Chapter 41: Kevin, Nikki, & Derek

He didn’t know where he was, who he was. His brain was floating in weightlessness, a blissful ignorance. Maïmoú said reincarnation existed in this world. He still had trouble processing that. If he had drowned and was now dead, would he simply come back as a baby in a new mother’s arms? Was he about to start anew?

He didn’t know if he wanted that. Some people might’ve, but he’d worked so hard at his life as Kevin Harrow. He’d grown past 5’6” and kissed someone he loved. He used to be a shy pushover who hid behind Derek and Nikki at the slightest inconvenience. Knowing a simple mistake could reset everything, it made him want to fight to live.

That started with opening his eyes. His lids were the heaviest they’d been, trapping in a deep sleep. He grasped at the walls of his mind, pushing himself free.

He was lying on ice. Some type of bug buzzed past his ears. On instinct, he swatted at it, and landed his hand into a cold pile of mushy ice.

“Ah!” He jerked back, suddenly very much awake. He’d awoken in a field covered in blue and white ice. The trees in the distance were frozen stiff. The mountains were tipped white. Even the sky was white, though he saw this dark cloud stretching across it. If he squinted, it looked like a crack in the sky.

It looked like Hassan’s world, minus the temperature difference and ice: a wheat farm in a world he didn’t recognize.

He didn’t want to be in Hassan’s world. He wanted his present back, but this looked like nothing like Raeleen had.

Once had. No way was it salvageable after so much water.

He waited for Maïmoú to tell him where to go. She must’ve saved him before the water hit and brought him someplace safer.

Being careful of his hurt wing, he got up and sneezed. The bandages were freezing, but it somehow helped with the pain. “Viper?” he called out.

No one spoke up. No one came to him, except for a deer grazing near the trees. It hopped away when it caught him staring too long.

He touched his heart. Back in the dream he’d shared with Maïmoú, a red string had connected them. He’d felt the tug inside of him, a bond that could never be broken.

He felt nothing now. The string was now loose and knotted across this new earth.

Without any strings to guide him, Kevin got up and searched for help on his own. M

;;

With her sensitive ears, it was hard not to notice what was happening. The sound of cracking, her friends’ and family’s anxiety. Whatever had happened to Kevin had escaped her notice, but Nikki pinned that down on Maïmoú, a plague-ridden girl in this dying world.

She heard the Muralha cracking now. Everyone had in some regard, some just chose to busy themselves with other endeavors. The evidence that the end was near was there, and they’d waited until the final minute of the final hour to do anything about it.

She didn’t know who to reach for first. The largest crack had frozen her into malfunctioning like she was Marcos, wherever he was in the world. He, his baby, and Zantl had disappeared with their Gods, leaving her alone with Vanna and Tokala.

When she heard the final break in the Muralha, Nikki grabbed Vanna by the wrist, Tokala by the arm, and ran them into the city. She needed to find them shelter. Bring them home, into Vanna’s room, back into the fallout shelter for whatever was beyond the Muralha. She still didn’t know. They said you fell into the sky if you crossed over. She feared something worse.

She got all four steps before the Sun disappeared behind the clouds. The world shifted and every single corner of the Muralha gave way, bursting like a beaver dam in a rainstorm, and water Nikki had never seen in this lifetime came through. Waterfalls of foamy white drowned everything in its path. She couldn’t see it, but beyond the houses, she heard cracking, screeching, roaring of natural destruction. Onlookers turned to watch, not able to scream due to fear. It drowned out the sirens, her heartbeat. It was coming for them.

“Nikki?” Tokala asked.

Nikki answered her by hugging her. She brought Vanna down and covered them both with her body. It was all she could do for them, the last two she had.

Whispering an apology to all of them, Nikki closed her eyes and awaited the end.

She was in darkness, but not one of death, but not one of comfortable sleep, either. It was like she’d been erased from the world. All her senses faded and she was lost in a floating, dark abyss. She was just an essence now. Was this death?

No way. She still needed to find Derek and Kevin, again. She had to find her parents and make sure they were okay. No way was her life going to end here. She wasn’t going to allow it.

“I’m glad you have them in your life.”

She turned around, two eyes without an attached body. In the distance was a pinprick of light. Within that light, floating like her, was Lí, smiling down at her like a proud parent.

“You’re lucky you have so many siblings,” he told her. “I was a single child. Growing up, I stayed close to myself. I had a harder time opening up. If I had someone like Derek and Kevin around, I think things would’ve ended differently with me.”

The fog lifted. Nikki’s body and legs came back to her. The space they were in looked like they were underwater at night, the reflections of the moon shining down on them. Their hair and clothes floated in dark blue shades.

“I’m sorry,” Nikki heard herself say, because the way he said it made her feel nostalgic for sadness. “Am I dead?”

“No. Not yet. I don’t think it’s your time. But I guess no one’s ready for their time.”

“Were you? Sorry,” she said immediately. “You don’t have to answer. I’m scatterbrained.”

“It’s okay.” Without answering the true question, Lí floated over and took Nikki’s hand. Tiny fish swam around their fingers. Beneath their feet, she saw more life swimming beneath them amidst a sea of stars, moons, planets bigger than life itself. Bubbles left Nikki’s mouth, astonished.

“You’re doing great,” Lí told her. “Don’t worry so much about me from now on. Live for yourself. Life is precious, even if it continues on. I hope that makes sense,” he added with a chuckle. “I’m not good at this.”

She tried telling him that he didn’t have to worry because she’d be even worse at this. Who knew how to give good advice without being blunt and practical? She didn’t even know if this was real.

Before a word could come out, she sunk into space.

The whishing sound of water woke her. It was calming, the gentle sway of water on the coastline. She was going to wake up back in Lí’s mom’s house, hearing the waves just as she’d heard from the windows.

Ice water lapped at her ankles, and she was startled awake on a coastline.

The minute she opened her eyes, she pinched her thigh. She had to have been dreaming. There was no way what she was seeing was real.

It was morning. The Sun had travelled to a new part of the sky she didn’t recognize it being before, and the ground before her was water. Everywhere, all at once. It moved not like a stream or lake but something more. The waves ebbed and flowed, washing up sand that clung to her clothes. It mirrored the color of the sky and sprinkled crystals atop the brightest waves like glitter. In the distance, it truly looked like that, like crystal mountains were jutting out from the horizon.

She didn’t know if she was crying from the salinity or from the view. She wanted to jump into it, taste it, start swimming in it even though she didn’t know how and let the current take her away on some new journey. It was breathtaking, so wide. It was an ocean.

She hiccuped and squatted down, covering her eyes to keep the Sun out. She had to get it together, but every sense was being bombarded by a natural beauty she hadn’t known existed. Just the sound made her weep.

She slapped her cheek and shot back up, jumping in place to get her blood pumping again. She was going to freeze out here. Wishing she had one of Lí’s pairs of fingerless gloves, she blew into her reddening hands to keep warm.

Behind her were tall, white cliffs she’d have trouble climbing. It felt like a storm had just blown through. She tasted water in the air and the trees farther up on the cliffs bent and suede with delayed breezes.

Towards her right, she spotted a building. It had pointed spirals made of grey-white brick. It looked important, if a little silly in design.

Having it as her only guide, Nikki, taking one last look at the ocean, sailed forth to find her family.

;;

As soon as Shào saved all of humanity, he puked up all his guts, fainted, and disappeared into a cloud of darkness.

Derek exhaled a long cloud of white. The wind had died out so unnaturally is that it felt like waking from a dream. Seeing the barrier break like that and seeing those gigantic pieces of glass just float away all from Shào’s doing to nothing, how was it not a fever dream? At least a hangover hallucination. It was just as imaginable.

“Derek!” Oliver ran out of the castle. Before reaching him, he looked up to the sky and his pointed ears fell. His eyes followed the crack in the sky from west to east.

“That wasn’t me,” Derek said, “though I think I had a part in it, somehow.”

“That’s…” He laughed and helped Derek back up. “Are you alright?”

“Fuck if I know.”

The humans came to slowly. They held their heads and drunkenly found their feet. Cellena coughed as Rosaline and Yomi sat her up. Jabel was in Maxwell’s arms, still overcome from being at death’s door. Maxwell, red-faced, nursed him back to health.

Oliver’s tail flicked. His enemies for five centuries were waking up to his trespassing. His flight response was building in his eyes.

“Derek,” someone grunted out. Coming down the stairs was Nero and his wife, Runa, holding each other to balance one another out. The tension felt by demonkind lessened in the air at the sight of friendly faces.

The two workers helped the royal heirs up. Other knights and maids came close but made no move around the formidable demonkind, the beings who’d just helped save their future leaders.

Derek bit his lip. He felt the tension growing like wildfire. He had to step in. “The Barrier broke,” he announced. “You’re not trapped no more.”

As soon as he said it, the humans able to stand looked out the windows and opened doors. They gasped at the change, smiling, crying, confused as to why it happened in the first place.

“How?” Nero asked.

“How, indeed.” Runa’s smile was infectious. She giddily balled up her hands as she studied the sky she loved. “This is monumental. Is it cracking? Does it have mass? Oh, all this time, we thought it invisible, but as soon as it gets damaged, it becomes visible. How extraordinary. Did you see what happened, Derek? How did it happen?”

“Uh,” Derek said, and hoped that was a good enough answer.

High heels clicked down the stairs. Down the carpeted steps came three knights, some type of church man, and then the queen, left behind by her own husband to sit and wait for doomsday. The only inkling she was suffering like the rest was a hand to her temple, but she looked more pissed than anything.

Until she saw her children lying helplessly on the floor. Upon seeing them, she lifted her dress and ran down into the foyer. Nero and Runa bowed and gave the royal family space.

“Where have you two been?” the queen demanded. “I was looking everywhere for you. I just sent a letter to your father. I thought the worst had happened.”

Cellena coughed to clear her throat. “The demons, Mother.”

“Don’t speak.” The queen glared at Derek. “What have you done to our kingdom? We let you into our home, we feed you, teach you, revel in you, and then all this occurs at once, one mistake and retribution after the other. Now you invade us and nearly kill my children? What have we done wrong to you?”

Derek already had a list forming in his head: Killing a mother in front of him, shaming him for his gender and sexuality, calling him the wrong name, forcing him into a religion he didn’t agree with. Cellena stopped him from ruining an unlikely peace treaty.

She took her mother’s hand. “Mother, please stop. They didn’t do anything wrong.”

“It wasn’t them,” Jabel continued for her. “There’s so much more that you don’t understand.”

“Derek got his memories back.”

“He knows what he is.”

“And where he’s from.”

“He’s spoken with the Gods.”

“They’re to blame for the world.”

Their mother looked back and forth between each of her kids. “What has happened to you two? You’re speaking in tongues.”

The front door creaked open again. Holly had come in, watching something behind her. Her tail was flared in alarm.

“Oh, Gods, what now?” Derek asked, and pushed the door open with his wing.

Nothing about the world had really changed. The grounds were still snowy and God’s Barrier still looked like that. The morning Sun was rising. Birds were chirping.

People were moving. Ambling out of the forest and tree line, walking up the cliffside and flying down to colder land. They came out like dandelions. Azealeas? Whatever flowers grew in Drail, people were popping out of the woods. Every animal, every kind of person. Dogs, mice, cats. Families of tigers and foxes and herds of horses. But they weren’t animals, they were like him and Holly, humans with slight animal features that made them look cooler. Ears and tails and wings and fins. They came out like the blind, touching the trees and snow and sniffing the chilly air that smelled like salt.

Oliver came out beside him. He rubbed his eyes to see straight. “What on Earth?”

“They’re like me,” Derek said, “and Holly.”

Holly peeked behind Oliver’s tall shoulder.

The queen came out covering her mouth. “What is this? Is this an invasion? Who are these people?”

Derek slowly closed the door on her with his wing. “What the fuck did the Gods do?”

“Did those Gods do this?” Oliver asked. “Are they responsible for this?”

“They must’ve, but I don’t know who. I don’t know how.”

Holly’s ears were flicking back and forth like radio antennae trying for the perfect station.

“Holly, do you know what happened?” Derek asked.

She took the first steps out into this new world. She went up to groups of birds, then fish, then lions. She paid particular attention to the babies held by mothers and fathers. She almost picked one up, she was so interested in it.

“Please don’t touch her,” said a blond-haired boy.

“I’m freezing,” said the long-haired kid beside him, visibly shivering from the cold. “Can we go into that building?”

Derek cursed under his breath. That was the Marcos Unit and Zantl. Out of all the fucking people to magically be brought here, it had to be two of the scariest people back in Raeleen who Holly found. Zantl had all these secrets surrounding them and their parents, and Marcos was something completely other than this world. Were they Deities? Zantl fit the bill. Shit, he’d have to tell someone about that. Maybe Morgan or…

Working quicker than an actual robot, Holly scooped up the baby and zoomed back to the castle. Marcos flinched at the brazen attempt at kidnapping and chased after her. “Wait, give her back!”

“Wait!” Zantl plodded aggressively through the snow to catch up. They couldn’t match the speeds of a determined cat mom and weird robot. “Don’t leave me alone!”

Derek snorted, watching Holly steal a child from the Marcos Unit and the next heir to an entire fucking country. He choked into Oliver’s arm, still wanting to hide but curious about what the fuck these Deities had done. He saw more people, more newcomers. They’d all come from his home country.

He stopped hiding, and breathing. He sniffed the air and froze. Hitching his breath, he spun around Oliver and locked eyes with one young girl in the middle of the lawn.

He walked forwards, letting Holly run past him with the baby and Marcos and Zantl coming up shortly after. They doubletook him, shocked at finding him alive. He couldn’t be bothered. No one else in the crowd mattered other than the girl he saw walking up towards the castle.

She stopped walking. Her round ears pricked to Derek, who she’d just caught sight of. He couldn’t hear her, but he saw her lips move. “Derek?”

Letting go an ugly cry, Derek jumped off the steps and took flight. His shadow crossed over the other crossbreeds and banks of snow. He crashed on top of Nikki in a flutter of feathers, tackling her into the snow and kissing every inch of her face.

“H-hey!” She hugged him underneath his wings. “Are you crying? The Derek I know doesn’t cry, yeah?”

“I-I can’t breathe, I…” He hugged her back as hard as he could and then some. Snot dribbled down his upper lip and onto her as he cried into her. “How the fuck are you here?”

“I honestly don’t know. It’s such a long story. I think I might’ve died for a second there. What about you?”

He laughed. “Who cares about me?”

“I do, you jerk.” She hugged him once more, then shivered and pushed him and herself up. “This’s snow, yeah?” she asked, dusting it off her bare shoulders. “I hate it.”

“How do you know—Oh, fuck, who cares?” He kissed her forehead again. He’d only gotten his memories back this morning, but the missing feeling of his siblings had burned a hole in his heart. Her cute little cheeks and her bright red eyes. Her soft, calloused hands and the smell of her clothes. He felt his body patching itself together, with her so near. “I’m never letting you go again. We’re merging together forever. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she said, softer now, and relished in their shared hug. He’d missed her little muscles. He missed everything about her. “Is this where you’ve been living? Have you seen anyone else? I found Marcos and Zantl quick. It’s hard to miss them.”

“You’re friends with them?” he asked.

She shrugged, unsure of how to answer. “Again, long story.”

“I bet I can top it.”

“Bet you can’t.”

“Uh, I survived falling off the Muralha—”

Nikki started laughing, already knowing their stories couldn’t be matched.

Derek continued. “Survived almost dying, lived with humankind, got saved by Deities. Wait until you hear about them.”

“There’re humans here?”

“What, like you know them?” he asked sarcastically. No one in Raeleen should’ve known anything about them. Derek hit her shoulder for lying.

But she couldn’t lie well. Her face was seriously playful, like she was too happy not to joke about this.

“Wait, do you know—?”

A bird crossbreed crossed above them, and Derek and Nikki whipped their heads up, hoping to spot a familiar face. Their mother and father, their aunt, or Kevin. God, Kevin. Where had he ended up on this divine voyage across the sea?

“Where is he?” Derek whispered.

“I don’t know. I lost him right before I came over.”

The queen, Cellena, and Jabel came outside to witness change come into their countryside. They were followed by their workforce of maids, gardeners, clergymen, and knights. The remnants of demonkind stood beside them. Marcos and Holly fought for the baby. All barriers were broken when it came to revelations. 

“Where—”

“Where have you been?”

Derek gasped. His question was finished for him. It’d been asked in his voice, his dialect. Turning around, he found his mirror image walking through the snow to meet up with them.

“Hey,” Kevin said, tears already falling. “I’ve been searching everywhere for you.”

Derek didn’t know who moved first—he’d lost feeling in his legs—but they’d met, somehow. Plowing through the snow and taking flight halfway down the hill, Derek collided into his twin like two falling stars.

Kevin laughed a laugh Derek had missed. His hair was longer, and one of his wings was in a sling, but he was still his Kevin, his other half that completed him.

Kevin kissed the top of his head. “Finally.”

Derek couldn’t find his words, so he just expressed himself through kisses. His face tasted like salt.

“Okay, ow. Ow.” Kevin cringed and held his broken wing. “I love you so much, but—”

Derek reluctantly got up but held his sweater to stay close to him. “How is this happening?”

Kevin sucked in his lips. “Uh, do you know the girl named Maïmoú?”

“Uh, kinda, I think. Do you?”

“We all do.” Nikki came over and helped them stand. “And Shào. And Sabah and Unathi and Tsvetan. We know about the Deities.”

“Wait, are you serious?” Derek pushed back his hair to see them all. “All of them?”

“More or less,” Nikki said.

“Long story.”

“Stupidly long.”

“Any annoyingly indirect.”

Derek smiled in delirium. “What the fuck are our lives?”

“Messy,” Kevin said.

“And unfair,” Nikki added.

“Derek?” Oliver floated over the hill. He looked at Kevin and blinked. Looked at Derek and blinked harder. “My goodness,” he said, “you really are twins.”

“Hello,” Kevin said. “My name’s Kevin. It’s nice to meet you.” He elbowed Derek. “Who is this?” he whispered.

“He’s my…” He looked to Oliver for confirmation. “Lover,” he said, because the word felt good to say now.

“I knew it,” Nikki said. “I was just thinking about this, too.”

“About what?” Derek asked.

“About how you wouldn’t last long without taking on a lover.”

“And this isn’t the worst first impression I’ve had,” Kevin joked, then called out, “It’s nice to meet you!”

“Oh, uhm, it’s nice to meet you.” Oliver teleported down to meet them. Kevin yelped and Nikki grabbed for him.

Oliver yelped back. “I-I’m sorry!”

“No, no, you’re good.” Nikki caught her breath. “Just not used to people teleporting around me.”

“Me neither,” Kevin said. “I’m so glad I don’t have to search for anyone anymore.”

“We aren’t going anywhere,” Nikki promised.

Derek smiled at that. Patting both siblings down, he showed them to the castle. “Come on. You’re all freezing.”

“You are, too,” Nikki said, not addressing the goosebumps forming on her skin. He noticed that Marcos’ baby was using one of her hoodies as a baby wrap.

Cellena and Jabel left their mother’s side and came out into the open. They took in the sight of their country, watching as dozens and dozens of new faces came to the largest building in the area.

“Something must be done about this,” Derek heard the queen say. “We need to organize the knights and get everything under…” Lost for words and ideas, she began to fan herself in negative-degree weather.

Cellena held her arm in comfort.

“All these people are freezing,” Jabel said.

“We must get them inside quickly,” Cellena said. “Women and children first, but we should check on the injured and the elderly as well.”

“And they’re people like Maxwell,” Jabel added. “They have gills, do you see that?”

Maxwell had gotten close to him, keeping a hand out in case his prince fell. It was behind the queen’s back, but Maxwell was still eyeing her with contempt.

“We must be reasonable about this,” the queen said. “We don’t know what these people want from us yet. We can’t open our doors to strangers.” She peered to the several demons and knights littering the foyer, then at the rat girl holding his fallen angel’s hand and said fallen angel’s look-alike hugging him.

Her shoulders sagged.

“They need our help,” Cellena urged, and gestured to the Marcos Unit now holding back his baby. It looked like he was playing keep-away with it from Holly, who was innately interested in taking it for herself.

“It doesn’t matter what they look like or what threat they might pose to us,” Cellena continued. “We know nothing about them, and right now, I see young children in the snow and crying. I cannot turn my back on them. Can you, Mother?”

“That is a question for your father. He should be here within the hour.”

“Our duty is to protect our people,” Jabel reminded her.

“And our people include demonkind.”

The queen gawked at her youngest child.

Cellena didn’t flinch. “We are free, Mother. God’s Barrier has broken. I do not believe that demonkind has ever been out to hurt us. They’re our friends.”

“We were out to hurt them,” Jabel said. “At least let us see what these people want from us.” 

“They’re the same as us, are they not?”

“Aren’t they?”

The queen backed away as more crossbreeds came closer to her. The knights behind her awaited her orders.

Kevin elbowed Derek again.

“She’s like the Líder of the country,” Derek quickly explained.

“She’s in charge?” Zantl brushed past a knight watching them suspiciously and got up in the queen’s personal bubble. “Are you the highest authority in charge? I’m the current Líder of my world and to the beings standing before you.” They held out their hand, not to shake hers, but to get something from her. They were comically short and non-threatening to the queen. “Take me to your hearing room so we can talk more privately.”

The queen couldn’t take her eyes off of Zantl’s wolf ears, which were flicking rapidly to keep the snow out. Under her breath, she said a prayer to her God for things to be clearer in her mind. For her sake, Derek hoped Their God wasn’t as nosy as the Gods who yearned for violence.

“If you need someone to explain things,” Nikki said, “I know why we’re here and what happened. Most of it, if that helps you. I can help.”

“I can, too,” Kevin said.

His siblings had changed, both of them. Derek wondered if he looked any different in their eyes.

“I have information pertaining to this predicament as well,” the Marcos Unit said, “but my processors aren’t adapting well to this temperature change. I’ll have to be in a more stable work environment in order to function.”

The queen gave up understanding and sighed. “If you can shed any amount of light on the current situation unfolding in my kingdom, I ask that you step inside and… help me learn, or understand. Please.”

“We’ll do our best,” Nikki said, and took to Derek’s side. “You okay?”

A shit-ton of answers came to him, ranging from reassuring positivity to overwhelming negativity. The world was broken but repairable. He’d found his family but only half of it. He was tired. So, so tired, A lifetime of sleep wouldn’t make a dent in it.

“I need a drink,” Derek said, and he and his family, both new and old, took refuge in the humans’ open home.

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