Chapter 1: A Reunion Plagued by the Past
The atmosphere was heavy on December 31st, 2100. When nobody was willing to seize an opportunity that was dangling before their very eyes, and when a movement meant to free the country was inflamed by anger, and when that horrid day just one year ago determined the fate of an entire organization, it was safe to say that all was not well. It seemed that all could never be well.
The clacking of heels echoed across the street, contrasting the heavy rainfall cascading down from the heavens. The sky was crying again, like it had been for countless days on end. King Thunder’s curly hair was frizzy from the abnormally high humidity levels, and the hem of her dress was damp like a sponge whose conscience was squeezed to death. Yet even under the miserable conditions, her countenance radiated passion and determination.
As she approached the dilapidated red-brick building where her former comrades executed their plans, a flood of nostalgia nearly swept her off her feet. This was where the Independents first accepted her into their ranks. This was where she met Lord Snail. This was where Lord Snail had informed her of that awful operation, though it seemed so feasible at the time. This was where she said goodbye to her, and she decided that she couldn’t bear it anymore and she pulled Lord Snail close to her and kissed her right on the lips and, oh, that kiss felt heavenly...
A splash of water from the roof landing on her umbrella brought King Thunder back to reality. She shook off her remembrances, silently cursing herself for getting distracted. She pulled open the old-fashioned glass door, which had probably been installed long after the building was constructed. The hinges creaked and groaned like a frog with a cold. Just like on the sidewalk, the echoes of her high heels resonated through the hallways, but this time without the tears of the past weighing her down. The door to Awesome MacCheese’s office loomed closer and closer in front of her with every passing step, but she entered without hesitation. “Awesome MacCheese!”
Awesome, who was sitting at his desk while playing with a jelly stress ball, stared up at the newcomer. His eyebrows furrowed in shock and confusion. “Thunder? What the hell are you doing here? King Amber III told me that you abandoned the Independents! Now you barge in without warning a year after you disappeared? What is the meaning of this?”
“Hah, relax. I never abandoned the movement. Amber was the one who gave me a special mission to gather intel. He told you that I abandoned the Independents because he knew you’d try to stop me. Both of us agreed that you’d think this mission was pointless and a waste of time. Although, these days you think everything’s a waste of time. But anyways, now I’m back, and I have information that could save our necks.”
At this, Awesome’s face reddened. “Amber lied to me? Seems that I can’t trust anyone these days.”
King Thunder flushed so hard that the color was vivid on her dark cheeks. “If you’re referring to-, ah, forget it. I came here to tell you what I’ve found.”
Awesome sighed heavily. “Fine. But make it quick, I have work to do.”
“By work, I think you mean sulking.”
“Ugh, shut up. You could never stop criticizing us, could you? Just get to the point.”
She smirked. “Okay, okay. Basically, a little over a year ago, our committee of Kings determined that something strange was going on with all of our missions. Every time we launched one, some unexplained interference appeared, and we could never accomplish them. Operation: Butternut...” At this, her voice faltered. Her smirk faded into an unsure frown. Embarrassed, she looked away from Awesome’s stoic face. “Er, it was, uh, one of those missions. That spy, Benedict Eggs, was the interference. At first, we thought he was allied with the Republicans, but based on what Chefling and Cousin Poopsie told me, the Republicans had no idea who he was, either. And it was five years ago at this point, but in that mission to infiltrate the previous Republican convention, King Amber II was also killed because of some intervention. King Amber III kept in regular contact with me while I was away, and he said that your plans never worked, either. I think I’ve found out why all this is happening.”
Awesome MacCheese grimaced as if he was pooping out dull nails. “Why did nobody tell me about this? Why does nobody tell me about anything anymore?” he muttered in annoyance.
“You and I both know the answer to that.”
“Oh, alright. Just tell me about your revelation.”
“There’s a fourth party interfering. There has to be. Obviously. Benedict Eggs wasn’t sent by us, or the Republicans, and sending a wannabe assassin definitely isn’t the Democrats’ style. Besides, the Democrats would never try to help the Republicans. Of course, this doesn’t answer the question of why some random fourth-party member tried to save Pimple Blackhead, a Republican, but we don’t know their motives. If we can track down this fourth party, we might be able to find some answers, and gain some footing on the scope of the parties.”
Awesome sighed. “You make a valid point. But how are we going to track them down? There’s no plausible way it could work. Also, why did it take you a year to figure that out?”
“Well, I was, uh, doing some research on the history of the Independent movement and their complicated ties with the other parties. You know, trying to find evidence of fourth-party interference,” replied King Thunder, awkwardly scratching the back of her head, “and we haven’t even tried anything yet, how are you so sure that it won’t work?”
“You were doing research? I didn’t think you even had the patience to peel an orange.”
“Well, yeah. And I had help from the other Kings. You know, King Murder, King Geyser, King Oliver.”
Awesome raised an eyebrow but didn’t question her further.
“Oh, uh, are Jeffrey and Lucius here?” she asked as she began to retreat from the office.
He gave Thunder a death stare, then motioned to the right.
Now it’s time, she thought, he might never forgive me for this.
“Everything I said earlier was true, but I actually came here to tell you that I know where Lord Snail is.”
King Thunder’s words incited a flurry of emotions in Awesome. His face contorted from shock, to disbelief, to rage, to complete apathy. He remained silent for several minutes, the deathly silence filling the room with greater anxiety than if he had exploded in anger. “Never mention that name to me,” he finally hissed.
“I know where Lord Snail is, and I am going to find her. Your immature prejudice won’t stop me,” she replied, her back turned to Awesome. His back was also turned so that he faced the rear side of his office.
“That woman is a traitor. She was responsible for the death of a comrade. My comrade.”
King Thunder turned around. “Just as I expected, you’re being selfish and irrational. You weren’t the only person who lost someone that day. I understand your pain. I know how much you loved Cal. I loved Lord Snail with every fiber in my body. For a whole year, I thought she was dead. Now I have a chance to find her and relive those moments we had together, when time seemed to stop and all I felt was bliss. Back then, I could forget about the nonsensical world of politics and live. If you had a chance to bring Cal back, I know you would take it, and I would never try to stop you. All I ask is that you do the same for me.”
The second she finished speaking, Awesome MacCheese whirled around in a hurricane of fury to face her. “How dare you compare Cal to that scheming traitor? Cal deserved the world, but she deserves nothing!” he howled. Fuming, he kicked the cabinet to his left, which came crashing down like a cascade of flimsy crackers. “Ah, shit. Just...leave me alone!”
King Thunder turned around once again to depart from the office, but not before flashing a glance at Awesome and his emotionally disheveled state. He had picked up a picture frame that toppled off the cabinet. It displayed a photograph of him and Cal as they looked one year and four months ago, right before they were separated by their duties. While printed photos weren’t all that common these days, she understood their appeal. There was a certain charm in keeping a moment frozen in time with you at every moment, ready to relive with a single glance. That was something that digital pictures couldn’t replace. She wished that she had thought to keep a photo of herself and Lord Snail.
The glass covering the photo had fractured in the fall, covering Awesome’s and Cal’s carefree demeanors with a web of sorrow. Thunder sighed and continued out the door to the right. She heard a stifled sob coming from Awesome’s office. Just like those months after Operation: Butternut...without Lord Snail. They felt like hell. No, they didn’t feel like hell, they were hell. Even now, life was hell. But even in hell, there was hope. Hope was that unexpected cool breeze in a blistering summer. Hope was finding a sympathetic heart in a field of enemies. Hope was a love letter drifting down a river of blood.