Chapter 1

"A coke, please."

"Jack too?"

"No - just the soda."

The bar, though it was a Friday, left two seats empty on either side of her when Wendy sat down on a stool. A total of half a dozen people were sharing the unusually empty space with her. They were just like Wendy, coming off directly from work, office workers and department store managers who needed a drink to loosen their corporate hinges before the weekend swept them into the streets. And like the employees of the City, Wendy was still in her work clothes - turquoise scrubs that made her look more like a walking neon sign than the nurse that she was. This was the most she was able to spare toward being "out" - a reality her college friends had a difficult time grasped when she finally graduated into the world of the forty-hour work week. This is what she had been used to - running to the nearest bar by the hospital at five in the afternoon, not having the energy the moment she was in her apartment, there would be no leaving it.

It had been hard to make it to the bar that day - she had been up since five in the morning for a twelve-hour shift. Now sitting, all she could do is stop herself from falling asleep, but she did - after all she was asked to meet there by the man who arranged for Wendy to take a whole five weeks vacation stating that Monday. How he managed to do this, and why, was what kept her there and conscious. Who was he that he could get her so much time off?

In an effort to stay awake, she turned her gaze up at the television set that hovered over the display of lagers like a piece of harsh sobriety hidden among the liquor. Since none his patrons were there to mock him for it, the bar manager had switched it from the Diamondbacks-Orioles games to CNN, where the news anchor was announcing the international headlines.

"...Yet another disturbing report coming out of Xiashingi today. The radical extremist simply known as 'S' has released the most alarming of his threats against the government just hours ago. Our affiliate in Xiao City has distributed the tape - " The feed cut to a grainy video of a man in a black mask that covered his eyes. As he spoke, closed caption ran underneath him. "The monarchy must fall - then and only then will Parliament begin its true representation of the people. To prove that the King has been lying to all of us, I will give him this ultimatum sp: present an heir, or prepare for an attack on the city. Your lies will pay a price, I can promise you that. The deadline is July 31st - and if the Prince of my country is not sitting on the throne, I will begin a new one - and the blood will be on your hands, Your Highness!"

Wendy shuddered inwardly and looked down at her Coke. Terrorist reports on a TV in New York City - nothing unusual there.

The news anchor continued. "...The tape goes on for another thirty minutes. July 31st is a national holiday in Xiashingi, when the country became an independent nation over one-hundred and fifty years ago. Officials say the celebration will heighten the risk of the threat, and have already called off festivities in Xiao City. No response yet from King Iotou, but he is expected to vacate the palace and go into hiding for safety..."

They had a month, like her. July was going to be an interesting time for everyone without possibly knowing how it would turn out in the end.

A large crowd came in from the streets, and the TV was changed back to the baseball game - all evidence of the other side of the world in civil uprising gone from the air, sucked into the bitterness of the liquor. The new crowd had made Wendy instinctively move away from the bar and toward an empty booth. When she sat down, she confronted with the awkward situation of someone sitting down at the same table with her. Wendy quickly apologized and went to stand back up until she saw who sat on the other side of the table.

"Josie?" Wendy asked her twin, her identical sister - the last person she expected to see that evening. Especially since she hadn't seen or talked to her in months. "What are you doing here?"

Wendy must have been frowning because her sister replied in a huff. "Meeting someone." Josie crossed her arms, unhappy about the run in. "And let me guess - you are too, right?" When she nodded, her sister grimaced. "I knew it. It's the same guy, then."

"I guess so." But Wendy was too busy observing everything about her twin's appearance that she didn't remember about her last time. She had dyed her hair black and cut it all the way up to her jaw. There was another piercing, this time on her eyebrow, and Wendy winced at the thought of it getting infected. "You look...different."

"You look the same."

She probably did - Wendy kept her hair the same shade blond that she had been dying it with since high school. The only thing she changed about it was how long it got, but never did she cut it to Josie's length. They were both short and petite for twenty-one-year-olds, coming off more as sixteen and constantly being carded because of it. Their eyes were also the same deep brown - but everything else about the twins differed, down to their nail color. It was as though they were exaggerated alter egos of themselves.

"What have you been up to?" Wendy asked.

Josie twirled an unlit cigarette in her fingers. "Working." This could have meant anything when it came to her twin - she was notorious for having multiple jobs every year, and Wendy wondered what number she was up to by then.

When it was clear Josie wouldn't be volunteering to the conversation, she had to ask her something else. "Been training at all?"

The cigarette slipped to the table from her hand. "Yeah, a little," muttered Josie, picking it up again. Her twin nodded and looked away at the bar as it filled up. Josie became a black belt in karate a year ago. She lied to Wendy about the ceremony, and she ended up missing it. But Josie never wanted her to be involved with anything she did, not even their birthday, so although Wendy was hurt, she had not been surprised.

"Where is he?" Josie groaned, more to herself than to her twin. She kept checking the time on her cell phone, making Wendy nervous. "He said five-thirty. Didn't he?"

She nodded, though Josie wasn't looking at her. This mystery man was becoming more puzzling by the minute. Not only had he gave Wendy a month's vacation but her had also managed to bring Josie to her, when nothing before could have accomplished something so rare. "Maybe its one big joke - maybe he doesn't actually - "

"Exist, Miss Underwood?"