Ella Peacock’s Guide #2

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“ . . . xx-“                                                                        

 

What?

You want me to stop being an infuriating idiot and write like a normal person? You want me to stop procrastinating for once and tell the goddamn story? You want me to stop writing in x’s so you don’t go into epileptic shock?

Well, my dear, sweet, privacy-ridding, chamomile-drinking readers, I have to apologize. My last novel put too many of you in danger, which I knew in my heart of hearts was nothing I would stand for-

All right, all right. So maybe some people gave me a nice little phone call about how they didn’t appreciate that whole “you might die, #sorrynotsorry” bit at the end. But, really. Let’s be honest here. Would you rather I hadn’t said that, and be woken up, in the middle of the night, with Kemina massacring everything you absolutely could not live without (i.e. cellphone, laptop, portrait of Boo the dog)?

Like… really, guys.

Think about what’s at stake here.

So due to some- ah- creative differences– I’ve decided not to continue the story of my epic endeavors. Sorry to anyone who was genuinely invested in my private life; you know how much it kills me to ruin your book-reading experience.

So adios, amigos. So long, farewell, see you in the afterlife-

Hold up there, punk, you’re saying, cracking those menacing papercut knuckles, I thought we had a deal. You talk, we listen. You’ve already signed the contract with that first book.

Well, sorry. But it’s really not my job to entertain you with the epic fail whale that is my life.

I waited months for this, you’re screaming now, At least tell us what happened to Kayo.

Oh, I get it.

This is all about Kayo, isn’t it? You never really cared about what happened to that ugly green ogre telling the story, this is all about what happens to some overweight, diamond-shaped albino alien.

I get it.

You’d think I was sarcastic when I said that, but I’m really not. I guess it would be kind of a jerkish move to leave you all wondering what happened to dear lovable Kayo…

I’m going to make you a deal.

I’ll tell you what happened to Kayo. You’ll read it, you’ll love it, and you won’t tell a soul how Ella Peacock is totally blackmailing you. But nothing after. Not even if I leave you on a bigger cliffhanger than The Mark of Athena.

Nada.

Nothing.

Zippo.

We clear?

 

Chapter one:

Let me tell you something: staying in a small space for three days with someone who’s not exactly the best conversationalist in the world can be hard. But hurtling Warp 9- for three days straight– with Osaharright after that whole Kayo-thing… I think we can all agree, uh, there are better ways I’d like to spend my birthday.

Oh, yeah. I guess I forgot to tell you. Today’s the eleventh of June, which was also the day, fourteen long, hard years ago, when I graciously blessed the world with my existence.

(I once met a girl who said that to me. We were at summer camp. I thought she was joking, so I laughed.)

(She wasn’t joking.)

Anyways, even considering my idiot brethren Thomas (“Now it’s only four years until I get to take over your room, right?) and my mom’s incredible gift-giving skills (“Wow. Proactiv. Thanks.” “Oh, no problem honey- you needed it.”), I still found myself wishing I was back home.

At least I’d be able to see Phoebe. And… you know, I’m not going to lie here; I didn’t miss my dysfunctional family. I missed Phoebe. I missed having someone to talk with- really, giggles-and-fluff-and-goofy-internet-searches talk with. I missed having conversations that weren’t about people that were probably dead, already dead, or soon going to be dead.

Is that too much to ask?

Ever since we’d left Pluto, it was like some mental switch had been flipped in Osahar’s mind. Okay, we weren’t staying up braiding each other’s hair and freaking out because Louis Tomlinson was going to have a baby- but I thought that maybe we were past that awkward I-don’t-really-know-you-but-you-seem-like-you’re-pissed phase.

Apparently not.

I mean, I expected her to be upset about Kayo. For god’s sake, she looked murderous when I’d insulted him. But this was different. This wasn’t a word spewed out in a moment of anger; this was trust in someone we knew for a fact wanted to hurt him. Wanted to kill him. So obviously I anticipated she’d be pretty weepy and depressed for a while… and I guess she was depressed, but if R’eidons even could cry, I never saw her. It was like… every time I talked to her, this happened:

ELLA PEACOCK:

(Approaching like wounded gazelle to pack of hungry lions, speaking hesitantly through plastered smile)                                 “Uh… hey, Osa.”

 

OSAHAR:

(Ripping leg off gazelle like in those Discovery Channel documentaries, face and voice rivaling only that of Daria in terms of disinterest)                                                                                                                                                                                          “Do not call me that.”

 

ELLA PEACOCK:

(Laughing nervously, right eye twitching)                                                                                                                                          “So, um, did you sleep well?”

 

OSAHAR:

(Blinks once)                                                                                                                                                                                      “Yes, between the torments of my dead brother and your bloodcurdling shrieks intermittently invading my rest, I slept quite well, thank you.”

As you can tell, we’re really chummy these days.

I decided to try again. “Morning.” I piped, in that annoying Kidz Bop way you do when you’re talking to someone who you know really doesn’t want to talk to you.

Osahar didn’t respond.

“It’s my birthday.” I added.

Nothing.

“So what’s on our schedule today, boss?” I listed the things off on my fingers as I said them, “Visit to Times Square? Vacation to a glamorous Hawaiian beach? Ooh, ooh, I know-! Skiing on the Alps. I feel like you’d be a snowboarder… have you ever been snowboarding before?”

Not even a glance.

“Osahar,” I said blandly, “I’m dying.”

“Oh,” she looked over at me, still half-asleep, “All right.”

As you can tell, we have a very supportive relationship. “No need to panic at the disco,” I snorted at my own joke, “I’ve got it under control now.”

“I do not have the faintest idea what you are talking about,” Osahar shrugged, already turning back to the window, “and that strangely does not bother me.”

“You’re a ray of sunshine, you know that?”

“No, Ella, I was not aware I was a shred of light molecules that radiating from a flaming ball of hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen-“

“Osa.”

“-Iron, silicon, magnesium, and-“

“Osahar,” I gritted my teeth, “seriously, I get that you’re upset about Kayo- we both are- but-“

“My brother is dead.”

“We don’t know that,” I assured her, “We don’t know anything – so don’t beat yourself up, ‘kay? Put Boulevard of Broken Dreams on repeat- or, really, any song from the mid-2000’s will work- and just scream and swear and break a bunch of stuff. That always works for me.”

She lowered one eyebrow and raised the other. “Ella Peacock,” she said, “I think you are the most psychotic person I have ever met.”

“Aw, thanks,” I touched my heart, deeply moved, “I mean, I was pretty screwed up before we met, but I think this whole war against Kemina has just brought me up to the next level.”

It came out harsher than I wanted it to. Like it was her fault we were in this mess… which isn’t exactly untrue, the bitter shriveled-up old man in my head said. Which actually isn’t untrue at all.

“I… I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Osahar, you’re the one that made me crazy… oh crap- but I didn’t mean it like that.” Well there’s that conversation, flushed down the toilet bowl of doom like a dead fish that’s going to come back and, like, eat the mayor of Tokyo or something (that’s a thing, right? …Right?).

“I- I mean, I did mean it like that, I just thought that maybe it would be funny or something, y’know, like, not seriously or-“

“In two hours, we are going to land on Earth,” the girl told me, though by the way she said it, you would think she was explaining it to a child, “and then this is over. All… of this.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “And what’re you gong to do, Osa? Live on Earth?”

She shrugged.

“Go to school? Pretend you’re human?” I huffed, “This war isn’t going to disappear just because we do. And Kayo-“

“Kayo is dead,” Osahar concluded, “and thank you for your concern, Ella, but what I do from now on is none of your business.”

Well.

That escalated quickly.

The truth is that I wasn’t exactly in the best mood that day (as you’ve probably seen). I wasn’t up to another inspirational pep talk, and I was fairly certain Osa wasn’t either. And she was right. It was only my intensely optimistic personality (it could happen) that kept me from saying Kayo was dead. And I did just want to go home. To my fluffy double bed and my shower and my closet bursting with Aeropostale dresses and Hollister jean shorts and all the crop tops you could ever want (I went through a phase. Don’t judge me). To Phoebe. To Internet access and stupid conversations (that weren’t about people that were probably dead, already dead, or soon going to be dead).

So I let the conversation swirl down the toilet bowl of doom. I apologize in advance, anyone who lives in Tokyo. You guys really don’t have much luck.

 

They say everybody has this thing called a “gut instinct”.

They also say various bacteria meeting up with other various bacteria can lead to you regurgitating your last meal. For some reason, they don’t say these two things are connected.

(See, this is why I hated my science teacher last year. I’d say something like that, and he’d blink and say, “thank you for that… insight, Ella. Now why were you late for class again?” I mean, really. These people just don’t see my potential.)

The only “gut instinct” I’d ever felt was the latter. Most often after I’d failed another test and decided to take it out on the jumbo tub of cookie dough in the fridge. Or I’d just seen my brother. You know, one or the other. But I’d never got it when people talked about their “gut instinct”. Your “gut” (side note: does that mean your intestines? Or, like, your liver/kidneys/stomach? Gah) doesn’t have a brain. Or, like, little whisker-y feelers. It’s a bloody, jiggly gross thing wrapped in layers of bone and fat and skin. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but I’m fairly sure the only thing your gut tells you is when you need some Gravol.

Yet when we landed on Earth…

It didn’t feel right. Maybe it was my “gut instinct”; maybe it was something in the air. Maybe everything that had happened since I was back home was finally catching up with me. Maybe my mind had finally reached the boiling point, and I was going to “Speak Madness” and walk around in my swim wear. Like an insane Sim.

But it was like how I used to go on my phone after Thomas had been fooling around with it. Everything on the surface was the same, but I just… I could… I could feel something was different. And wrong.

Very, very wrong.

We touched down in some field close to my pathetic little hometown (which seemed especially pathetic after seeing where Kemina lived. Yeesh).

“So this is how those crop circles were made.” I muttered dully as Osahar put the car into park.

“What?”

“Nothing.” I unclipped my seatbelt and glanced over at Osahar. She still had her hand on the steering wheel.

She saw me staring and I looked away quickly. “What are you waiting for?” Osa asked me bitterly, motioning with her hand to the cluster of buildings in the distance, “Do you not want to go home to your dearly beloved Phoebe?”

“How do you-“

She tightened her jaw, giving the slightest eye roll. “You moan her name in your sleep.”

“Oh,” I could feel my face burning. Partly because it made me wonder what else I was saying in my sleep. Partly because something about the two of them knowing about each other’s existence weirded me out. Like they were the friends of two different people, “Yeah. Well. That’s… awkward. I mean, it’s not like-“

She sighed in disappointment. “Spare me the petty sob story, Ella. Your voice is making my head hurt.”

“Lighten up, Spock,” I laughed, “or your ears are going to stay like that.”

“Just-“ she motioned roughly to the door, almost swatting me in the head with her pan-sized hand, “-please.”

“I’m not leaving this car.” I pouted, crossing my twig arms over my nonexistent chest.

The girl scowled, mirroring me. Except it wasn’t really a mirror, of course… because she was Osahar, and I was me. Because she looked like a professional wrestler and I looked like I belonged in one of those “save the starving children of Africa” commercials. “Yes, you are. Ella.”

“No. Osa. I’m not.”

“Get out of my car,” she growled, “or I will knock you unconscious, drag you to your front door, and leave you there.”

I threw my arms in front of my face. “Oh no! I didn’t really mean it, Osa! I’ll do whatever you want! I’ll recycle!” I laughed, and the sound seemed like a bomb in the usual silence.

“Do you find this funny?” Osahar asked quietly. Her voice almost never seemed to vary in expression; it was hard to find a situation where she actually spoke softly.

“No,” I lied, “Well, sort of. I can’t help it, Osahar. You’re so monotone all the time… I have to be funny for both of us.”

“How can you find any of this funny?” She furrowed her eyebrows together, “How can you laugh when Kayo is out there somewhere, lying in a pool of his own blood? How can you laugh when Kayo is being tortured somewhere; when my brother is so delirious from pain he does not even remember who he is? How can you find anything in this situation funny?

I rubbed the back of my neck. “Well… um…” I did a little eyebrow-raise-and-gulp combo, “that was depressing.”

“I will give you one more chance,” she warned, “Get. Out. Of. My. Car.”

“I’m not going anywh…” my voice died in my throat. And I’m not saying that just to sound pretentious- it seriously flopped over and died. Like a Chia Pet after the second week. Like McDonalds fries after the hundredth.

Because I could feel the cold, round outline of a gun barrel pressed against the side of my forehead. And when my eyes shifted to the handle, I stared at the person for a few minutes before my brain understood. It wasn’t Kemina. It wasn’t Uveaz, or any of the other male model soldiers.

It was Osahar, and she was trying to kill me.

“Ella,” she said in a voice that wasn’t exactly quiet but just as dangerous, “I would appreciate it if you left me alone now.”

 

Chapter two:

 

So.

That’s how I ended up nonchalantly swaying on my front lawn, looking like a rabid dog driving a food truck had run me over. And then backed up. And ran me over again. Just to make sure I was sufficiently dead-looking.

I was trying to come up with the perfect entrance.

In my head, everyone was sitting in my living room together- my mom, Phoebe, Thomas, all those weird aunts and uncles, people from school… teachers and bus drivers and that crazy cat lady that lived across the street… and my dad, hunched over in the corner and snarling at anyone who came near him (my mom says I’m just like him. It’s one of our reoccurring, er, conversations). They were all crying and saying how influential and irreplaceable I was.

And then- bam.

I storm in, looking quite badass, if I do say so myself. A hush falls over the crowd- even that one baby in every crowd that never shuts up. I take a deep breath, and say…

See, that’s where I kept getting stuck.

All the way along, I’d imagined all the hilarious ways I could tell people what happened. Maybe I would get my own a TLC special. I’d have to write a book about it, too- The Worst Summer Ever: I Got Abducted by Aliens And You Can Too by Ella Peacock, with helpful tips and insightful views from Kayo and Osahar (“How did that make you feel, Osahar?” “…That made me feel like I wanted to dislocate Ella’s head from her shoulders.” “Oh… kay then. Um, can we get Kayo back over here?”). Which would lead to a spot on one of those really famous talk shows- Ellen or Oprah or something.

But now that I was really here… about to really explain what happened… it suddenly wasn’t as fun as I’d imagined it.

“Hey, guys. Sorry I got kidnapped for ten days. That must’ve sucked. I was busy saving planet Earth and simultaneously doing that self-discovery thing people always talk about. They always make it seem so great- let me tell you, it’s really not. I almost got killed, like, every single day. Anyways. I’m going to take a shower. Then I’m probably going to sleep for a few days, and when I wake up I’d rather not talk about this ever again. Okay?”

I couldn’t exactly see this going over well.     

They’d want to know everything that had happened. They would be worse than you readers (come on. Don’t give me that look…) because I would have to live with them. They’d probably try to track down whoever kidnapped me, and as much as I wanted to stalk Osahar, I wasn’t that creepy.

And I didn’t want them to know about Kayo.

Not because I was ashamed of what I’d said, although that didn’t help. I felt like my family- my mom, my brother, maybe even Phoebe- they wouldn’t… get it. Why I loved- not in a romantic way, but a friendly way- this overemotional, diamond-shaped albino. I’d been around those people all my life. I knew how they thought, how they worked…

I wasn’t going to tell them about Kayo. Because if Kayo really was dead- if, if, if– then I didn’t want them knowing about him. I didn’t want them to fake pity for Kayo just to pretend they could relate to me…

I was so lost in thought that when the front door opened, I almost didn’t notice.

Almost.

I whipped around to see Phoebe standing in the doorway.

Wearing high waisted jean shorts and a crop top. And she had on those Toms I gave her for Christmas last year- they were white lace and cost nearly all of my allowance. She loved them. Her mom must have done her hair – it fell onto her left shoulder in a swirly black braid.

I was always jealous of her hair.

“Ella…?” a line furrowed between her impressively groomed eyebrows.

“Eurphm.” Was what I’d said, because at that particular moment my brain seemed to have run into The Great Wall of Phoebe (possibly the eighth wonder of the world, after viewing her mad makeup skills).

Apparently she’d rammed into The Great Wall of Ella, because suddenly we were both quiet. I was still standing twelve feet away from her perch on my front steps.

“How did you… I mean…” she gulped, looking around anxiously, “What’re you… doing here?”

I blinked. “Um. Phoebe. This is kind of my house.”

“Yeah, but what about the- the-“she took a rattling breath, “the aliens?

The…

 

 

ALIENS?!?

“What.” I blurted. I’d talked to Phoebe on that R’eidon’s cell phone once, right after my fight with Osahar, but I was fairly certain I hadn’t talked about aliens. But I guess I was pretty fired up that night; I could have accidently said something…

“You know,” she chewed on her bottom lip, “the one… the ones that… abducted you. The… the… Ray-dawns?”

I inadvertently took a step back, and fell off the curb. “Why- how do you- how do you know that?” Can R’eidons change shape? Can R’eidons posses someone?

And why the hell is everybody acting so weird today?

Phoebe took a step closer, her porcelain features politely confused. “They told me.”

They.

Who’s they? Uveaz? Kemina? One of the soldiers? Oh god, Phoebe would have been crushed by them- she was going through a particularly intense boy-crazy phase. She would have gone into full swoon-mode before she could even realize they were murderous alien lunatics.

“The people on the news.” Phoebe added.

People are talking about R’eidons? Why are they talking about R’eidons? Are they talking about me? About Kayo? About Osahar? Does she know who Kemina is? What’re they saying about the war- are they explaining how NASA’s being a big jerk, or do they glaze that detail over?

Maybe she’s delirious. Maybe R’eidons can change shape, and they’ve taken over Phoebe, and the second I let my guard down she’s going to-

“A lot of stuff has… changed since you left,” she explained sheepishly, “I think- I think you’d better… uh… come inside.”

 

“Where’s Thomas?”

Phoebe was locking the door behind us (because you never know when missing fourteen-year-old girls might show up on their own front lawn. I hear they can get quite rabid). “He’s with your mom.”

“… And where’s that?”

“They’re… um… they’re just… out,” she forced a twitchy smile, “Don’t worry; they’ll be back soon.”

I pressed my shoulder into the wall. Out. “So… do you just hang around my house now?” Because I know you like to stalk people on the Internet, but this is getting a little bit creepy.

“No. I mean- sometimes,” Phoebe cleared her throat, “um. Anyways. Do you want to… like… take a shower or something?”

On a day when I was feeling slightly less atrocious, I would have shot something equally idiotic and rude back at her. “I don’t know, Phoebe. That’s such a nice offer- I wouldn’t want to cause you any trouble.”

“Oh no, Ella. It’s no trouble.”

“…Well. It wouldn’t be. Because this is my house, and you just offered me a shower like it was a gift from the heavens above.”

The sad part about this situation, though, is that it kind of was. I felt like crap. My head hurt. And maybe if I just accepted the fact that I was alone in a house with someone who might be possessed by an alien, I could enjoy it while it lasted.

(And for the record, you pretentious, judging readers, I did realize how insane that sounded.)

(…Sort of.)

“Okay.” I said.

So I did. I might have used up all the water on Earth and Pluto combined in the process, but I managed to buff my skin to a mostly presentable level. At least I got all the dried blood off. And when I washed my hair, I pictured that scene from Spirited Away– you know, where they’re washing the stink spirit, and they pull out the bicycle and the ladder and stuff?

No? Never heard of it? You just think I’m slipping into insanity but you don’t want to say because, um, rude alert, so you just keep nodding and smiling blankly like when your French teacher asks you a question?

Okay. I can live with that.

When I stepped out of the shower, I’d say that I was feeling pretty good. Like, not really good- but pretty good, you know? I danced my way out of the shower, practically screaming along with my shower radio (which was playing Radioactive by Imagine Dragons) (irony). I reeked of various shower gels and scrubs and moisturizers, which I was positive my mom would make a huge deal of if she were here- but it was so much better than the alternative, I didn’t really care.

I was securing a towel under my armpit when I noticed the crumpled clothes next the door.

They’d always been ugly. Even if they fit the way they were supposed to- which they didn’t, because Osahar was Osahar and I was me- I still would have hated them. They looked like clothes someone had bought at Value Village, made into a zombie costume, and then threw away (into a puddle of mud).

Was it really just over a week ago that Osa gave them to me?

What had she said about them? “Unfortunately, they will not be up to your standards of tight, short, and colourful.” Something like that, anyway.

I snorted. Osa wouldn’t fit into anything of mine, but I was momentarily amused imaging what would happen if she did. “Why does everything you wear look like the shreds of something else?” she’d say, “Is fabric so expensive on Earth that you cannot afford to cover your midsection?”  

“Calm down, Osa,” I’d respond, “At least you don’t look like a Power Ranger anymore.”

Then I’d laugh, and she’d give me that look that meant she was trying hard not to.

That’s what would have happened back when we knew Kayo was alive, anyway. Back before I knew Kemina was their mom, and I wasn’t questioning why Osahar hadn’t told me.

Back when Osahar didn’t act like she hated me. Back when it was sort of the opposite. Back when she hadn’t dumped me on Earth and threatened to kill me if I didn’t get out of the car.

Yeah, back then.

So this is it? Reality asked. You think Kayo’s dead, god knows where Osahar is or if she’s even safe, your brother and mom are “out”, and Phoebe (who might be waiting outside this door with a butcher knife) is acting like an insane psycho freak. And you’re really just going to say “screw it, I’m tired of fighting”?

Kayo…

Who might be dead. Who might be dying. Who expects us- who expects me to rescue him.

Osahar…

Her hand on the trigger. A small, cold circle on my forehead. Looking at me with as much passion as a piece of cardboard. “Ella… I would appreciate it if you would leave me alone now.”

I stood up shakily, kicking Osahar’s clothes away. Stupid shampoo, I swore. It always gets into my eyes.

 

When I went back to the living room, Phoebe was waiting for me on the couch.

Nice shirt.” She laughed.

I looked down at my t-shirt. It was black with bold white lettering, and it said: “please cancel my subscription to your issues”. I asked for it as a birthday gift a few years ago.

(And when nobody got it for me, I stole my mom’s credit card and ordered it off the internet. Happy birthday to me.)

I flopped down on the couch next to Phoebe. I felt sort of weird wearing sweatpants and a fraying t-shirt, my hair sopping wet, while she looked like she could have starred in some jokey Lifetime movie. The girl next door.

“So. Um,” I rested my head on my fist, “you were going to show me something…?”

“Right!” Phoebe grabbed the TV remote, waving it in front of the flat-screen. Like it was a wand. Or a magic key.

At first, I was confused. Because it was just a baseball game, exactly the same as literally every other baseball game I’ve ever seen. Men hit ball with stick. Men chase after ball.

“Am I supposed to be seeing something weird -?” I asked after a few minutes of this.

“Shh!” she elbowed me in the ribs, “They’re about to go to ads!!!”

I was genuinely concerned for Phoebe’s sanity, so I watched the TV without complaint. A truck was called “revolutionary” (and looked like every other truck ever made). Somebody talked to us about insurance, and then a different person tried to sell us the newest IPhone. None of those people were R’eidons.

I turned to Phoebe. “Are you sure-“

“IT’S ON!!” she shouted, pointing frantically to the television.

When I Ruled The World by Coldplay was playing in the background. It was a white screen, with two all caps words printed in the center: WHAT IF. Then the images started… a dark-skinned child holding a water basket on her head. A nearly anorexic dog limping along the side of a road. A war-torn village, the ground smoking with freshly dropped bombs. They started speeding up, and it was hard to see all of them- there were photos of dead soldiers, of dead children… of 9/11, of someone lying in a hospital bed…

Just as quickly as they’d come, the pictures stopped. And these words replaced them: WE COULD END ALL OF THIS? And then, below that: WE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO INCREASE EARTH’S RESOURCES TENFOLD. BUT IT WON’T COME WITHOUT A FIGHT.

The words shifted: R’EIDONS, A NEFARIOUS ALIEN SPIECES, HAVE BEEN KEEPING THIS FROM US FOR CENTURIES. THEY KNOW WHAT WE’VE BEEN THROUGH. THEY KNOW WHAT OUR SITUATION IS.

The image changed again, and it was the president of the United States standing in front of a row of other residents and prime ministers. The fun music stopped.

The camera focused in on his grim expression. “The time for waiting is over.” He announced, and the way he said it sent chills up my spine.

The screen went black.

 

Chapter three:

I was 99.999% sure I wasn’t asleep.

Can you expand on this theory, Ella?

As a matter of fact, I can. 1: because I could feel stuff. No, no, not mushy feelings stuff- that did happen in dreams- I could feel the couch I was sitting on, the wetness of my hair. I could smell my sugary shampoo. And 2: because I honestly couldn’t think up something this strange. Like, if this was a dream, I was probably in a weird government-experiment chemical-induced coma that listed “vividly messed-up dreams” as one of the symptoms. Because there was NO WAY my own mind could think this one up. This was… two teenagers clacking their retainers at each other in a mating call. This was Sharknado 3.

“So whatddya think?” Phoebe asked lightly, as if we were daintily discussing gossip over a spot of tea (which, btw, I could SOOOOOO picture her doing. I mean, she’s been a Disney princess literally every Halloween since we met. Me? Not so much).

“Well.” I rubbed the heels of my hands into my eyes. The words were still blazing in my mind like white fire: the time for waiting is over.

“I know,” she gushed, “it’s really overwhelming at first, huh?”

“Yeah,” I mumbled. My head was throbbing. Do they know how powerful R’eidons are? Do they know that they could wipe out Earth in a single swipe? “It’s… uh… I mean, I think…”

“Are you feeling all right?” she tried to take my hands away from my eyes, but I moved them just in time, “…Ella?”

“I’m fine,” I bared my teeth in a school-photo smile, “Jeez. I was just creeped out, ‘kay?”

Phoebe melted back into her typical angelic-smile mode. “You were kidnapped by those Ray-dawns, weren’t you?”

“Yeah,” I had to restrain myself from lunging across the couch and strangling her, “What’s your point.”

“Well… I dunno,” she shrugged, “I just thought you’d be more… like… enthusiastic about the whole thing. Because, like, they kidnapped you and stuff?”

My voice was thick with emotion when I finally spoke. “That’s like saying just because most of the human race sucks that we all suck. And, like, okay: some of the R’eidons are pretty bad, but the ones I know are-“

Someone knocked on the door.

I glanced at Phoebe. “My mom?” I mouthed, and she shook her head quickly.

<<<Insert several crying-face emojis>>>

I think it was somewhere around that time that I decided I didn’t really care if this was real or not. I didn’t really care if Kemina was waiting outside that door, because then maybe she could explain what was going on (she usually did).

Ignoring Phoebe’s super-dramatic “nooooooooooooooo!!!!!!” calling me back, I got up, straightened my shirt, and opened the door.

The first thing I did was mentally sigh with relief.

Because it wasn’t Kemina. Or Uveaz. Or anyone who looked like an American Eagle model. That pretty much cleared up everyone in the R’eidon military (I grant you permission to laugh at that. On the inside. Because it might sound funny, but those guys- and they’re all guys, too- are serial killers).

But he wasn’t exactly human, either.

“Ella Peacock!” he shrieked, I kid you not down on his knees bowing to me, “Oh, great and powerful Ella Peacock, accept my peace offering!!!”

I looked over at Phoebe. “Do you know this guy?”

She shook her head.

“Me neither.” I said, and closed the door. I’d barely turned around by the time he was pounding his fist on the front door again.

I whipped it open. Clearing my throat, I started my passive-aggressive speech I gave to people who knocked on my door. “I’M SORRY, BUT I’M NOT INTERESTED IN WHATEVER YOU’RE SELLING,” I explained, channeling that inner old man, “I’M GOING TO CLOSE THE DOOR-“

NO!!!!! ELLLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!” he stood up, giving me the chance to properly look at him for the first time.

He was skinny. Borderline-anorexia sort of skinny. In human standards, he looked around fifteen or sixteen years old, but he was still a couple of inches shorter than I was (I was just starting to understand that I was going to be short no matter which planet I was on).

He wasn’t wearing any shoes. His feet were black as a dead cellphone screen, and the fact the legs of his pants were cropped at totally different heights didn’t help to minimize it. His pants were black for the most part, but they were patched with fading fabrics of every shade. And they still had holes in them, one of which looked suspiciously like a bullet hole.

He was wearing a black coloured t-shirt that was peppered with scratches. Like the previous owner had been Edward Scissor Hands. Over top of that looked like the remains of a burgundy vest, but the right side had been ripped off so it just looked more like someone with poor sewing skills had tried to make a sash.

Overtop of his dirty, ripped, patched, and blood-stained clothes, he was wearing a floor-length sleeveless cloak. I usually pride myself in wearing the most bomb-dot-com swaggy-licious outfits money can buy. Or at least setting a standard for my fellow students. But this cloak was… unearthly. I don’t know why people always thought aliens would be ugly- like, okay, that place Uveaz kept me wasn’t magnificent, but where Kemina lived it sure was. And this cloak, crafted out of hundreds of fingernail-sized iridescent scales, didn’t look like anything that could be made on Earth.

He had pale skin. Not the kind of pale skin we homo sapiens think is pale- as in, I-just-died-of-hypothermia-pale. Tinged with blue. He had hair like an anime character- pink gravity-defying spikes that turned white at the tips, like frost was growing on them. I thought that was a little bit strange, considering it was the middle of summer, but hey- a blue guy just showed up on my doorstep. It’s already defying logic, so why not go all the way?

The boy’s face reminded me of some sort of animal. Like a bird, but… not. He had a flat line for lips, and his nose was sort of hooked. His eyes weren’t round; they were more like cuts in his sunken-in face that oozed amber liquid. Dark purple bags marked the undersides of his eyes.

Ellllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!” The boy wailed, his voice laced with the same accent Osahar and Kayo had.

I rolled my eyes. Sighing. “Listen- Rainbow Brite,” I tried and failed to restrain my passive-aggressive tone (on second thought, maybe it was just plain aggressive), “You know I’d just love to go spread fairy-princess-magic with you. But- I mean- I’ve got a ton of stuff to do today; I haven’t even started wallowing in self-pity yet…“

PLEASE, MISS ELLA,” Rainbow Boy half-shouted at me, “YOU- YOU HAVE TO LET ME HELP YOU!!”

“Mmm,” I leaned against the doorframe, “I wouldn’t say that I have to…”

BUT-“

He tried to step closer, and I did the obvious thing: a super-epic karate-kick to the chest.

(I can hear you, by the way. Rudely questioning my super-epic-karate-kicking abilities. Like, okay, so maybe it wasn’t like that time Osahar threw Mr. Parker across the classroom and he crumpled like tinfoil…. but- just let me have my moments, okay?)

“Yeah!” I did a fist-pump in the air, then wished I hadn’t, “And don’t, like, come back and stuff!”

Rainbow Boy sat up (wheezing) (feel free to clap) (*holding machete over head* I mean, no pressure or anything. Just giving you the option) (really) (your choice). “I mean you no harm, miss Ella!”

He tried to stand up, but I was already flexing my nonexistent noodle-arms in his direction. “Not a good move, dude.” When his face twisted in horror, I mean literal the-world-is-going-to-end-because-the-sketchiest-person-ever-just-said-she-loved-my-outfit horror, I think I might’ve given a satisfied smirk on the inside.

(And it also made me wonder if this was why Osahar acted the way she did. Hmm… probs not. I sort of think she just cut herself out of Kemina’s stomach one day, fully clothed, all like “salutations, fellow kin” and other pretentious things.)

He suddenly sprang to his feet, like a Slinky, and grabbed one of my hands out of the air. His hand felt weird- warm and calloused and generally disturbing. I acted the way any rational teenage girl would when a (let’s be fair: diseased-looking) seventeen-year-old-boy-man-thing grabbed their wrist.

I pummeled him with ninja-kicks. “GET YOUR SLIMY HANDS OFF OF ME, YOU REVOLTING-“

But I didn’t even get to the “gee darn” part before he started… inspecting…. My thumb.

Yes, my thumb.

Rainbow Boy cursed in R’eidon under his breath. “How long has this been here?!?!” he practically shrieked, gawking at me like I was the weird one.

“Gee, I dunno,” I huffed, “just showed up one day. Mystifying doctors everywhere.”

He held on tighter. “When? When did this show up?”

“You can turn it into a new pop-up ad,” I rambled sarcastically, “that one with Ellen crying’s getting pretty old. Doctors Hate Her: Teenage Girl Is Gifted With Extra Fingers.”

“This is no laughing matter!” he bellowed to the sky, “Miss Ella, this is life or death!!!”

I used the hand that wasn’t currently being used as a stress ball to tug the skin underneath my eye. “Will you stop calling me that?”

“TELL ME WHEN THIS APPEARED, Ella.” He almost snarled it.

I properly gee-darned him then. “It’s a freaking thumb, dude! Okay? You have one too! A lot of people have them. Actually, most. So just-“ I dramatically ripped my hand out of his grasp, “GO- AWAY!”

With that, I hopped back up my front steps. I could feel Rainbow Boy’s eyes burning into my back as I whipped open the door. Fine, I thought. Let him knock. Let him sit outside my house all day. If he thinks I honestly care at the moment, he’s wrong.

The fact I thought that even as I saw Kemina sitting on my couch probably proves what state of mind I was in (that is, the government-experiment chemical-induced one).

Oh well.

 

Chapter four:

A few casual moments later, my Neanderthal-brain seemed to clue in.

WORST ENEMY + THUMB-OBSESSED RAINBOW BOY + NO OSAHAR + ME, IN GENERAL = … BAD?

(Math was never a strong point. It doesn’t help when your life, for once, actually depends on it.)

“Oh, Ella,” she cooed, her whole stupid face lighting up, “It’s so good to see you again.”

Yeah, sure- bet you couldn’t wait to taunt me with your all-knowing power. In the movie version, this is where Jennifer Lawerence (-and yes, I mean she was playing me-) would stand in the fuzzy halo of the setting sun, holding a totally sick bow that I wouldn’t know how to shoot if my life depended on it. And my luscious blonde curls would be whipping around my head, but never covering the glare of my steely brown eyes.

IRL, I was just a *shudders* “petite” girl with (minor.) anger issues, wearing sweatpants and an insulting t-shirt. My hair was still wet and tangly, and I unfortunately didn’t have any fancy weapon. And all I could choke out were a few garbled voice-crack-riddled syllables.

I turned to Rainbow Boy, who may or may not have been one of the uglier soldiers in disguise. He had one of those swords with the funky-looking blades- a khopesh- hanging on his left hip, but he seemed in no rush to unsheathe it. So- yeah. I’m gonna say he’s not on my side.

I opened my mouth to make another failed attempt at talking when the boy just- disappeared.

There was no poof of green magic. Flames didn’t devour his body. Actually, of all the really cool exits he could have had, Rainbow Boy’s was the lamest: he just went. Without any warning.

Well.

That happened.

Kemina was smiling her hundred-watt Barbie smile at me (it was nauseating. Like, in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, when they’re stuffing that freaky green fudge in his mouth- it was ten times worse than that. I half expected her to have “Made in China” printed on the back of her neck).

“Oh, honey– I’m not going to bite! Come in, come in,” she beckoned me inside with a perfectly groomed hand, “Make yourself at home.”

 

She’d made tea.

I think it was mint, although it also smelled sort of floral.

We never used our tea kettle. Honestly, I thought my mom had thrown it out after that time my brother burnt part of the cupboard (on purpose. He was twelve, and bored. And, quite obviously, an idiot).

Kemina set down her cup. Channeling her “concerned teacher” face. “Have you been having a nice summer so far, sweetie?”

“You know, considering everyone I care about is dead, nearly dead, or probably dead,” I raised both eyebrows, “it’s been fantastic.”

Either she didn’t catch my sarcasm, or pretended not to. “Oh, you’re welcome, Ella,” she reached out to pat my knee, but I moved it out of her reach just in time, “I just knew, hon, from the moment we first talked, that you weren’t happy on your mission.”

I balled my fists so hard my fingernails almost drew blood. “Nobody’s happy at war,” I growled, “’cept maybe serial killers.”

“See, that’s exactly my point,” she shook her head, but in the way that meant she was pleased with herself, “It’s just not right to have a young girl like you worried about silly adult issues.”

“We went through this already,” I muttered, “You said that I’m an immature little kid, and that the adults will figure it out. And I said that you could take that and shove it ‘cuz you literally just tried to kill Osahar and Kayo.”

The queen’s expression went from quote-unquote “warm” to a searing third-degree-burn fire. “Kayo and Osahari,” she huffed, “can handle themselves.”

Can I get a Bad Mom Award over here?

I mean. Really. I thought mine was bad, after she forgot my birthday last year and everything- but just remember, kiddies, as bad as your mom seems, she’s probably not trying to kill you. Probably.

I rolled my eyes. “Can you not even remember your own kid’s name? It’s Osahar.”

“No,” she frowned (for once), “it’s not.”

“Yeah,” I said, “it is.”

“Ella, sweetie,” Kemina frantically tried to regain her composure, “I know what her name is. It’s Osahari. But that’s not important right now, okay? My point was-“

“That’s not her name,” I cut her off, ignoring the queen’s slowly rising eyebrow, “Like- seriously dude, if you can’t remember your own child’s name, you probably shouldn’t say it. It’s Osahar. No “i”, kay?”

She was back to looking at me like I was a kitten with its head stuck in a Kleenex box. “That’s a good point, honey. But I came here to talk to you about what was hap-“

“Her name is Osahar.” you’re an idiot, Ella, you’re the biggest idiot that’s ever set foot on Earth. D’you know that? Do you know that you’re currently baiting your worst enemy into a fight because she’s mispronouncing the name of someone who tried to kill you?

 

She sighed in that annoying way adults do (like the world is falling apart, and it’s all your fault). “Sweetheart,” she tried to pat my knee again, and I let her (for combat purposes, it made sense) (it was extremely painful) (I think she had fake nails on), “her name isn’t Osahar. That’s a boy’s name.”

I’m surprised that my fingers didn’t turn blue. And my feet- I was momentarily shocked to find they hadn’t fallen off yet. Because I could practically feel my head get heavier with all of the blood that rushed to it.

“I find enjoyment in the name Osahar.”

We were sitting in those stupid blue school chairs. And Osa was across from me, but our knees were brushing… and the air reeked of blood. It was making me nauseous. I couldn’t stop thinking that this was the worst day ever. That I was going to be murdered in math class by some NBA-playing Power Ranger that thought Star Wars was real.

“Do you not find it odd that we are named before we know what we want to accomplish?”

And I thought that the police were going to come. Maybe even the SWAT team. I’d find out that the person sitting across from me was a mass-murderer that just escaped from Azkaban, and everyone would say how heroic I was. It would take a while for the dust to settle, of course. I’d probably wake up sometimes having dreamt of that time I almost died- of those eyes.

“They are putting us in boxes before we know how to break out.”

Kemina had her contacts in.

I couldn’t even think of a word bad enough to call her. “She can call herself whatever the hell she wants to,” I slammed my mug so hard down on the coffee table it cracked, “Is that all right with you, hon?”

“It’s no reason to get upset, dear,” she blinked in polite confusion, as if she actually cared, “You just misheard her, that’s all. I’m sure she can correct you when you see each other again.”

I think my ears might have actually turned upwards. “YOUKNOWWHERESHEIS.”

Kemina laughed that repulsive laugh. The one that sounded like a waterfall of honey. “Honey,” she smiled, pronouncing every syllable of the word, “She’s probably seen her brother by now. You know- the chubby one, with the blond hair.”

“What have you done to him,” I snarled, but apparently that was funny because the queen kept laughing, “What have you done to Kayo, you despicable…”

“Oh, Ella-“ she clucked, “-there’s no need to get so riled up. I’m sure you’ll meet him again soon.”

Usually she wasn’t so overt with her death threats- she must be desperate for a reaction…

But I wasn’t going to attack her first. Not this time. My sword was still in the back of the Prius, and I’d only gotten away last time because she didn’t want to kill me yet. The queen did legitimately want to murder Kayo and Osahar (god knows why; if my child was Osa I would just ooze embarrassing “my-child-is-the-best” energy 24/7. And Kayo… I mean, Kayo). But I was just a toy for her. A rat under her foot, something she enjoyed watching struggle.

“Don’t you dare,” I swore, “Don’t you dare lay one damn finger on Kayo. You monster.”

She shook her head sadly. “Now do you see my point, sweetheart?” the older woman leaned forward, “You don’t need to go through this. Honey– you really don’t. You’re getting aggravated, and I know your anger isn’t really directed towards me. So calm down, okay? You can stop fighting. Just tell me, Ella… and I can stop this.”

“You’re not my freaking therapist!” I shouted, “And maybe I can stop fighting, but NASA’s still being a greedy jerk. The war won’t be over. I’ll be out of the picture, but it won’t be over.”

Kemina had tears in her eyes. She was still shaking her head. And she didn’t even need to open her mouth to say it: “I’m disappointed in you, honey” was broadcasted all over her stupidly perfect face.

“And just so you know,” I stood up, not even sure where I was going, “I had anger issues before we even met. The only difference is that now I’m beeping done trying to hide it.”

The look on her face was priceless.

It was even better when that dragon’s foot almost crushed her.

Yeah, that made the moment.

 

I’m not going to pretend like I wasn’t shocked, because I was.

One minute, there was me and Kemina drinking tea together on the couch. And then there was a loud crashing sound- like that time Kayo bombed the place Uveaz was keeping me, and I thought I’d gone deaf.

I fell flat on my butt, and when I sat up again the couch had been flattened by this huge scale-covered paw. I mean- paw wasn’t exactly the right word to describe it. It was made up of thousands of tiny iridescent scales, like the kind on Rainbow Boy’s coat. And it had five claws, each one the size of a dishwasher… and they were made out of ice.

Well, I thought, that was casual.

I’d already decided that I was in a chemical-induced government-experiment coma. Where dragons made out of ice were real, and Kemina was officially the worst person ever. So I didn’t really stop to think why there was a table-sized hole in the ceiling that was sprouting the limb of an ancient mythical creature.

I just thought that seemed like a good time to run.

So, as nonchalantly as I could, I slipped on the first pair of shoes I saw- my brother’s Sketchers (we were the same size, but we had a pact to not tell our mom in case she tried to buy us matching shoes – there was this one Christmas photo from when I was four and he was three where we’re both wearing gingerbread-men costumes. It’s mortifying). I looked behind myself casually- yep, Kemina was still cowering under the coffee table- and left.

I’ll admit it.

I’m not always the brightest person.

Actually, at times like those, I’m fairly stupid.

Because, for whatever reason, I hadn’t worked out yet that that dragon’s foot had to be attached to the rest of the dragon. I know- it was a pretty moronic move. But nothing else was going by the laws of logic. So why should that?

I realized, the second I stepped outside, that there was a “rest” to the dragon.

And I was standing directly under it.

I wasn’t stunned by its beauty. Or awed by its power. I mean, I guess on some level I was- but mostly I felt cold. Physically cold. My wet hair was starting to crystallize, just standing under its huge stomach.

The dragon was made out of those tiny rainbow-coloured scales. Millions- billions- trillions of them (if I wasn’t crushed in the next few minutes, I would have to give it an epilepsy warning). Its head was probably the size of a car, and was shaped like a snake’s- only crafted out of icicles and opalescent scales. The dragon’s eyes were all amber liquid, no pupil or anything. It was sort of creepy.

From frost-tipped tail to its ice-nostrils, the dragon was probably thirty feet long. Maybe more, I dunno. And it towered over my two-story house- actually, the ice dragon was probably larger than my house, period.

It looked down at me. And I tried to not look like I was simultaneously crying and hyperventilating (for the second time that day. Seriously, what was wrong with me?).

The ice dragon- let’s call it Rainbow Boy #2- removed its hand out of my living room and started reaching downward again-

I tried to go inside, but the door was closed… and the dragon was fast, apparently much more than me. It wrapped its hand around my waist, and I paused my sobbing to let out a strangled cry.

My midsection froze. Like, legitimately froze. I’ve been cold before, everybody has- but this was the sort of cold where it’s difficult to tell whether you’re actually cold or hot because it burns so much. There were little black spots in my eyes. I think someone screamed, and it may have been me.

The dragon reached its other hand out, and with one razor-sharp ice-claw it made a tiny cut in my thumb.

It hurt.

And then it was just cold, like everything else. My blood was dripping down the dragon’s arm. And I swore there was a tiny circle, like a microchip, floating in it. You’re not a robot, I thought. But I might be. I could be. I wouldn’t be bleeding if I were a robot…

The dragon set me down on their back. My finger was still bleeding. It seemed like a lot of blood, but I guess it always does. And I was cold. Maybe hot. Maybe both. There was a lot of blood…

At some point I must have realized we weren’t touching the ground anymore, but it didn’t bother me that much. There was a lot of blood. And I was cold. And eventually I didn’t try to keep my eyes open any longer.

 

Chapter five:

My body ricocheted off a tree, and I choked out another wad of blood.

“Poor Ella,” I heard Kemina say from the shadows, “I’m afraid your body won’t be able to last much longer.”

My voice came out slow and slurred. “Stop hiding. Come… come and face me.”

Something hit my side, and it exploded in pain. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before- every scratch, every broken bone, every injury… added together, it could never be this painful. This felt like some sort of poison. Burning across my veins like acid.

“Does that hurt, hon?” she made a sighing “aw” sound.

I looked around- I was in Section Eight again. In some sort of park- a beautiful perfect winding cobblestone path cut through the dozens of cherry blossom trees. But somehow it didn’t seem as graceful as last time- snow was blizzarding around us like a billion angry birds. And my blood was pouring all over the path; it was staining the stones…

“Kemina,” I shouted, but the wind seemed to take the words from my lips, “Stop hiding!”

Something hit me on the leg and I crumpled to the ground, shrieking in pain. It felt like every one of my cells were slowly being stabbed. Like every one of my pores were bleeding…

Someone stepped out of the shadows, and it wasn’t Kemina.

It was Phoebe.

My vision was waning, but there was no mistaking those silky black locks. “I was never hiding, sweetie,” she laughed, “you’ve just never looked hard enough.”

I wanted to say, sorry, Queen of Stupidity, but if you’re seriously suggesting my best friend from, like, ever, was actually you in disguise, you are actually the most moronic person I’ve ever met. And that’s including myself. I think I would know if the same person who dressed up as my “Thing Number Two” last Halloween was secretly a middle-aged alien queen, thank you very much.

But before I could even open my mouth, it was too late.

I died.

The end.

 

“Is she going to be all right?” someone asked. They sounded familiar, but I didn’t know where from. Someone sniffled.

“Ella will survive.” A second, lower voice said.

Osahar.

I sat bolt upright, nearly head-banging Kayo in the process.

Kayo.

He was there. He was really there– in all of the chubby-cheeked glory I remembered. He was pale, but I guess he was always pale- and his hair was just as ivory as the last time I’d seen it, done up in the classic head-sized R’eidon bun. He was still as diamond-shaped as ever.

I tumbled out of the couch I was laying on, totally rabid-dog mode, and tackled him in a hug. We were both sobbing uncontrollably.

“Oh my god,” I kept saying, “Oh my god, Kayo. You’re alive. Oh my god.”

I almost pulled away, but then I saw his expression- he was crying (because he’s always crying) but he smiled shyly with his remaining three teeth- and I broke down crying again. God. He was alive. And I’d missed him. I’d missed how he smiled like that.

“Oh my god,” I hugged him harder, “Kayo. You’re alive.”

“Too- tight.” He squeaked, and I let him go.

I glanced over at Osahar hopefully, and she flared her nostrils. “Do not think you are going to viciously attack me like that.”

I pouted. “Kayo, I think someone over there is in need of a snuggle fest.”

“You,” Osahar’s face turned a shade of burgundy, “are a revolting human being.”

I laughed, looking around the room- there were plush red and gold coloured couches spread all around the room, with a five-foot-tall fireplace crackling in the corner. There were richly coloured tapestries hanging from the domed ceiling- which was made out of curved panels of stained glass that cloaked the room in a pastel red. The air smelled like pastries- melting butter and cinnamon. It made my stomach growl. I couldn’t see any doors, though… but then again, I wasn’t sure why anyone would want to leave this place.

“Nice place,” I whistled, “and this one doesn’t even smell like old people.”

“Are you suggesting that my brother and I evoke the scent of elders?” Osahar arched one of her bushy eyebrows. It made Kayo laugh.

“Well…” I shrugged, “you do play chess.”

“And you, Ella, play stupid.”

This time Kayo and I both giggled. “Such a low dis,” I motioned to my face, “It’s hard to imagine how anyone could resist this.”

“I think I can imagine.” She muttered, rolling her eyes.

“Whenever me and sister are alone, she goes on and on about you.” Kayo said, and Osa turned an even deeper shade of red.

I strutted across the room and threw an arm around her shoulders. “Well, that’s easy to see,” I flashed her one of my devilish smirks, “I mean, not many people have the pleasure of meeting me.”

Pleasure,” Osahar shrugged out of my grasp, “is one way to put it.”

“Whaddya think, Kayo?” I stroked my imaginary beard in thought, “Do you ship Ellahar?”

“Ship?” he blinked his eyes slowly, “Like… a boat?”

“Shipping is when you take two people that might or might not know each other, and you decide that they’re absolutely perfect together. In a relationship,” I explained, “So. Do you ship Osahar and I?”

Osa groaned in the background, plugging her ears. “This is a completely absurd conversation!”

I laughed so hard I had to wipe my eyes again. “We’re just kidding. Stop taking everything so literally.”

“Thirty seconds ago you were trying to trying to turn my brother to the dark side.”

“Well,” I said, “they do have cookies.”

“I think sometimes you think you are being funny,” Osahar frowned, “because it is some allusion to an Earth thing. But to Kayo and I it appears like you are saying something completely irrelevant.”

“That just means I need to teach you in my Earthling ways,” I teased her, “We can start with stupid YouTube videos- that one with the flying lawnmower and “Cotton Eye Joe” should be first. Then we can stalk people on Twitter and make fun of their failed selfies- that’s always a good way to pass the time.”

“Ella Christina Elaine Peacock,” she shook her head, “I am not entirely sure what any of that means. But I am almost one hundred percent positive now that you lead an extremely unfulfilling life.”

I leaned against the couch, shooting Kayo a look that said can you believe her? “Osa, one of these days I’m going to get you on the Internet, and you’re going to change your mind.”

“How many times,” she huffed, “will I have to remind you that is not my name?

I crossed my arms over my chest. “I guess until I get bored of it.”

“Kayo,” she said with absolute seriousness, “I hereby give you permission to murder me.”

Neither of us knew what to say, so Kayo and I held our breath waiting for Osa to tell me that “this was not a joking matter” and that we “can be two steps ahead of the enemy by never letting our guard drop”.

The corners of her mouth moved upwards slightly- not quite a smile, but close. “You are the two most gullible people I have ever met.”

Osahar,” I gasped, legitimately shocked, “was that sarcasm?”

“Yes, it was,” she rolled her eyes again, “And there is no need to stare at me like that.”

 

When I woke up- when I actually woke up- I felt happy.

Weirdly happy. Maybe I was still delirious from blood loss, I don’t know, but I spent several minutes just staring up into the trees and smiling. Like some weird hipster named Destiny that goes into the forest with their Birkenstocks over their knee-high socks and Starbucks Frappuccino to “reconnect with nature”. I’m going to blame it on blood loss.

I sort of remembered what had happened yesterday (it seemed like morning, though it was hard to tell through all the trees), but it felt more like a dream than the one I’d just had. I mean, talking to Kayo and Osa in a strange room? It’s happened before. I can’t think of when, but it’s definitely happened before. Kemina killing me in Section Eight? That’s probably what’s going to happen.

Kemina turning into Phoebe, though…

I chose to ignore that, because it was just a dream, and most of it was really awesome. And there were moments, like when I first saw Kayo, that I almost believed it was real…

And since the line between “real” and “not real” had become blurry lately, I decided to just accept anything good as “real enough”.

Someone must have figured I was feeling a little too happy, because as soon as I thought that, Rainbow Boy had to come and totally ruin the moment.

“Miss Ella.” he gasped, literally gasped, like I was the weird one in this situation.

I mean… okay. I get it. To an alien, humans are aliens. But do they really have to either be like Osahar, who has confirmed I’m a heinous freak of nature, or like Kayo, who thinks I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread?

(When I was a little kid I used to think that when sliced bread became a thing, they threw crazy parties and had a parade and they made a bunch of schools have sliced bread as their mascot… and they would sell various Sliced BreadTM merchandise, like the Sliced Bread BackpackTM or the Sliced Bread LipstickTM. And I know that totally didn’t happen, but still. Like. Its just bread, guys. Chill.)

“Its just Ella.” I growled, and because I’m the best conversationalist since… well, you know.

“Please accept my apology, miss Ella!” he went back to bowing, “I never meant to hurt you, but I had no choice!”

“Really, dude,” I shrugged, “I’m kinda used to being beat up by my friends. I mean- that sounds really bad, but its not. Its just- forget it.”

He cautiously walked towards me. “You work with Osahari, right?”

“Its just Osahar,” I snapped, “And thank you for, like, saving me. That was, like, cool and stuff. But-“

“Miss Ella, it is my sworn duty to protect you,” Rainbow Boy held his hand over his heart, “I’ll give my own life if you wish.”

“Uh…” I tilted my head to the side, “I mean, that’s great and all, very- um- heroic of you, but I’ rather not be called in for supposed murder. That’s just… you know. Probs not good for my rep.”

The boy laughed. “Miss Ella, you’re hysterically funny!”

If this were a normal person saying it- a teacher trying to say something positive when they read one of my “often crass and foul-mouthed” essays, perhaps- I would have just said, “so that’s why you failed me” and smiled fakely, because that usually creeps them out enough they’ll stop talking. But an alien/dragon/teenage guy… I mean, really, what do you say to someone like him in general?

“How come you use contractions?” I asked.

“Dāsa…” with that weird R’eidon accent, he pronounced it like dasssah, “Um. I just. Uh. I’m used to talking in English. That’s all.”

“So… I’m sorry, but why are you here again?” I know it might have been a tiny bit passive-aggressive, but cut me some slack, guys- dreaming about my dead BFFs is kinda not how I like to start my days off. Just a personal preference.

The boy chewed on his bottom lip. “Well… Kemina… Kemina was keeping me prisoner in Section Eight when you and Osahari and Kayo bombed the city,” he told me, “You exploded the side of the building I was in. You saved me, Miss Ella.”

“Osa and Kayo saved you,” I ripped a tuft of grass out, “So you can go find them and thank them instead, okay?”

“But you were crucial to their plan,” Rainbow Boy argued, “Osahari and Kayo have tried to make attacks before- and they’ve always failed. You’re their good luck charm!”

Thanks, Captain Bloody Freaking Moron. Like, maybe there was a couple of days that I actually think we could’ve actually put up with each other for a while after we stopped fighting this war. That we could’ve gone to Disney World together and eaten Beavertails… god, I missed Earth food.

“If I’m such a good luck charm,” I mumbled to the grass, “then why the hell is everybody dead?”

Rainbow Boy started to say something, but I was already getting tired of hearing his stupidly positive voice. “Look, man. I really want to thank you for saving me, but things aren’t really so honky-dory right now with the dream team. Actually, I’m pretty sure Osahar kicked me out of that whole group. And the point is, I’m not really… like… you know. Associated with them anymore.”

“You can’t just say that,” he weaved his hand through his hair, like he was trying to iron out the creases in his forehead, “Miss Ella, you’re part of a revolution.”

“I already told you,” I shrugged, “I’m sorry. I’m not a “revolutionary”. I just have friend issues.”

“It doesn’t matter why you’re doing it!” he shouted, “I can’t believe Dāsa-“

“Dude, seriously,” I groaned, “you’re giving me a headache. Give it a rest, kay? If you’re so intent on this, you should’ve looked for Osa.”

I turned around and started walking away. Stupid kid, I thought. I don’t what he was expecting me to do- teach him our team chant and give him a collectible t-shirt? He just didn’t understand how our group worked. We weren’t the usual gung-ho gang- we hated the fact we had to fight, but we hated Kemina more. We definitely weren’t looking to add anyone in our suicide mission.

I heard something hit the ground behind me, and when I glanced over my shoulder Rainbow Boy was on his knees bowing to me again. “Please, miss Ella,” he said, “You can’t- you can’t just-“

I was tempted to give him the finger and walk away, preferably to the nearest Starbucks, but there was something about the way he was crouching that reminded me of Kayo…

Damn it.

I can’t even think of him anymore without doing something nice.  

I held my hand out to the boy. He stared up at me in disbelief, swallowing slowly. “Oh, get up already,” I rolled my eyes, “seriously, can you R’eidons not take a joke?”

 

 

“So,” I cleared my throat, “you’re a dragon?”

(Thank you, readers. I can make sense of some things.)

“Well… not exactly,” Rainbow Boy explained, “I’m… I mean, I don’t know if anybody explained this to you, but there’s different species that live on Pluto. Just like Earth has animals that aren’t humans, Pluto has its own ecosystem too.”

I frowned. “So you’re not a R’eidon?”

“Um…” he scratched his frost-covered hair, “Its… its not that simple. Because Pluto has had life on it for so much longer than Earth, some of the other species have had time to evolve to be around the same intellectual level as R’eidons. It would be sort of like if… pigs were considered to be equal to humans.”

“But they’re not.” I argued.

“I’m glad we agree,” he said, and smiled, “They’re much inferior. But that’s beside the point- over a couple generations, R’eidons and four major species- goblins, fairies, dragons, and griffins- started, um, breeding, and they created a bunch of hybrid babies.

“Of course, all of this was going on while Kemina’s father was ruling. Nobody really cared if you weren’t 100% R’eidon- some families, especially the ones with higher rankings, were all about “keeping the bloodline pure” and all of that. But most people just didn’t care,” he sighed, “and then Kemina became queen.”

We were sitting on the grass a couple feet apart, and frost was sprouting out from under him- almost like it could sense the boy getting angry.

“She hated these new half-R’eidon creatures,” Rainbow Boy spread his hands out to express his point, “She was used to eating these things with bread and butter. She was used to buying their juicy, tender meat from the butcher down the street- but she most definitely was not used to treating them like people.

“So she made that her first law: any non-R’eidon creatures that had associations with R’eidons were sentenced to death. Any R’eidons that opposed this law faced the same fate. And any offspring they’d had,” he said darkly, “were asked to report to the government for punishment.”

“I…” I sighed, resting my head on my fist, “I’m sorry. I’m not really following.”

“That’s okay,” he laughed, “Its confusing, but you’ll understand eventually. Those half-breeds went back to being livestock, and Pluto was sectioned into eight pieces- and depending on your stature and purity, you were graded on which one you could live in.”

“That still doesn’t really answer my question.” I reminded him.

“Well, as for what I am…” he glanced up, and he seemed wistful, “my dad’s side definitely had a strong R’eidon current through it, but there was also a little bit of goblin in there. And my mom had all five in her. So I’m not entirely sure what I am, but I can transform into a frost dragon.”

He said it like any normal person would say their failed test results.

“All rightie then,” I blinked, “But… I… I still don’t know your name.”

“Its Milikku.” he pronounced it like mill-ick-you.

“Well, milk,” I folded my arms over my chest, sizing him up, “sounds like Kemina’s been a jerkface to you, too. Welcome to the team.”

 

Chapter six:

Milk wanted to go back to the last place I saw Osahar.

I tried to be vaguely casual about it.

“SHE TRIED TO MURDER ME,” I wailed, channeling my inner anime character- you know, when their tears are shooting out of their eyeballs at ninety degree angles, “SHE LITERALLY THREATENED TO SHOOT ME IN THE HEAD IF I DIDN’T GO AWAY AND I THINK SHE MIGHT BE GOING THROUGH A LITTLE BIT OF A CRAZY PERSON PHASE SO MAYBE WE SHOULD JUST NOT, LIKE, BUG HER.”

I think I might’ve creeped him out a bit.

“Miss Ella, she’s- she’s on our side.” Milikku shrugged, clearly not understanding how freaking awkward it is to go back to the place your BFF tried to kill you in hopes they might still be there.

(Oh, but Ella! You’re saying, frowning a “smol” little frown, you have to go back and find Osahar. It’s a physical necessity. Never mind the fact you might be having internal struggle over your schizophrenic friend- I mean, what do we care if she rips you to shreds?)

I mean… part of me did want to see her again. Like, you know that part of you that ships the most revolting, the most disturbing pairing ever (Snape x Hermione, I’m talking to you here)? The part of you that feels the urge to stick your hand in a fire, just to see if it hurts as much as you think it will? Yeah. That was the part of me that wanted to see Osa again.

Of course, I knew she wouldn’t actually be there. Even as Milk transformed into a dragon and exclaimed how bloody happy he was to finally be “helping with the revolution”, I knew we wouldn’t find anything there. Osahar was meticulous. With everything. And when she wanted to do something, nobody stopped her.

“So…” I tried to grab onto his scales as he took off, but they were too slippery, “Um, can I ask why you cut part of my thumb off yesterday?”

The dragon tried to twist around his head to look at me, and I nearly fell off. “There was a tracker in it.” He rumbled.

I almost lost my balance again, and this time Milikku had nothing to do with it. A… tracker? Like…

Like the thing they injected into my thumb when I went into Section Eight.

“…So that’s how Kemina found me,” I realized, “Well, I mean- thanks for, like, cutting that out of me and all of that.”

“Your wish is my command, miss Ella.” He tried to bow mid-air, and I tumbled down his neck a few feet before grabbing onto his ear.

“How about you take me home?” I mumbled, “That’d be nice.”

“I’m afraid I destroyed your house.” He said cheerfully.

I’m not going to say I was emotionally attached to my house or anything. I didn’t, you know, have some deep love for it. I just thought it’d be nice to have some place to chill at after good ol’ queen K decided I wasn’t even good enough to try to kill anymore.

“Hey, Rai- I mean, Milikku,” I shifted until I was lying on my back; staring at the ground was making me nauseous, “What do you… um… what do you know about Osahar and Kayo?”

“I don’t understand,” the boy-dragon’s voice reverberated in my chest, “Didn’t you say you knew them?”

Heat rose into my cheeks. “Of- of course I know them,” I stuttered, “I- I just meant that they’re secretive.”

“Perhaps they don’t trust you.”

“Perhaps you should stop talking,” I fired back, “God. It was just a question. Forget about it.”

“I’m just trying to point out you might only be an ally to them,” he reasoned, “I don’t mean any offence, miss Ella, but for Osahari to threaten you as an ally might be slightly less insulting.”

“Wow…” I said sarcastically, “You just made my day. And that’s still not her name.”

And then I heard the screams.

I flopped over onto my stomach and stared down. Right in the center of town, standing on the steps of city hall like some cliché politician about to give away free pens and kiss a baby or something, was Kemina.

A dozen or so soldiers were standing behind her, slimeball Uveaz included. If you haven’t had the genuine pleasure of reading my previous survival guide, or you felt the need to cleanse your eyeballs with salt after witnessing him, he’s your typical buff, bronze-skinned, black-haired male model.

“Hey-“ I tapped Milky on the head, pointing to Kemina, “-look.”

The queen stared up at us, smiling her cheesy smile. “I’m so glad you could join us today, Ella,” she squinted, trying to tell if I was actually riding a gigantic, flying block of ice, “And who do we have here? Milikku? Do tell me, hon- how is freedom suiting you?”

“Milky?” I asked hesitantly, “What’s she talking about?”

The boy didn’t say anything, but legitimate waves of cold were emanating from his skin- sitting on his neck was like sitting on a vent blowing freezing air in the middle of winter.

Kemina laughed, the sound almost glazing over her next words. “I don’t know why I waste my breath on animals like you,” she fanned her arms out, “but if you want to listen, then by all means- make yourself comfortable.”

“We need to go.” he muttered.

“Um, no,” I frowned, “we don’t.”

“Miss Ella, I don’t want to go against your wishes,” the dragon’s tail was flicking nervously, hailing on the citizens below, “But this may be our only chance to flee.”

“She’s about to make an announcement,” I paused, “to my town. And you’re saying we run away?”

Milky didn’t argue, which was a smart choice on his part- I wasn’t completely sure how much I liked the guy yet. Between the thumb-incident and all of that “miss Ella” crap, he was starting to get on my nerves. He wasn’t stoic like Osa, or painfully perfect like Kayo…

“So,” Kemina spoke into the microphone with almost frightening confidence, “I’m sure lots of people are wondering who I am.”

Somebody, a middle-aged dude, raised his hand. “A teacher?”

“OH MY GOD!” I laughed, proving I’d officially gone crazy, “Somebody gets it!”

The queen, channeling her inner captain Picard, flicked her hand forward- but before she could say “engage”, Uveaz and another soldier were shoving their way through the crowd. The second soldier- whose light brown hair was swept across his chiseled face a la Disney-era Justin Bieber- grabbed the older man’s arms and thrust him to the ground in a single, fluid movement.

And then Uveaz shot him.

It went straight through his brain. The man didn’t even scream. His body had barely hit the pavement before Uveaz and Mr. Alien-JB were making their way back to the front.

Kemina smiled so sweetly I felt like throwing up. “If you don’t mind, we have a very busy schedule to keep, so I’d prefer if we kept all questions until the end.”

“Miss Ella, I’m not joking,” Milky hissed, “we need to leave- now.”

You know when somebody’s all like, “hey, this is probably the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard, so how about we just not”, and you’re already wearing your brother’s light-up Skechers and your most insulting t-shirt, so, really, if you’ve gone that far, you might as well go all the way- but then a golden shaft of intelligence beams down on you, some message from Santa that he’s sorry he couldn’t find the right coloured Furby, and you just go, “yeah. You know, I really don’t feel like dying today- let’s just blow this popsicle stand”?

Yeah.

That didn’t happen to me.

“Look, Milky,” I threw my hands up in frustration, “if you’re too scared to hang here and listen to what she has to say, that’s perfectly fine with me. Drop me off and go back to Narnia, or wherever the hell you came from.”

“-As I was saying, most of you don’t know who I am, or why I’m disturbing your peaceful little town. The first answer is easier- my name is Kemina of the Eighth Section, and I am the queen ruling over Pluto and everyone who lives on it.” Kemina was explaining to the crowd, which was growing rapidly as more people learned about what was happening. More than half were holding up cellphones with shaky hands, whispering about viral videos. I mean. Really.

Kemina glanced up at me, her poison-green contacts shining in the morning light. “Can you hear all right up there, sweetie? I think you’ll be interested in this part.”

“I don’t know,” I called down, “start talking to me like an equal, and we’ll see.”

She giggled, pretending to wipe a tear from her eye. “If any of you don’t know, the always feisty teenage girl flying on the ice dragon above us is Ella Peacock,” she paused, like she was guiding a tour at some museum, to let everyone get a couple good pics of the mystery girl, “Every generation, R’eidons choose one human on Earth to represent their species. If they’re rude and annoying, I send some of my men to wreck havoc on your planet. If they’re a good person, I’ll leave you alone. Ella Peacock is the chosen one of this generation.”

She took another moment for the crowd to jot that down on Twitter- “just found out that girl I knew in grade six is tots harry potter #throwbackthursday”.

“But that’s not all,” she grinned charismatically, holding up a perfectly manicured finger, “Right now, a mentally deranged R’eidon is on the loose in this very city. After being sentenced to a lifetime sentence in jail for unspeakable acts of injustice, Osahari has joined an anti-R’eidon terrorist group with two other known members. A boy named Kayo, who has been banned from all of the Sections for equally horrific deeds…”

The queen leaned closer to the microphone, like she was sharing some big secret with her audience. “And the last member, of course, is dear Ella.”

“WE’RE NOT A TERRORIST GROUP-!” I started to protest, but Milky knocked me sideways with his tail, forcing me to keep quiet.

“So, now that we all understand the situation,“ Kemina proceeded with her usual charm, holding the breath of everyone in the crowd with her next words, “I can explain the rules of-“

“Miss Ella, I’m dearly sorry for opposing you, but now would be the best time to leave!” the dragon huffed, drowning out what Kemina said.

“Milky, would you please just SHUT UP?” I screamed, ruining the dramatic silence below. Everyone turned to look at me in unison, the queen included, like when you’re reading a history textbook in school that has your name in it, and the whole class whips around their head to look at you.

“Um, sorry,” I mumbled, “Could you… like… repeat that, please?”

Uveaz stepped forward with his gun, but the blonde lady waved him down. “I was just explaining the rules of my little game,” she cleared her throat, “Even with this silly war going on, a criminal is a criminal- and there’s a very dangerous one roaming your streets. If your local police force could please track down and kill Osahari, leaving her dead body on the steps in front of me, that would be great.”

One woman decided she was game. “Why should we do anything for you!” she cried, a chorus of people rallying behind her.

Uveaz didn’t even bother getting off his goddamn pedestal this time- she was close to the front, so he just aimed the pistol at her heart and fired. Kemina didn’t even have the decency to flinch when the person standing next to the woman collapsed next to her, sobbing uncontrollably.

Kemina flicked her wrist again, and another one of her soldiers- this one literally was 90’s Leonardo Dicaprio- held up a thin, silver rod that projected a blue-tinted hologram on the lowest step.

It was four people. They were suspended by their wrists, with lead weights tied onto their feet. Each body was marked practically beyond recognition, to the point where it was hard to think of them as people anymore- ugly, twisted scars broke up the blotches of inky black on their skin.

Kayo.” I whispered, too shocked to be upset.

Because he wasn’t alone.

Dangling next to him was Phoebe. And next to her, my mom and brother.

How long have they been there? Hours? Days? How weak are they? Did Osahar see them? Does she know what’s happening to them? And what’re those black marks on their skin-?

“As you can see here, I’ve abducted three fine specimen from Earth to test my new poison,” Kemina breathed the last words, which did not help the gnawing anxiety in my stomach, “I’m afraid they don’t have much longer… three days, at most.

“When those three days are up, and Osahari is not retuned- dead- to these steps, I will flood planet Earth with that poison.”

Kemina let the crowd murmur among themselves for a minute before approaching the microphone again. “Thank you for showing my soldiers and I such great respect. I do hope we have the pleasure of meeting again in the future.”

Kemina whispered something into one of the soldier’s ears and retreated into the building. I don’t even think they’d seen my peaceful hand gesture before the male models/soldiers were drawing their fancy alien-guns.

“What’re you doing?!?” I shouted, as if Milky would actually stop mid-air (he was way too stubborn to fit into our group; that was already my job).

“Saving your skin, miss Ella!”

 

I don’t know why I’m shocked by the Prius still being where Osahar kicked me out.

Like, honestly, I should start making a list of all the things that make no sense to me right now. You know, to sort out my thoughts:

He’s crying, he’s flying, he’s cutting off my thumb- I know all of that “don’t judge people” stuff, but I feel like there should be an exception. Milky, for example.

  1. Why, a) the person who owns this field didn’t, I dunno, notice a Prius on it, b) nobody else did either, and c) nobody solved all of my problems by breaking the window and driving off with it.
  2. Why does Phoebe have to be captured? Of all the people who Kemina could’ve gotten, why did Phoebe have to be it? And how does Kemina even know Phoebe? Have they talked?!?
  3. The whole royal R’eidon family.

Milikku, obviously, was thrilled. “Oh, miss Ella!” he shrieked, “I can’t believe our luck! This is a major improving step to victory!”

“You’re like an overly enthusiastic cartoon character,” I said, “I’m getting epilepsy just looking at you.”

“I’m serious, miss Ella! This will help us dearly.” Milky stepped forward, but I swatted his hand away from the door handle.

“Before we go all crazy, I need to set up some ground rules-“ I counted each off on my fingers, “-number one- the only people who drive the car is Osahar and me.”

Milky shuffled his feet. “Dāsa told me that earthlings don’t drive cars until they’re-“

“I’ve watched my mom drive tons of times,” there was even that time I told her (JOKINGLY) how funny it would be if I got on “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” because then we could get tons of money and I could drop out of school… and we ran straight into a stop sign, “And Osahar has half the number of hands I do, so we’ll be just fine. Number two- if you want to honestly help me, or this rebellion, or whatever you call it, you need to trust me a little. Follow my lead, y’know?”

He nodded eagerly.

“Number three- if you come across Kemina or any of her soldiers, and you can’t totally beat them up, at least swear at them. Any language is fine by me,” I explained, “And number four… if you meet Osahar, and I’m not there… you’re not allowed to lay a finger on her. I don’t care if she’s threatening you.”

“But what about what the queen said!” Milky protested, “She said she’d poison everybody on Earth if we didn’t kill her-!”

Well, miss Ella? Any brilliant ideas now?

On the one hand, Osahar.

On the other, the entire human race.

Don’t laugh, because if you’ve ever met an Internet troll you know this is a hard decision. Enough with the flowers and rainbows and “happily-ever-afters”- you pretentious readers can’t glare at me like that and tell me there wasn’t a day in your life that you felt like if the world ended it wouldn’t be so bad. So, what if all the humans died? I’m sure the dinosaurs didn’t want to go either; I’m sure they felt quite happy with their dino-wife and dino-children and dino-goldfish, but they made way for us, didn’t they?

Of course, I’m not a complete emo or an actual terrorist, and if the new Star Treks have taught me anything, it’s that Spock really doesn’t dig being without his fam. I also feel like, twenty years from now, a R’eidon kid is going to be interviewing me for a project on humans for school and they’ll think all humans are single, four-foot-eleven women who eat raw cookie dough and binge-watch Netflix all day. So… yeah, okay, I can vouch for both points.

(These are also reasons why I shouldn’t be trusted to make important decisions.)

But… Osahar… I mean, she was a really good friend. Ignoring the more recent events, she was the best friend I’d ever had. And if Thomas and Phoebe and my mom all died, what would even be the point of living on Earth? Who was I supposed to live with, anyway? It’s not like I had a wide array of friends to help me out, either (my mother said that was because of my “combustible attitude”).

Let’s say that I didn’t look for Osahar, and the government, with some stroke of utter genius, found and killed her instead. Kayo and all the rest of them are returned. And then… what? I can pull out an inspirational speech from time to time, but it was a known fact that Osahar was everything in our group: brains, brawn, and leader. And, to add something to my “doesn’t make sense” list, let’s say that somehow Kayo grew a sixteen-pack overnight and I got a PhD- I’m not even going to pretend to be cool about it, because I know we’d both be WAY too depressed to fight anybody. We’d lose, any way you slice it.

“Miss Ella…?” Rainbow Boy asked quietly, obviously trying not to be scared by my weird spacing out, “You’re… you’re not actually thinking about saving her, are you…?”

“Why do you think I told you not to hurt her?” I answered, opening the driver’s side door and getting inside.

Milky rushed around the side, jumping in shotgun. “I know I’m supposed to trust you, miss Ella- and I do, honest!- but you’re literally killing everybody on the planet by-“

“I told you not to hurt her,” I shifted the car into “fly”, “because I’m going to kill Osahar myself.”

 

Chapter seven:

You know how on Toddlers and Tiaras, as each overly sparkly contestant reaches the stage the announcer says their interests and where they spend their time?

Yeah. Well, if Osa were on Toddlers and Tiaras she’d have to put down “wherever bombs are going off” for that last question. Once I heard the sound of explosions going off in the general direction we’d come, it was like, “yep, found her”. Milikku didn’t really want to go, and that probably wasn’t eased by my stellar driving (lesson learned: it don’t give Osa enough credit)-but the dude said he wanted to “join the rebellion”, and I wasn’t in the mood to apologize for showing him what we really did.

“So, you grew up here?” Milky rolled his window down, and I rolled it back up.

“Yep.” I muttered, barely missing the side of an apartment building.

“It’s so weird,” he gushed, “I mean, not in a bad way. It’s pretty. And there are a lot of trees… so, does everyone here live in their own house?”

“Uh, no,” I swerved around a flock of birds, “I mean, yeah. I dunno. Sometimes.”

“Wow…” he pressed his face to the window, staring at all of the houses below us, “You’re so lucky, miss Ella.”

“Um… I guess so.”

The building beside us went up in flames, and Milky pointed up in the sky ahead- where a spaceship the size of a small bungalow was zipping between clouds, firing bombs at the city. It didn’t look like a real spaceship, though- not the cylindrical one or the Han Solo one. The bottom was flat and triangular, with holes for the bombs to drop through, but the rest was sheets of wavy metal layered on top of one another- it looked like the ruffles on a dress, but not the tacky prom ones. The wedding dress ones.

“Welcome to the world of R’eidons,” I sighed, “where everybody uses a Mac, the queen is a bloodthirsty jerk, and their wedding dresses shoot bombs.”

“Um, just as an idea, miss Ella, we could always turn back…” Milky suggested, but it was useless now- the wedding dress/spaceship had already noticed us.

I dove lower, weaving between streets like a flying-Prius-driving pro. The weird ship flew closer, blowing up the road behind us like it was nothing. Milky was holding onto the seat belt for dear life, whimpering something in R’eidon again- most likely a prayer.

Miss Ellaaaaaa-!” he shrieked after the street beside us was blown to bits.

“I know!” I shouted back, pitifully struggling to get my stubby leg to floor the accelerator.

Milky was staring out the back window. “They’re getting closer!” he shouted, literally and probably unknowingly doing a perfect impression of the scream painting, “We’re not going to make it! We’re not going to make it!”

“Jesus Christ,” I swore, my knuckles were white on the steering wheel, “You’re not very good at these high-stress situations, are you?”

But he was right. The ship was closing in, and I had a weird feeling that they knew who usually drove a flying Prius.

I made a sharp turn onto a dead-end street, and our follower, probably thinking we were either drunk or insane, smoothly rounded the corner. There was, at most, a few hundred feet between us and the skyscraper that cut off the road.

“What are you doing?!?!” Milky grabbed me by the shoulders, but I shook him off, “Oh no- miss Ella, are you having a delusion? Miss Ella!! … MISS ELLA…??!?”

“It probably won’t kill us.” I mumbled, lowering the car even more. One wrong move, and we would hit the pavement in a climactic mushroom cloud. But then again, if we flew too high we would hit the building…

Milky was rocking back and forth in the seat. “We’re gonna die, we’re gonna die, we’re-“

Will- you- shut up- already.” The ship hurled another bomb our way, and the seafoam green Prius screeched against the wall of a brick house. We dipped down again- two inches more and we’d be touching the ground.

I DON’T WANT TO DIE YOUNG!” Milikku was legitimately crying now, and if we were anywhere else I’d tell him that he seriously needs to take a chill pill. Even Kayo wasn’t that wimpy.

A hundred feet to go. Fifty. The accelerator kept climbing all along, from eighty to ninety to a hundred and ninety. I glanced back quickly to see if maybe the ship was slowing down a bit, but it was practically on top of us now. If I’d thought of it earlier, I could’ve turned around now and lead the dress-ship straight into the skyscraper…

But we were long overdue for an addition to the “Stupid Things Ella’s Done” list, am I right?

“-I WANT TO DO SO MUCH MORE WITH MY LIFE-!” Milky was wailing, a puddle of pink-haired teenager clamped onto my shoulder.

My heart going nearly as fast as the car, I squeezed my eyes shut and lowered us the final few inches.

 

“Are we dead?” Milikku whispered, the strange yellowy light reflecting off his amber eyes.

“Yeah, Milky,” I threw my hands up in the air in frustration, “We both died and now we’re in bloody heaven, which doubles as an underground parking lot.”

It was a miracle we hadn’t crashed into any of the cars- the place was crawling with them, and we’d ripped that stupid yellow-and-black bar out of the wall. A guy in his late forties- I think he might’ve been sitting in that little glass box- was flapping his arms and yelling at us. As if being chased by a hostile alien race is totally not an acceptable excuse for breaking a stupid caution bar.

“… I can’t believe it,” the boy said quietly, “I actually thought I was going to die there.”

“Join the club,” Milikku paled, and I laughed, “I probably should’ve told you this is my first time driving a car. Flying or non.”

He frowned. “No offence, miss Ella, but for someone on the peace-bringing side you’re not very nice.”

That made me laugh more. “Now you’re getting it,” I said, “We should start checking the compartments. Osa probably has some weapons stashed in here somewhere.”

“-Weapons?”

“Yeah,” I raised an eyebrow at him, “You know, fighting?”

“We- we’re going out there?” Milky pointed to the street and gulped.

“Buddy,” I unsheathed the ten-inch blade I’d found under the seat, “We’re just getting started.”

 

I felt bad for Milikku.

(Don’t worry; that was a joke.)

He offered to transform, but I didn’t like him having so much control over everything- you gotta gimme a legit chance out there, dude! I totally could’ve gone down there and beaten the crap out of all those male-model soldiers- and Kemina too, obviously.

(That was a joke too.)

“Do- um- do you have a plan, or are we just going straight into the action?” he was glancing over his shoulder nervously.

“We find bad guys,” I explained, “and we beat them. It’s pretty simple.”

“But what if-“

Four soldiers skidded around the corner after some kids, firing one bullet after another (in the great words of Obi Wan Kenobi, only quadruplet Brad Pitts with trademarked Apple hand guns are so precise. Or… something like that). With a might and ferocious roar a half-intense yell that was riddled with voice cracks, Osahar standing next to me Rainbow Boy by my side, a seventeen-inch celestial bronze sword in my hand carrying a long knife that Osa probably use to kill mice, I stumbled to the rescue.

(Now, my beloved, pretentious readers, can you see why I DON’T WANT TO WRITE THIS? Somebody’s gonna read this book and think I just go around in flying cars and say cheesy things like, “buddy, we’re just getting started”. And then I’ll get a job at McDonalds, and that reader’s going to go to that McDonalds, and see my name tag, and be like, “Ella… Peacock. Probably as much of a loser as the last time we met.” And then leave. But I swear I’m not that clumsy. But you hate when I swear too- argh. Never mind.)

I shoved one of the kids back and kicked Brad Pitt #1 in the hip, about as far up as my stub-leg could reach. He obviously didn’t find my brute strength nearly as terrifying as Kayo and Milikku did, though, because he gave me the best pissed-off Kanye West impression I’ve ever seen.

I took another running start at the guy and tried a left hook- which he sidestepped easily, slamming the butt of his gun on my forehead. Trying to blink away the blood, I blindly swiped the air with Osa’s sword.

Brad Pitt #2 grabbed me by the arm and flung me towards the wall of a nearby building, narrowly avoided by the classic stop-drop-and-roll combo. Unfortunately, Brad Pitt #3 and 4 had noticed my getaway- they were knocking my organs out of alignment before I had the chance to stand up.

“Not so tough now, eh?”

“Thought you could beat us- thought- a human could beat a R’eidon- huh? What do you make of that, huh?”

“What? Not- gonna fight us now, little- human? You scared?”

“You want to give up now? Huh?”

I watched carefully the next time one of their feet came to kick me in the stomach, and just as they were drawing it back I plunged my sword through his ankle. The man screamed in pain, which was enough of a distraction that I could make a shallow gash across the other one’s chest.

The first Brad Pitt made a strangled sound in the back of his throat and tried to aim his sight on me. Rationally, I ducked, but Milikku- who’d already transformed- pinned him under a giant, clawed hand.

Asqętraj-wôx!” Brad Pitt swore in R’eidon, “Get- your filthy- paws– off of me! V’ikÿr! You monster!

Milky winced, and I saw him lift his hand slightly.

“How dare you,” the man was yelling, “how dare- v’ikÿr arfē-ju móqqik rü- would try to hurt a R’eidon!”

Milikku shrank back to his normal size, cowering in fear. The R’eidon soldier got back up and brushed off his clothes, snorting at the pink-haired boy. “You aren’t worth a single bullet,” he whispered, holding his gun against the boy’s forehead, “but I guess I can make an exception.”

I ran forward before either of them could move and shoved Brad Pitt’s alien twin to the ground, where I proceeded to pummel his head into the gravel. Another reason why book epilogues are false: I can guarantee you, right now, that after the war I’m still going to think I can go around punching people in the face when I’m mad.

“What the hell did you do that for?!?” I asked Milky, who was still trembling in fear.

“I- I’m sorry, miss Ella,” he mumbled, “I- I just-“

I sighed. “Don’t go all mushy on me now. Just- next time, please, refer to rule number three.”

I turned and started to walk away. Honest to god, could Milikku be any more of a wimp? It’s not like I have high standards or anything- even Kayo’s level of comfort is fine. At least he doesn’t crumple like wet paper under stress. If he thought we were going to be riding rainbow ponies and making speeches on the meaning of friendship, he was in the wrong bloody story. I should probably tell him that…

I glanced over my shoulder, and saw something that make me momentarily frozen in place.

Because the sky was filled with dragons.

That doesn’t sound nearly as shocking written down on paper as it was at the time. You’d expect me to say it was beautiful, seeing all of those mystical creatures I’d thought were as real as me having a 100% average until, like, yesterday… but it wasn’t. They were cool, sure, and maybe the fact they were all carrying soldiers on them had something to do with it, but these dragons looked less… alive… than Milky. Like they were drugged or something.

Uveaz, who was resting on the back of a seventy-foot-long golden Chinese dragon, saw me and smiled. “Checkmate, miss Peacock.”

He let himself fall off the dragon’s back, grabbing a handful of grenades in his palm. He’s going to land on Milky, I realized, but too late- a BANG thundered across the street, and I shielded my eyes from the flying bits of debris.

When the smoke cleared, Uveaz holding Milikku up by his throat. They were only ten feet away, but with so many soldiers watching above I doubted I could take a single step without getting shot. Is it that much of a loss if he dies? Why should I care if they take him out for me? Then again, I should probably be feeling guilty for thinking that way… right?

“Let him go, Uveaz,” I said, trying to be convincing, “You want to fight me, not him.”

“Am I hearing correctly?” he laughed, his too-slender anime eyes reflecting the morning light, “Do you pretend to care for this animal, Ella?” he slammed Milikku into the asphalt road, sending ripples of laughter through the crowd watching us.

“I only see one animal right now,” I spat, “and I sure as hell would care to rip their head off.”

“There is no need to get violent, Ella,” Uveaz lifted Rainbow Boy up by the collar of his shirt and shoved him into the street again, “It’s not like they can feel pain.”

“-Then why are you wasting your time on him?” I blurted, “If he can’t feel pain, then come and kill me- that’s what Kemina would order you to do, if she were here. You know it.”

He puckered his lips for a few tense moments and then chuckled softly to himself. “Why kill anything? I doubt you even know what it means to murder someone,” he tossed Milky’s limp body away and flicked his hands toward himself in an obvious come-at-me gesture, “Not that it matters. I am going to kill you now anyways.”

“Don’t be so sure about that.” I threatened. Uveaz didn’t look very scared, though. I’d barely won last time we fought, and that was only because I had Osahar with me at the time. Now I had a pink-haired crybaby and fifty kajillion dragon-riding male-model soldiers against us. Not. Cool.

And that was before all of the soldiers dropped down to the battlefield.

I shish kebab-ed one of them with Osahar’s sword, elbowing another under the ribs- I knew I couldn’t lose my footing for a second, or it would be like one of those football people-piles. That was easier said than done, though- the soldiers, being male models and all, were all über-ripped, which is, like, so not attractive when they’re practically fighting each other over who can kill you first.

You can’t save anybody if you’re dead. You can’t kill Osahar if you’re dead.

“Milikku!” I tried to shove my way through the crowd, but there was no give. I needed him to hear me- I needed him to get un-shell shocked and fly us out of here, “MILKY! Hello? Can you even hear me?

Somebody hit me over the head and I yelped in pain. I’d just had a shower yesterday morning, and I was already covered in blood again! Seriously, did these military people have no limitations?

In all seriousness, though, I knew I couldn’t hold this up much longer. There were just too many of them.

And if I die?

Is that really the worst fate I could have?

And then I felt the ice dragon’s claws grab my shoulder. Milky picked me up and put me on his back gently.

“Thanks, Milky,” I patted his head softly, “We were in danger for a minute there. Since those guys are guarding the entrance to that undergro-“

The golden dragon Uveaz was riding on before was blocking our path.

“Hey,” Milky shuddered, and I dug my fingers into his scales, “They’re going to start shooting us any minute now-!”

The golden dragon narrowed their eyes, and Milikku swayed like we’d just been hit.

“I’m not joking,” I said slightly louder, “Like, I get that you’re freaking out right now, Milikku, but seriously- just go around the dragon. It’s not that hard.”

“Milikku.” The golden dragon hissed, spitting the word out like poison.

The ice dragon was vibrating in terror. “Dāsa.”

“Um,” I frowned, “that was really sweet and all, like- great reunion, you guys, but we sort of have to go now.”

“I’m not allowed to let you pass.” Dāsa sneered, swishing her tail violently.

Dāsa,” Milikku said again, because apparently seeing another dragon was enough to short-circuit his brain, “I- I can’t- you’re- you’re actually- you’re still-“

“I’m not allowed to let you pass.” The dragon repeated.

“Uh, Milky? Now would be a good time to go. You know, before they start, like, beheading us and stuff?” I told him, but obviously he heard me as much as the kids do the teachers in Charlie Brown.

“What- what’s wrong with you?” Milikku asked her, which seemed pretty rude even by my standards, but the other dragon didn’t seem fazed.

“Wrong?” she tilted her head like that creepy doll in every horror movie, “Nothing’s wrong, Milikku. Have you already forgotten how the system works? Nothing’s changed since you-“

“But- I just- I just don’t understand-“

“I’m not going to apologize to you-“

“I- Dāsa- it’s just-“

“-No other option; I can’t let you pass-“

“-Why- why can’t you just-“

“Milky, we’re seriously going to die if he stay here any longer!” I reminded him, which seemed to (FINALLY) make him realize the dire situation. He mumbled something in R’eidon under his breath, and we flew off into the distance.

 

 

We found a half-collapsed apartment building that seemed pretty abandoned, and sat on the plush leather furniture in the lobby eating the delicate little pastry-cookie things on the front desk. Well, I was, anyway (hey! I’m sure that if you found an abandoned apartment building in the middle of an apocalypse, you’d take advantage too…)- Milikku was huddled over by this fake waterfall-thing on the wall. At least, it’d still been running when we’d gotten here- but with Milky acting like a portable AC turned on high, the whole thing had frozen over in a matter of minutes.

I knocked the table next to me a few times. “Elsa?” I sang, “Do you want to build a snowman?”

He sniffled and turned away.

“Come on,” I said, “I haven’t even gotten to the sad verse yet.”

Somehow I feel like he didn’t get the reference.

I sighed inwardly, cursing my luck for acquiring a teammate who had a nervous breakdown after every fight. But then there was part of me that felt bad for feeling that- Kayo and Osahar both had a few screws loose, yet I still really liked them. But I signed up for a rebellion. Not babysitting. 

Oh, great. Now he’s crying.

“Um,” I cleared my throat loudly, “Great weather we’re having.”

Palm, meet my face. Socially Awkward Lesson #1: when somebody starts crying, don’t go to comfort them- just stare blankly in the opposite direction and make small talk, Sims-style.

“I get it,” he said quietly, “you can go.”

“I’m not gonna -“

Milikku lifted his head from his hands, fixing me with a stare more terrifying than the Abraham Lincoln Chia Pet. “It’s okay,” he assured me, “I’m not going to take it offensively. I’m just… not good with these kinds of things. I get it.”

“You… You actually think that I’m going to leave you here? …Alone?”

“You don’t like me,” the boy shrugged, “I can tell. All I’m doing is making you a bigger target, and every time I could be useful for something, I just… I can’t…”

“You’re just… scared.” I tried to explain, but he was shaking his head.

“It’s not just,” he whispered, his words trembling, “It’s not temporary. I’m a nervous wreck, Ella- and you can’t fix that. You can’t be a good soldier and a scared soldier. That’s why you have to leave me.”

What does he expect me to say? To do? I’m all alone without him, but then again, that might be more useful when I find Osahar…

I sighed, moving so I was sitting on the floor across from him. “Have you ever watched Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer?”

Milikku shook his head.

“Well, there’s an island in it,” I explained, speaking softly despite the abandoned building, “where all the Misfit Toys go. They’re broken, but they like each other there. I want Pluto to feel like that. And Earth, too. For Osahar. And Kayo. And myself. And if you want that, too, then you’re already as brave as I need you to be.”

 

Chapter eight:

I heard another bomb hit the side of our building, and both Milikku and I flinched. But I could’ve sworn I heard something hitting the floor above us.

“Did you hear that?” I asked him, “Somebody’s up there.”

“Do you think it’s a bad guy?” he responded, drying his eyes with his shirt.

I shrugged, standing up and dusting off my pants. “As they say, my spidey-senses are tingling. It’s probably just somebody’s cat, but I’ll check it out anyways.”

He looked slightly disappointed, so I shoved the bowl of pastry-cookie things into his arms and told him to eat out his miseries before I left. Then, remembering all of those “what to do in emergencies” things in school, I thoughtfully took the stairs to the second floor- clutching Osahar’s sword with both hands, obviously.

It looked like any other apartment building- there was plaster and broken glass all over the floor, but other than that it was your basic horror-movie-set hallway. I walked down it for a few minutes, awkwardly mumbling “here, kitty-kitty” and a colourful assortment of other words every time a glass shard scraped my ankle.

I only had a handful of doors to go… but one door– one person who just had to ruin my moment- was open.

It’s going to be a cat, I told myself. It’s just going to be a cat that’s upset with all the noise. Why would anybody be in here, anyways? The place is being bombed! It has to be a cat.

I opened the door fully, and- lo and behold- it was not a cat.

It was Osahar.

I don’t know what I expected her to look like, but whatever that was, she wasn’t. I mean… I guess I expected her to look like Kayo, you know? Bleeding out of several parts of her body, all pale and dirty and sweaty, black poison spots all over her body…

This Osahar was wearing dark blue jeans and a military-green button-up shirt. Both were ripped, but stable enough to support the splendid array of guns hanging from her belt. She was also wearing hiking boots, which meant that she was even taller than before.

But her hair…

I’d never seen it out of a bun before. I hadn’t thought much of it, obviously. I mean, hairstyles aren’t really the sort of thing you wonder about when you’re in the middle of a war. And she never mentioned it, so I never mentioned it either… Anyways. It fell just above her kneecaps. It seemed thicker, and… darker. It wasn’t as curly as mine, but it wasn’t entirely straight either. The wind kept pushing it into her face, but I had the strangest feeling she would dislocate my shoulder if I tried to push it away.

“Um.” Was what I said, because I’m *just* that smooth.

She swung her legs over the arm of a chair, cocking her head at me. “Come now, Ella Peacock. I still remember your name.”

“I- I- um,” god, Ella. Since when has Osa having hair make you flustered? Breathe, “Osahar… I… uh… I’m- I’m supposed to kill you.”

“I am well aware of that,” she stated, “Do honestly think I had not thought through the consequences of my plan before putting it to action?”

“Your… plan?”

The corners of her lips twitched upward. “I find enjoyment in the fact that at least one thing has not changed about you, Ella.”

“Yeah?” I cautiously took a step forward, still pointing my sword at her. She wasn’t even nervous- but then again, it wouldn’t make sense if she was. One of us was six-foot-three and totally ripped. And one of us was, like, SO not.

“You are still as unintelligent as you have ever been,” she stood up gracefully, grabbing one of her guns from its holster, “but if you really want to fight me…”

I swore. “I don’t have a choice, okay? It’s you or…”

“…Or who?”

She was circling me now, her fingers tapping the trigger lightly. “Jesus Christ, Osahar,” I tried to catch her eye, “Your brother.”

“If you are about to murder me, Ella, than can we at least be truthful about our motives?” another bomb shook the building, “Who are you truly doing this for… Kayo, or your dear Phoebe?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I blurted, trying to keep my face from flushing, “And what’s she to you, anyway? Huh?”

“I have nothing against her,” Osahar stated, not nearly as fazed as I wanted her to be, “I was simply inquiring about who I was dying for. As I doubt you have figured out by now, the queen will most likely give you the chance to save only one person. That is, if she is feeling gracious.”

I chewed on my bottom lip, rolling the sword in my sweaty palms. God. You get one chance to talk to Osahar, one goddamn freaking chance, and all you’re doing is saying “um” and sweating like a pig? God. “Seriously, do you expect me to murder you, and then use you just to save somebody I was friends with because they had nice hair? Over Kayo? Like, I know I’m twisted, Osa, but that’s a bit much.”

“Ella, I understand many things,” Osahar stopped pacing, “but you are not one of them.”

“I don’t get what’s so hard to understand about it,” I groaned, “Like, I like you. I kill you. I can trade you for my neglecting mother, my idiot brother, my not-so-nice friend, or your really awesome brother. Who I both like and know you’d want me to save. Hard decision.”

“Yes, but you have already proven to me- less than forty-eight hours ago- who you would choose from the group,” the girl shrugged, narrowing her multi-coloured eyes, “Then again, this is all theoretical. What would happen if you managed to kill me- nothing good, I presume. To be perfectly honest, I cannot picture you surviving without somebody holding your hand.”

“Um,” I scoffed, “Excuse me, but if you’re saying that I can’t live without you, I’ve been doing just fine for the past two days.”

Her right eyebrow spiked upwards, taking in my grubby outfit. “Yes. You are simply thriving without me.”

“Shut up, Power Ranger,” I winced as another grenade hit the building, “And fight me already, will you?”

“With pleasure.”

I decided to get a running start at her, maybe a feint to the left and striking from the right- but she saw it coming before I’d even thought of it. Osa ducked under my sword-arm and elbowed me in the head (still, don’t think about the height difference there).

I swore and immediately flung my hand to the injury. It was bleeding.

Of course it’s bleeding, idiot! Did you not hear Osahar tell you that R’eidons are ten thousand times stronger than any human, not to mention she’s royalty, so she probably had special training growing up?!?

Osahar took one snorting glance at me and turned to leave.

“Hey-!” I barked, “We’re not done here!”

“If you wish for me to murder you, Ella, rest assured- that can be arranged,” she shrugged, returning her pistol to its holster, “But my stock of bullets is currently running low. I would like to save them for the queen.”

I pushed myself up and grabbed her shoulder. “Listen,” I said, “I told you I was going to kill you. And give you to Kemina and do all that rainbow-puff stuff that good lil’ heroes do.”

“Rainbow-puff stuff that good lil’ heroes do,” She repeated slowly, her eyebrows raising with each word, “Well, have you ever considered that I might solve all of your problems and go kill myself?”

“That isn’t funny.”

“When have you known me to kid?” she shoved me away and grabbed the dark blue trench coat hanging on the wall, “It is not like either of us actually thought you could kill me.”

“You tried to kill me two days ago,” I argued, “Maybe I want revenge, ever think about that?”

She paused for a second to give me her classic you’re-such-an-idiot glare. “Have you honestly not figured that out yet?”

I blushed even harder. “What out?”

“You had a tracker in your thumb,” she explained, as if this was basic information, “By the time we entered Earth’s atmosphere, we had twelve cloaked R’eidon ships following us. I knew all you would want is to turn around and fight them, so I pretended that I was threatening you. I was not a hundred percent positive they would let you walk away freely, but it was the only idea I had.”

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