Ultimately Ru decided against bringing the wristbook to school. It could be stolen, she couldn’t actually read it in class, and as much as she hated to admit it, Randy did have a point when he said they didn’t know how fragile it was or if there were more of them. She made it a point to ask that night.
School was both easy and difficult. Somehow, she easily finished her homework in study hall, which was rare, and especially surprising when all she could think about was Iresca and her new powers. What would they learn that night? Who was on the Council, and what was their complex like? Was it in another galaxy altogether? What sort of aliens would they meet?
Colleen was less enthused. Ru convinced her to walk home so they could talk a bit more. Colleen was supposed to go straight to Breckenridge on the bus, but she had bigger things to worry about. “Did you find anything in that book?” Colleen asked.
Ru watched leaves tumble across the road. “Nothing,” she said at last. “I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know any of the letters in there. I was going to ask Fuse for help.”
“What are these ‘Lraenu’ he said we’re supposed to fight?” Colleen’s trembling voice stumbled heavily on the Accilean word. “I think your brother’s right to be suspicious. Why us?”
“Why not us? There’s a lot of super heroes our age on TV. I can see why they’d pick Randy for sure.” Ru rolled her eyes. “Did you see him at recess?”
Some of Colleen’s anxiety dissolved in a giggle. “He was running around pretending to fly.”
“Jayson had to remind Randy that superheroes have secret identities. But we don’t wear masks or anything like that.”
“Would anyone believe Randy if he said he was a real superhero?”
Ru shook her head. “If we heard about a meteor hitting school, though, we’ll know what’s going on.”
They passed the east entrance of the park. The big crowds were finally here. Black and orange banners announced the Tanager Park Halloween Festival in letters that looked like dripping ink. The festival was officially the last ten days of October, but with all the people in the park it looked like the party was already underway. The music lineup posted was mostly local artists, but Ru was excited to see that the Shaddow Puppets was the headliner. They really were getting to be a big name.
Ms. Hadley never went to the festival, but she always let Ru and Jayson go and gave them a little money to spend. They usually went with the Fresnel family, which was not a tradition Ru intended to continue when she was old enough, but at least Randy’s parents were far less annoying than Randy himself. Gary Fresnel was a junk food fanatic and always looked for the strangest and most outrageous concoctions to be found at festivals. Rachel Fresnel, a bulky, muscular woman just barely taller than her son, was always up for games and any physical contests she could get into. Both had perpetual smiles, even when they were angry — and Ru had seen them angry with Randy a lot. The family had moved to Quarterhill when Randy was a baby, drawn by the legends that made the town infamous.
“You never know what people will believe here, though,” Ru added as an afterthought. “We don’t know who we can trust except Fuse and the Blue Star.”
“Can we really trust them? We don’t even know them.”
“Fuse wasn’t lying about the power she gave us.”
“Did you feel different after you transformed? When I was a Skaeya I was noticing all these things I never did before. It’s not the same on Earth.”
Ru remembered it well, especially when she thought of the Irescan starscape and the cold spike of the Lraenu hive. “It must be what Fuse meant when she said our planet isn’t in the Accilean System. Either that or it’s only a power we get when we’re transformed.”
“I wonder –” A diesel engine rumbled behind them, and Colleen’s head jerked up. No bus, only an old truck. “I wonder if we had this power all along, actually. You being able to predict the weather, and my dreams. I — um — you remember that dream I had the other week, with the aliens? The one who was killed was Fuse.”
“No way!” Ru exclaimed. “Are you sure? Why didn’t you say anything before?”
“I wasn’t sure at first.” Colleen pulled a folded piece of sketchbook paper out of her case. “I drew her after the dream though.”
It was out of proportion and sketchy, but Ru could see the resemblance. The way Colleen captured the terror on her face made Ru’s stomach roil. “What about the guy who killed her? Did you draw him?”
“Misty has it.”
“Can you get it back?”
“I can draw another one.” Colleen shuddered. “I’ll never forget what he looked like. I bet he was a Lraenu. He was definitely some kind of monster. He looked human, but he was a monster.”
“We should definitely tell Fuse, then.”
“I don’t know if it’ll do any good. I haven’t been able to change my dreams before.”
The voice was barely loud enough to reach Ru’s ears, but what was said was enough to silence her argument and bring her to a halt. “Skaeya.”
It was the anti-tourism guy, the one Ru’s mother had said was a war veteran. Ru could easily believe he’d been a drill sergeant, with the way his voice normally carried. Ru could feel the man’s eyes boring into her. “Did he just say Skaeya?” Colleen whispered.
“I told you to bury it,” the man said in a voice as hard as his expression. “It’s not too late.”
Ru’s curiosity had well overcome any intimidation she felt. “What do you know about it?”
Another diesel engine rumbled. Colleen yelped as the school bus flew past and dashed away. “Hey, wait!” Ru called after her.
“I have to get to the house before they do!”
Ru glanced back at the man’s house just in time to see the front door shut. She would never be able to close the gap between herself and her friend — Colleen had a very long stride — but she wasn’t about to confront the man alone. She took off after the bus.
“How’d you guys get out of your house without anyone seeing?” Randy’s voice was small in the murky air, but cheerful.
Jayson scoffed. “Mom is never around. It’d take her a month to notice if we never came home.”
Ru knew very well that their mother looked in on them first thing when she came home late from work. It occurred to her, though, that there was no look-in the night before. If Ms. Hadley had come home before they did, she’d have noticed they were missing.
There was a chill in the air, and though Ru knew it wasn’t that cold, she felt as if the grass should be covered in frost. The southern sky was pure darkness. Normally, light pollution annoyed her with the way it blocked the stars and spoiled the creepy atmosphere of Tanager Park, but this sky-wide void at the edge of her vision was a little too creepy for her. She felt a little more secure when they were covered by the hedge tunnel to the Quarterstone.
“What about you?” Randy poked Colleen, who jumped and squealed.
“I saw them lock the front gate. I saw them. But it was open when I touched it. No one asked where I was last night, no one saw me leave. Ru, no one even noticed I wasn’t on the bus. If one of the others knew I walked home, they would have told the house mothers for sure.”
A flicker, off to the southwest. Ru’s eyes darted that way but took in nothing but dark fog. Her heart jumped to life. Someone with a flashlight, she assured herself, but a thought lodged firmly in the back of her head. It was possible that not all the legends were explained by the fact that there was a gateway to an alien world in the park. She shivered and buried her nose in the collar of her jacket.
“I tripped on my way out,” Randy said.
“Sounds like you.”
“Shut up. It was really loud. I knocked over a lamp! The weird thing is, Mom and Dad were in the other room and didn’t even look. I thought for sure Dad would be going for the gun.”
“Dude, ask your dad if we can borrow it,” Jayson said. “Maybe it can help us against whatever we’re fighting.”
“For real? C’mon, we have powers!” Randy grinned. “I could have laser guns in my fingers, and you could have a flamethrower. That’s way better than some weak shotgun.”
“Yeah, but we haven’t learned to use our powers yet.”
Ru expected him to add something about how they were all dreaming, but he never did. Maybe he’d taken her words to heart.
The stone was quiet and dark when they approached this time. There was some debate as to whether it would work. As soon as Randy finally goaded Colleen into stepping up onto the stone with the rest of them, white light winked on, then prismatic fire flared up around them. Ru paid special attention to it now that she knew what was happening, but aside from the light there wasn’t much to pay attention to. One second they were in the park, the next they were stumbling off the edges of the stone in the Irescan forest.
Before her eyes could adjust, light flashed through the trees, a stream of thin, shimmering rainbow light. As Fuse passed, she yelled, “Skaeya, switch meteor! NOW!”
Something lunged out of the bushes and slammed right into Fuse. She hurtled off-course and straight into a tree trunk with a sickening THWACK. Her light dimmed sharply as she slid to the ground and settled into a limp pile of feathers.
There was sharp cold, the same empty feeling Ru had when she looked at the southern sky moments ago, only amplified. The coldest winter she’d been through couldn’t compare to it. But it wasn’t just the aura that froze her to the bone. She could see the creature now. Its glowing violet cat eyes illuminated its can-shaped body clearly.