cans in droves, throwing out their trash while taking their empty lunch trays to the kitchen. People were cleaning up. Our lunch period had ended.

“I can agree with that,” Ashley said somewhat bemused. She gave my sister and me one last glance. “Anyway, Mercy. Tiffany. I’ll see you both in history class.” She faced the silverish-gray eyed boy next to my sister. “Terra.”

Terra leaned back in his seat; he nodded a subtle goodbye without speaking. Ashley left us and we had started to clean up our table so we could make it back to our classes on time.

After the lunch, the rest of the day had gone by quickly—surprising for a Monday. After we finished our last class of the day with Mr. Tate, Tiffany and I had split up. I went to my locker to retrieve my math textbook while Tiffany went on a small adventure in search of Terra. Packing my things at the locker, I waited a couple of minutes for my sister and her boyfriend to meet up with me.

They didn’t show. I checked my phone. The buses would leave soon. Tired of waiting, I decided to go look for them. What mess had Terra and Tiffany gotten into now? I almost sent Tiffany a text, but then I decided against it. I knew she wouldn’t answer me, or worse, answer back when it was too late.

I moved through the crowded hallways, bumping into various students that were busy trying to reach the school exits. Looking for Tiffany and Terra was more of a pain than I thought it would be, with people constantly blocking my path. I fought my way upstream, pushing past everyone; I went the opposite way of oncoming traffic. Soon, I found myself crashing into Diana, a friend of mine I had met through Ashley.

“Looking for Tiff?” she asked with a slight smile, looking like her usual perceptive self. “I saw her with Terra walking outside. Near the front of the school.”

What were they doing on opposite side of the building? It was time to go. I thanked Diana quickly before moving on, the hallways of students clearing up as I moved toward the other side of the school, toward the front. Eventually, I found Tiffany and Terra outside, sitting on the steps to the main school entrance.

“What are you guys doing?” I said after walking out the front door from the inside. “The buses are going to leave.”

Tiffany stood up and shook her head as she rambled toward me. “Terra got held up by some stupid bullshit. He has after-school detention.”

I clasped my forehead with a hand and leaned back in irritation, my head facing toward the sky. “Again? Are you serious?”

“It’s the damn assistant principal,” Tiffany complained, her eyes focused on Terrawho was still sitting on the concrete steps. “I swear he has a hard-on for you or something.”

Terra snorted at her remark, looking miffed.

“I’m going to stay with him for a bit. You hurry up and catch the bus,” Tiffany said.

I frowned. “If Mom and Dad get back early and you’re not home, you’re going to get chewed out.”

Tiffany glanced at me and giving me a careful smile. She placed a hand on my shoulder.

“That’ll be my problem, Ems. You don’t need to get dragged down with me all the time.”

“If you’re sure.”

“I’ll try come home as soon as I can.”

I left them both at the steps, going back inside the school. I hoped I could reach the school bus parking lot in time. It helped that I could run through the building now that it was practically empty, except for the janitors and a few faculty members. I was the last person to make to the bus lot but I had arrived just in time. Exactly when the first row of buses had started to leave.

The bus ride home was quiet as I sat in the front. The back of the bus was crowded, full of people I really didn’t talk to or associate with. It made sense. I was used to staying after school for soccer practice, with my sister. In and out of school we spent most of our time hanging around the girls on the team. Since practice would always end after the late bus had already left, our parents often picked us up unless we were offered a ride home from a teammate.

The bus ride back took longer than usual as our driver had to navigate around the area of roads that were blocked off by SIGMA and the police. Blocked off from damage caused by the fight between Kazuya, Shekhinah, and her Arcadian warriors. Warning signs along with SIGMA trucks littered the sides of the street while yellow caution tape could be seen everywhere between the roads and houses, obstructing specific areas. 

I had gotten off the bus with a couple students but we quickly parted ways, everyone going to their own places. The bus stop was relatively close to my house. It was only a five-minute walk.

Arriving home, I used my keys to enter through the side door, next to the garage. Our parent’s cars weren’t in the driveway. They didn’t get back from work yet. After locking the side door from the inside, I briskly climbed the small steps to reach the second door that led inside the house.

I paused. It was quiet. Too quiet. My gut started to sink after a nagging feeling of caution had overwhelmed me. Something had felt off. I couldn’t quite place it. Energy filled the air. A tense pressure I hadn’t felt since that fateful Friday night after Timothy’s house party. When my sister I walked back home alone. I shook my head. What was I afraid of? I opened the door and wandered inside. After locking the door I turned around, my eyes widened as I saw a flash of gold.

Shekhinah, the Arcadian warrior of Kairanna, the one who wielded the blood-colored poisonous lance that was able to wound Kazuya—was standing right in the middle of our living room!

I shrieked and fell backward, terrified—fearing for my life. Shekhinah, who was busy glancing at the family pictures hanging on the wall, turned to face me. As she took a step closer, her horned helmet evaporated, vanishing from her head into thin air—letting her long hair run free.

Shekhinah stopped as she saw me scramble away from her; I slid backward on the wooden floor, edging away slowly. She paused for a moment and the shining aura around her beautiful armor had dimmed a little.

“Peace, child,” she said while studying me calmly. “I only I wish to speak with you.”

Previous Next

Awakening 1.7

Previous Next

R.I.P.

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry,” Tiffany and I said in unison.

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

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

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

“Mercy, what happened?”

“Did someone hurt you?” Dad asked.

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

“Mercy!” Mom demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

oOo

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

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

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

I paused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She hasn’t come upstairs?”

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

“Mm.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Hey, Ems.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, are you okay?” I asked.

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

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

Tiffany frowned. “Say what now?”

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

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

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

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

I gave her a questioning look. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crap. Did she hear us talking to Kazuya?

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

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

“Tim gave it to him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kairanna?” He had used that word before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Next

Awakening 1.6

Previous Next

Caught 

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

“I don’t know,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is that?” Tiffany asked.

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

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

“What is it?” Shekhinah asked.

“Don’t take him.”

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

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

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

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

Shekhinah frowned. Tiffany tapped me on the arm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?” I asked.

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

“Is he okay, somehow?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh yeah? What about?”

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

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

I snorted but smiled all the same.

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

“Yeah?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Stop it.”

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

Tiffany held Kazuya while I opened the door.

“He still hasn’t woken up,” I said.

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

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

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

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

“Tiffany, can you be serious for once?”

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

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

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

“Better than nothing,” I muttered.

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

“It’s kind of weird,” I whispered.

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

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

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

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

“Feel what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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