Everything turns upside down for Cress and Zach when they find out the truth
|City of Traitors
By: Anna Fitzgerald
IT’S HONESTLY NO SECRET that Crescent is a villain, except the fact that no one knows her true identity. She has many other talents, although no one except the Renegades knows. She tries not to use them much, except for one. Which is to make anyone fall asleep with her touch, give them dreams or nightmares, and doesn’t require sleep. Since she was five, she has never slept. She is also what you might call a 'case.'
A case is someone who can see through another person's glamour or power. In other words, she's immune to any mind-control or different kinds of power. Unless, of course, she decides to not activate it.
Cress is called Nightmare. She is a villain who fights against the Council. Her family was brutally killed, and every single time Cress would dare close her eyes for longer than a minute, she could hear the screams of despair and the shots from the guy who killed her family. Now, she only has her aunt and the other villains who fight against the Council.
They all have their reasons for disliking the Council. Cress loathes the Council because they weren't there when she needed them the most. And they had promised that they would protect them. But they didn't. They only recorded the deaths of her parents and her six-month-old sister.
"You sweet, dangerous child," Cress's aunt, Ruby - Red Assassin - murmured comfortingly when she found Cress's family killed, cradling Cress in her arms when Ruby found Cress crying on the floor in front of a closet surrounded by broken glass.
With Ruby's free hand, she took a gun from the floor and shot the man that had fallen asleep because of Cress’s power.
"Cress? You there?" Crescent heard her aunt - Ruby - call from outside the train car filled with Cress’s inventions.
"I'm here," she answered, sliding open the door.
"Are you ready to train?" Ruby asked, planting her hands on her hip as she raised an eyebrow at Cress’s ruffled hair.
"Yeah, just let me change out of these clothes."
"Brushing your hair might also be a good idea, little Nightmare," Ruby said, laughing. Cress scowled at the nickname but took out some spare clothes and brushed her hair after Ruby walked out of the train car.
"This better?" Cress asked as she stepped out of the train car.
"Yes, you look absolutely terrifying with the way you dyed the the tips of your in your black hair," Ruby commented, kissing Cress on the forehead. Cress scowled again, but she couldn't help but smile behind her short hair when Ruby turned away.
Ruby and Cress walked through the underground pathways until they reached a big empty room. Cress walked over to a table covered with various weapons. While Ruby cut herself with a dagger, making blood seeping out from the injury. In midair, Ruby’s blood hardened solid as metal and formed into a knife. Cress looked around the room, observing and weighing the advantages she could have if she used the best weapon and correctly used the benefits. Finally, without hesitation, Cress chose a dagger.
"Are you planning to use one of those inventions of yours?" Ruby asked, nudging her chin towards Cress's black belt. Cress looked down at her belt and shrugged.
"Maybe," was the only answer Cress gave. After a few moments, Ruby and Cress stood across from each other, looking at their opponent. Cress stood relaxed but alert of her surroundings. Ruby did the same.
"Oh, c'mon. You're not going to do anything? What a 'fraidy cat," Ruby mocked.
"You know that you trained me to not listen to those taunts, Red."
Ruby grinned. "Going with the nicknames, huh, little Nightmare?" Cress glared.
"Maybe-," Cress started but didn’t have the chance to answer as Ruby moved to the left, then to the right just as rapidly. But Cress remained still. When Ruby charged toward Cress, Cress dropped to the floor and grabbed her ankle, and brought Ruby down to the floor with a thump. Ruby groaned slightly but got up quickly.
"You really like that trick, don't you, little Nightmare?" Cress licked her lips and shrugged, not taking her eyes off of Ruby.
Cress flipped in the air without any hesitation, adding suction pad-like things on the bottom of her boots from the pouch attached to her belt and planted her feet on the ceiling.
"Show off," Ruby muttered under her breath. With just her thoughts, Ruby transformed the knife she had into a boomerang with sharp edges. She threw it at Cress, but Cress was faster and dodged it with ease. Then out of nowhere, Ruby made Cress's suction pads come off the ceiling with the boomerang, and Cress was falling to the ground. Cress broke her fall by landing on her hands into a handstand and flipped backward onto the floor to stand onto her feet.
"You really thought that would work?" Cress asked, and Ruby shrugged childishly.
"It would've been if you weren't so great at gymnastics and sports," Ruby shot back.
"Uh-huh," Cress said.
Ruby dashed to Cress's side, but Cress remained still, placing her hand on the stun gun on her belt. The moment Ruby took a step forward, Cress whipped towards her and pulled the trigger, making Ruby freeze and fall to the floor with a thump.
Carefully, Cress walked towards her and waited patiently for Ruby to unlock each muscle in her body.
When Ruby was able to move again, she gave an approving, proud smile to her. "You're getting better by the day, Nightmare. I would definitely pay money to see you knock them out of their bums."
"Thanks," Cress said, helping Ruby onto her feet.
"So, what have you been tinkering with?"
Cress turned to Ruby. "What do you mean?"
"You had to be making something," Ruby said, rolling her eyes.
"Oh, yeah. I've been trying to figure out how to make my gloves like those suction pads to climb walls."
"Really? That would be useful in many sticky situations."
Cress shrugged. "It's not that impressive. Just, you know, helpful."
"Whatever you say," Ruby sighed.
“By the way, do you know where Ciana is?”
“I don’t know, Cress. But don’t worry about her. Instead, we can go see Fitz."
"Sure, let me just refill my pen gun-," Cress said, turning to leave the room.
"You can refill it in Fitz's room. We're going. Now," Ruby decided.
Cress sighed but followed without arguing, knowing there was no point in arguing Ruby once her mind was made up. Ruby dragged Cress along with her into the damp tunnels until they found Fitz’s room.
"Cress! Red!" Fitz exclaimed while Ruby frowned when he called her Red.
"Hey, Fitz. You don't mind if I use some of your poisons to refill my pen gun, right?"
"Hm?" Fitz said as he looked up from organizing his lab table. "Of course not! Which poison would you like?"
"What about the one that paralyzes the person the moment the poison is in their blood system?"
"Sure, that would be. . ." Fitz trailed off, then grinned once he found the poison Cress was talking about. He handed it to Cress, flashing his dimples as Cress carefully filled the bottle inside the pen, capped it, and shook it to be ready to be used for the next time she needed it.
Fitz was an average-sized man. He was lean and had muscles from the times he lifted heavy things from his teenhood for survival. Fitz had kind eyes, one blue and the other brown, and had blonde hair. As his signature for being "Venom," he had three almost symmetrical scar lines across his eyebrows, to the eye, and ended at his nose.
"What have you been making?" Ruby asked curiously, motioning to the mess of liquids and acids all over his experimenting table.
"I've been testing this bomb that will erase the trace of any fingerprints wherever the bomb’s mist can reach. It would be useful when the Paladins come here without us knowing. I think I should somehow make it blind people's eyes temporarily, so they won't see where we're going," Fitz said, tapping his chin. "If we need to escape, that is."
"That would be useful. Do you want me to construct a bomb for you? I think I can make it reusable. I thought of this idea where we can invent reusable things, like my gun pen," Cress said. Ruby looked from Cress to Fitz, then back to Cress. Both of them were deep in thought, in another world, except for Ruby.
Glowering at both of them, Ruby cleared her throat, reminding them that she was still there.
"Sorry, but think about it. We don’t have to start now, but it’ll be a good idea. And something we can actually do."
"Actually, you're right," Ruby said, finally giving it some thought.
"I knew we could depend on our wise, dangerous, little Nightmare," Fitz said, grinning at her. The end of Cress’s lip quirked up without permission, and Fitz flashed his dimples again.
"Did I just see our Cress, smile?" Ruby inquired, a teasing smirk decorated her face.
Cress scowled. "Hey, he agreed with me. You didn’t.”
"Was I supposed to say-," Ruby started.
"Red, Cress, this isn't the time to fight," Fitz jumped in.
"How many times do I have to say, don't interrupt us?” Ruby glared at Fitz. Fitz held up his hand to show he was innocent, making Cress smirk.
"Ruby? Fitz? Cress?" a breathless voice asked from behind them.
"Ciana!" Fitz exclaimed as Ruby and Cress turned around. As usual, Ciana was in her dark blue cloak, surrounded by mists of dark navy blue and black. Her hand held a black, metal scythe, her white hair flying mysteriously in multiple directions. Her unusual blood-red lips against her pale skin glowed in the warm rosy light in the room.
"What's wrong?" Ruby asked first, noticing how flushed Ciana's cheeks were and her panting very noticeable.
"The Paladins. That’s what. They might have made their next move," Ciana said through pantings. Everyone tensed at the word Paladin. "And?" Cress prompted.
"And they said they would arrest us if we make a move or anything again. Titanium's exact words; 'If the Renegades do anything to harm our people, to the people of Salvos City, then we will arrest every Renegade in this city. We will do it for the people of Salvos City,'" Ciana said with disgust.
"Paladins," Fitz muttered under his breath, and everyone nodded in agreement.
"Isn't that against their code? To arrest us without any evidence?" Cress asked.
"It is, but they decided that we have to be gone. Forever," Ciana answered.
"Forever," Fitz echoed.
"What are we going to do?" Ciana asked, glancing at Cress.
"Actually, I might have an idea, but it has to be you who does it, Cress," Fitz said, looking straight into Cress's eyes, as though he could read her mind.
"Me? Do what?" Cress asked unsurely.
"Yes!" Fitz answered as though it’s obvious.
He took out a wrinkled paper and handed it to Cress. Cress took the paper, which turned out to be a flyer and read it.
Do you have what it takes to be a HERO?
If you do, go to the Trials at the Paladins! There's a chance you'll become a superhero and a Paladin! The Trials are on Thursday this week!
"Thursday? That's-," Ruby said, trying to remember what day of the week it was.
"Two days from now," Ciana finished for her.
"If I go, they'll know that I'm still alive, though. The Council has my identity and my fingerprints. We can't risk that," Cress pointed out, hoping she wouldn’t have to go.
But Fitz jumped in, dousing Cress's hope. "Yes, but we can get you a fake identity if we pay for it. And, I might have an idea for your fingerprints."
Cress frowned. "A fake identity? Where-?"
"We know someone who makes secret identities," Ciana said excitedly, seeing where Fitz was bringing this conversation too.
"But what about the money? It's not like we can use the money Fitz worked so hard to make. . .," Cress trailed off when she saw Fitz digging out an envelope with money in it from a safe lock.
"It's ok, Cress. Really, this can help us," Fitz reassured Cress, shoving the envelope gently into her hand.
"It can only be you, Cress. No one knows your true identity. If I show up, the Council will arrest me on the spot for becoming a Renegade instead of a Paladin or a member of the Council. This can also help us defeat the Council," Ruby urged. Cress bit her lip but nodded reluctantly, even though she was full of self-doubts. Anything to defeat the Council, Cress thought to herself before leaving with Ruby to get ready for the day.
“Ok, I’m ready. Let’s go,” Cress told Fitz the next day.
“Hop on in,” Fitz said, motioning to Cress to get into his car.
“So,” Cress started after she got into the car. “Who is this person called again?” trying to stall herself from thinking, ‘I’m going to the Paladin’s building, I’m going to the Paladin’s building,’ over and over again.
“Maribelle,” Fitz answered without taking his eyes off the road.
“And how can she help us?”
“She creates fake identities and anything else so the Council and the Paladins won’t know your true identity,” Fitz replied simply.
“Ok. . . we can trust her, right?”
“She’s the next thing to a friend, so yes, we can trust her. But be alert just in case.”
Cress nodded. “Of course, I’ll always be alert.”
“And that’s why I trust you, little Nightmare,” Fitz teased, causing Cress to blush embarrassingly.
After a long thirteen minutes, Fitz finally came to a stop. When Cress looked around, she couldn’t see any buildings.
“Is her home hidden somewhere?” Cress asked, narrowing her eyes to slits when she saw nothing except trees.
“Yes, and no, but you could say that,” Fitz replied, flashing a grin at Cress. He did a quick check around him to make sure there was no one, then picked up the pace and started towards the lake in front of them. Suddenly, he was swallowed by a massive lion. Cress blinked. Then walked where Fitz was a few moments ago.
“Wow,” Cress whispered when the landscape changed in a blink of an eye. She was surrounded by trees, flowers, and birds. Without seeing where she was going, she bumped into Fitz. “sorry,” Cress mumbled an apology, but Fitz was busy glaring at the door in front of him as though it was saying offensive things about him.
“Maribelle, it’s me. Fitz,” Fitz said, clearly annoyed.
“Hmph!” Cress heard. “And where did I first meet Fitz Leroy?”
“If I’m correct, I was delivering your newspaper in the morning a few years ago and stumbled upon your secret underground room, and I rummaged through your poisons on accident. Which, by the way, is how I got the ability to control and release acids, poisons, and venom from my bloodstream.”
“Hmph, come in quickly before anyone sees you,” Maribelle answered with her raspy voice.
Fitz ushered Cress in the door’s direction into a room while Fitz bolted the door behind him when he stepped into the house.
“So you’re this Nightmare girl everyone is talking about,” Maribelle rasped. She had silver and grey hair tied up in a loose bun, in a lilac-color silk dress.
“Yes, and I’ve been told that you made me a fake identity?”
“Hmph, yes. It’s one of my best, so don’t lose it,” Maribelle said as she handed Cress a birth certificate and a thick packet full of pages. Cress read the first page and found her fake name, Cress Sereno.
“Sereno? Cress Sereno?”
“Hmph! It’s better than no name,” Maribelle snapped.
“I know, but still, Sereno?” Cress said as she read further up the packet. “I worked at a traveling circus? I used to entertain people with fights? Is that the cover story for why I like fighting?”
“Hmph! Yes. Of course, you should use the moves you don’t use in public. They might figure out that you’re Nightmare.”
Cress snorted. “I’m not stupid. But anyway, I guess it’s a good cover story,” Cress admitted, still reading the packet.
On the last page, there was the nickname that Maribelle had come up with.
“Insomnia?” Cress asked.
“Is there something wrong with that?” Maribelle snapped.
Cress shook her head. “No, there isn’t. Well, there is,” Cress admitted. “It just doesn’t seem like a name that would strike fear in my enemies’ hearts.”
“Hmph! Doesn’t matter. It took me a full two hours to come up with that name. Waste of my time,” Maribelle muttered under breath.
“It seems fine, thank you, Maribelle. Here’s the payment,” Fitz jumped in the conversation as he handed her the envelope of money. When the envelope was in Maribelle’s hand, Cress winced, but Fitz gently squeezed Cress’s shoulder.
“Hmph! All right, now I have someone else coming soon, so you two better leave,” Maribelle ushered them out the door once she was satisfied with the money in the envelope.
Once they were both outdoors, Cress let out a sigh she didn’t know she was holding. “Well, now that’s over, I’ll just have to go to the Trials tomorrow. Assuming I get in.”
“Yes, and I’m sure you will get in. Who wouldn’t want you on the team?”
“Yeah, who wouldn’t want a person who doesn’t need sleep and gives dreams or nightmares to anyone with their touch?”
“Well, we can only say that you don’t require sleep. We don’t want to take any risks.”
“Yeah. . .” Cress trailed off. “By the way, what are we going to do about my fingerprints? They’re going to scan my fingerprints, how. . . ?” she turned to look at Fitz. After a second, she figured out what Fitz was going to do. “Oh, that makes sense.”
“Don’t worry, Cress, the pain will be tolerable,” Fitz said gently. Cress nodded as she slowly planted her hand against Fitz’s and waited patiently for him to release the acid from his veins to deform her fingerprints.
“Cress, you ready? You have to leave soon,” Cress heard Ruby’s voice down the end of the underground tunnel.
“Yeah, I’ll be right there,” Cress replied. She turned around, looking for anything that she should bring.
Since Cress couldn’t carry her favorite inventions with her, she had to pick those she never used out in public. Including the gloves, which she had finally finished making with the suction pads, and a bonus, it had a comm device in them so she could communicate with other Renegades.
When Cress double-checked and felt satisfied with her choices she would bring, she hurried to where Ruby was standing impatiently.
“You have the packet, right?” Ruby asked, waiting for Cress to nod. “Your weapons and inventions?”
“Yep,” Cress said, “I have everything I’ll need.”
“And an emergency plan in case you need to escape?”
“I have a few, don’t worry,” Cress said, hurt that Ruby didn’t trust her with this.
“Excellent. Just stay careful ok? If I could, I would go for you, but that would be foolish. So just stay safe, little Nightmare,” Ruby said, kissing Cress on the forehead.
“I’ll try and tell grandfather I said hi.”
“Of course I will. He’ll be pleased that you will be helping out the Renegades, which he founded, so he’ll be beyond proud of you. Now go!” Ruby said, pushing Cress toward the exit.
“Bye!” Cress said, waving as she dashed up the stairs into the open world.
The first thing that struck her was the breeze of spring into her face. It smelled of grass and flowers, something she didn’t smell at all in the dark tunnels. Taking a deep breath in, she smiled confidently and walked towards the building with Paladins’ golden letters.
“Name?” a man in a brown vest asked Cress when she walked into the Paladin building. Cress tried to stay calm and not feel panicked as she stepped into the towering structure.
Afraid that the alarms would go off, she didn’t answer the man right away. “Cress Sereno,” Cress responded quietly.
“You’re here for the Trials, right?” the man asked.
“Then head out over there,” the man pointed where hundreds of people were sitting, standing, or pacing back and forth. “I already have your name on the list of Trials. You’ll be up soon.”
“But what about the others?” Cress asked, nudging her chin toward the hundreds of people doing whatever they were doing.
“When I put in a new name, it automatically places the name randomly in the list. Luckily for you, it placed it near the top of the list,” with that, the man smiled kindly.
“Thank you. . .?”
“Charles,” the man - Charles - said.
“Thank you, Charles,” Cress thanked him, before walking toward the group of people. When she found a spot where it wasn’t too crowded, she settled to sit down until a voice behind her made her jump.
“Hey! First time to the Trials?” a girl approximately fourteen - around the same age as Cress - asked.
“Yeah, what about you?”
“Oh, I’ve been to the Trials at least three times,” the girl said casually.
“What can you do?” Cress asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Nothing special, really. I can order around wasps, bees, honey bees, you name it,” the girl said bitterly.
“Do you not like it? Personally, I think it would come in handy when someone bothers you. So you can, you know, make a bee sting them.”
“Huh, I never thought of that. I think I’ll do that. By the way, my nickname is Stinger. What’s your nickname?”
“And what can you do?”
“I don’t require sleep,” Cress mumbled. When she turned to look at the girl’s face, she was staring at Cress as though she was insane to come.
“Wow, is that all you can do?”
Cress nodded, hating herself for telling the girl. But the girl just shook her head.
“I’ll be shocked if they pick you,” the girl said.
Before she could think of a response, her name was called.
“Cress Sereno, you’re next!” Cress heard a woman called her name. Thank god. Cress thought to herself.
“Well, bye, I guess,” Cress said and walked away as quickly as possible.
“Cress Sereno?” the woman asked when she reached the woman. The woman glanced up and down at Cress.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“You’ll be next,” she said. Then turned away.
After a few minutes, a young adult came out with a sulking face,
“Ok, it’s your turn, Ms. Sereno. Good luck,” the woman winked as Cress took a deep breath and walked into the arena filled with the Council and the Paladin teams.