I was told if I kept up my good work, it wouldn’t be much longer before I got my second belt. A yellow belt!!! I was determined to be an orange one by summer. Level three. I could do it. I was doing super good, too. I was out at the training dummy every day even when the weather was bad. Dad and I built a little shed at the back of the house so I wouldn’t have to be in the bad weather.
Sometimes Lumie joined me, watching me impassively as I hit the dummy. Sometimes Pa sat in the little hut, on the edge of his seat, eyes wide as I practiced. On occasion Dad was in there, arms folded, leaning back against the wall, making helpful comments about how to react to enemies.
“Sounds like you’ve done stuff like this before,” I said, wiping the sweat from my forehead.
Dad gave a slight shrug. “I’ve fought before, so to speak.” He waited a few seconds.”I hunted ghosts, you know.” I nodded since this was something I did know. “The best thing to do is to keep your eyes on the enemy, and to always expect the unexpected. Well. As best as you can,” he added with a slight laugh. “You know in ‘Jurassic Park’ with the velociraptors? You see an enemy, expect to there to be a few more in hiding.”
“You talk about enemies.” I went back to whacking at the dummy, at the stick protruding. “You expect me to be using this ability?”
“Your Pa and I know there’s something going on, Zaid,” he said and I glared at the training dummy, hitting it particularly hard. “Be careful. Whatever’s going on. I know the Briggs didn’t have a suicide pact, whatever the police say.” He raised an eyebrow as I delivered an even harder blow though it hurt my hand. “You’re my son. My…” He stopped then came over, turning me around so he could grip my shoulders tightly. “I know I’m not the best at… showing… love. But I do love you. I want to protect you. I’ll do anything I can to protect you, Zaid. I can’t be with you every minute of the day but damn it, I am going to do anything to keep you safe as long as I live and that’s a promise.”
I stared up into my father’s eyes and then wrapped my arms around him. He held me tight in that little shed. and I began to feel less alone.
With Dad’s new encouragement, I pushed myself further. All through April I worked, losing sight of almost everything but that yellow belt. Glados’s eighteenth birthday came and went. She had to stay at the college but we all visited for a few hours on the weekend after her birthday.
She apparently was doing really well in her classes again, that one a-minus being a one-time fluke. “I’m thinking about taking accelerated courses through the summer,” she admitted. “I want to get my bachelors as soon as I can and then I think I’m going to go for a veterinary degree.”
A few days after her birthday my martial arts teacher told me that if I kept up my work, I might be able to get a yellow belt in May. I was extremely excited and of course started working harder. I occasionally went in to talk with my teacher one-on-one, getting pointers from her and learning about ways to train my body. I began to exercise in other ways. Using the weight-lifting machine Dad had in the house, and going jogging. My dads weren’t too pleased with me going jogging considering the possibility of danger but we eventually agreed that Dad would go jogging with me even though he was a bit out of shape. Though he wasn’t with me at all times… mostly because I was impatient for him to get home.
One misty day near the end of April, I went out in the middle of the afternoon to do some jogging in the hills and woods. I picked my music track, put in my earphones, and went out. I sang along to multiple songs as my feet beat against the ground, enjoying the fresh air against my face and in my lungs. Maybe it wasn’t the jogging that felt so good but being outside. Either way, I was beginning to feel very good about life again.
So of course crap had to happen.
I was jogging along, minding my own business, when something hit me from behind. I stumbled forward, nearly falling face down into the ground. I reached behind to touch the back of my shoulder where it had hit and I felt something sticky. Had someone lobbed a hunk of goo at me or something? I pulled my hand away, stomach plummeting as I saw bright red on my fingers. I only had about thirty seconds to register what this meant before they showed up.
Four of them, flitting around me, circling me until coming to a stop in front. These didn’t seem like the type I had met before at the Rag, There was something… dangerous about them. Maybe it was the way their fingertips were glowing dark red, or the angry glints in their eyes. Or maybe because one of them was holding a knife.
“Zaid,” the yellow one said, lifting her chin. “Surrender to us now.”
“Wh–who are you?” I gasped, trying to keep my eye on all of them at once since they began circling me once more. I finally settled on the yellow one since she was the one talking. Though maybe I should be watching the grey one, since he had a knife.
They all landed on the ground and the yellow one straightened her shoulders. “We are here to bring you to our mistress. If you do not come willingly, we will force you.”
Mistress. That title again. Where had I heard it…? Oh right, last autumn from my stalker. These four must be working with them. And going by the wound in my shoulder and the evil aura they all had… I had been right about the idea of my stalker wanting me for bad reasons. Except why these faeries and not my stalker? I had just seen him last night outside my window, like every other night. Even in the dead of winter he’d be out there.
I took a stance, trying to remember all my training. I might be able to take one of them out but no way could I fight all four. “I’m not going willingly,” I said.
The yellow faerie smirked. “I rather hoped you’d say that.”
Then it was all a blur. The yellow faerie came forward so fast I barely had time to react. But I jammed my hand into one of her shoulders, grabbed her other arm, and flipped her in the way I was just learning. She went flying… literally. She tumbled through the air, almost hitting the ground but flapping her wings hard to stop herself from hitting the ground. She did a few more somersaults in the air and smacked into a tree. I didn’t have time to feel good about this since three others were coming towards me.
I grabbed the purple one and was trying to flip him, when the pink one seized the arm connected to my hurt shoulder and pulled. I screamed in pain as I was lifted up off the ground, legs kicking. I landed a kick against the purple one’s face at least. I struggled and then swung my other arm around to grab the pink girl’s wrist, using my good arm to pull myself up and bite her hand. She screeched and let go of me, and I would have slammed into the ground if the grey guy wasn’t there, one arm around my waist and the knife against my throat.
Then there was an enraged scream, a crashing sound, and my stalker came barreling out of the bushes with his sword raised. The pink and yellow ones flew at him but he crouched down then jumped. HIGH. And by high I mean he leaped over the heads of the two faeries and slammed right into me and the grey faerie.
All three of us fell with a painful crash. Blood gushed out onto my arm and I rolled away, keeping up the rolling motion until I was a decent distance from them–except the purple guy grabbed me. I yanked him down and bit into his shoulder as hard as I could, figuring if it worked for the pink it’d work for the purple. But all that happened was he grunted and jammed his fist into my chest then grabbed my hair, trying to pull my head away. I kept my teeth in him, threatening to pull chunks out if he kept trying to pull me away.
Stop using your teeth, damn it Zaid! I released my teeth and then jerked my hand up, slamming the palm of my hand against the guy’s nose which was bleeding still from where I had kicked it. He howled in pain and I was able to scramble away, about to stand.
“Zaidy boy, duck!” my stalker yelled and I fell back down onto my belly as the pink faerie went sailing above me, leaving a trail of blood from a wound on her arm. She landed on the purple faerie and then my stalker jumped over me and slammed his sword through the pink faerie and into the purple one. They both gave strangled, gasping sounds but my stalker just yanked the sword out, spinning around. He was standing over me now, breathing heavily, ready to kill.
“We’ll get him!” the yellow faerie yelled as she and the grey faerie (who was severely wounded, judging from all the blood soaking his shirt) took off through the trees.
I slowly propped myself up, breathing just as hard as my stalker. I looked up in horror at him but he was just watching the trees, hand tight around the sword handle. Finally, satisfied they had left, he turned to me. I pushed away from him but he straddled my legs, bending down in to study me. “What wa… was…” I tried to say, finding my tongue thick and the words difficult.
“They hit you with their magic,” he hissed out, pulling me forward to look at the back of my shoulder. I whimpered in pain, but felt too ugh to protest. “It could be poisoned.” He frowned, looking very anxious and worried. “It’d be best if I take you to my mistress.”
“No–she… s-sent… the… the fa… faeries,” I said, my throat tightening up as well. I tried to push my stalker away as his fingers went over my eyes, and within a minute I was asleep.
“…doing bringing him here?”
“The faeries hit him. I was worried it was poison.”
Voices filling my head. A male voice, and a female voice. It took me a few seconds to realize the male was my stalker, and it sounded like he was pouting. He probably was. But who was the female? His mistress, I thought with a sickening twist in my stomach.
“I knocked him out!” my stalker whined.
“Yes, barely, you’re not very good with that spell,” his mistress said with a weary sigh.
I knew that voice.
I opened my eyes in time to see Grams leaning over me, hand hovering a few inches away from my face. I screamed, and she yelped, and my stalker made loud yowling sounds of fear. I found the energy in my hands to drag myself away from my Grams only I was on a table, so when I moved I rolled off and was on the cement floor.
“Zaid,” Grams said in a steady, calmish voice. “Zaid, stop panicking please.”
“You–you–you!” I gasped, scrambling away from her. I soon bumped into the wall and slid up into a standing position and able to see more of the room.
It was one I hadn’t seen before, ever. There were counters and cupboards all over the place, as well as a few bookshelves, the table I had been on… and some big thing that had a cauldron on it. There were vials all over the place. And a wand sitting on one of the counters. My stalker was also on a counter, legs swinging idly as he watched me.
“Zaid,” Grams said again. “I can explain.”
“You’ve been trying to kill me?!” I cried out. I immediately began sending distress calls in my mind to Lumie, since if we were at Grams’s house we were close enough to hear each other. I began screaming at my twin that Grams was an evil witch trying to kill me, and to send help. “You sent–him?!” I waved my hand at my stalker who smirked a bit. “You’re a witch, aren’t you?”
Grams looked rather sad. “Yes. I am a witch. But I would never harm you, dear. In fact, quite the opposite. We’ve been working hard trying to keep you alive.” She stepped closer to me, hands out, palms up. “When have I ever done anything to hurt you?”
“You…” I sucked in some air, trying to think. Remember. My stalker… he never hurt me, did he. “The faeries said the s-same thing he did. He told me he had a m-mistress and so did the f-faeries?”
Grams’s eyes softened at that. “Yes. There are many who have masters or mistresses, it’s merely a term. Vilkas is a ‘master’ now, isn’t he? These faeries must have been sent by someone. Most likely another faerie.”
“A witch,” I spat out. “Isn’t that what this is about? Magic-users?”
“No.” She shook her head then backed away from me. “Dearest one, my goodness no. It’s so much more. Magic is more than magic-users. I thought you knew this. If you please sit down, I can explain while I take care of that wound. Faeries have strong magic and Max might be right. It could be poisoned.”
I had no idea whether to trust her or not. My whole life I had trusted her. My Grams. My grandma. Maybe not by blood, but she had been my Grams as much as Vilkas was my brother. When I had been in my most depressed state, when I trusted hardly anyone, Grams was on my list of those to trust. I sighed and sank down in one of the chairs.
“Good.” She came around behind me, pulling my shirt off and began poking at the wound. I flinched from the pain but grit my teeth to stop myself from making sounds. “Also, don’t worry if you sent any of your psychic messages to your sister. I have spells up in this room to prevent such.” I just glared at the wall. “Before I go into any explanations, why don’t you tell me exactly what you know?”
I reluctantly did so. I told her what Rhoen had told me, what the guy at the Rag said, and even what AZ had said. “But you knew about that, didn’t you?” I sneered. “About AZ and her family, you could have warned me somehow before this guy… what did you say his name was? Max?” I turned to look at him and then suddenly it was like a light flicked on in my head. “Oh. No, no, no. Aw hell no, don’t tell me…”
“Figured it out, did you?” Grams asked with her familiar laugh. “Zaid, this is Max. Also known as Mr. Fluffy.”
My stalker… Max… Mr. Fluffy made a face. “I always hated that name,” he whined.
“You have to admit it was quite a good cover,” Grams giggled. “Especially with the pink collar,” she added with a wink causing him to gag.
I just gaped at him. “Mr. Fluffy the second?”
“And the first,” he said with a shrug. “We had to fake my death since housecats don’t live, yanno, a million years. And by a million I mean… uhhhh… however long it had been. I don’t remember now.” He tilted his head, stroking his chin. “It was so sad. I cried.”
“You cried… at your own fake funeral…” I said slowly.
“Of course! Imagining a world without me in it is enough to make anyone cry!” he insisted while Grams snorted.
“Oh Watcher, you are a cat,” I grumbled. As if to reply he held up a finger and then there was a very quiet fizzling sound. Fur rapidly spread across his body in a manner that reminded me of when Vilkas transformed into a wolf. It was a disgusting sight, seeing him shrink and break into a smaller shape but I had seen it enough with my brother to not be completely revolted by it.
Then Mr. Fluffy was sitting on the counter, tail swishing in a smug manner. He lifted his cat head, gave a nod, and then began transforming back into his human shape. “See?” he asked when he was human again.
“You’re, uh, completely naked.”
He looked down and scoffed. “So? You’ve got a penis too. Of course, mine’s better looking, yeah, but–“
“Get your clothes on,” Grams commanded. Max pouted and began getting dressed. As he did, Grams came around to my front. “You’re safe. There was magic in there, but it was simply a sort of… slowing spell. It’s out now, don’t you worry. Max, go get one of his clean shirts for him?”
Max left the room, scurrying quickly out the door, muttering something about not being a slave. As soon as the door shut, I was on my feet. “So, I told you what I know now you tell me what you know. I deserve an explanation.”
I had a moment of doubt she’d talk but she dove in with, “Maisy Briggs was right, two hundred years ago something did happen. Something that amplified the magical world, and simultaneously halted time. We’re essentially looping… you’ll find the weather patterns are rather similar. It changes, of course, but there’s more of a pattern there than should be. We’ve hardly advanced, in these two centuries. There is little known what caused it. In fact, nobody has really noticed the time issue. Most people just continue on, blissfully unaware of the problem. That there even is one.” She moved through the room as she spoke, lightly running her fingers over the furniture. “All we know is that it coincided with the magical surge, and the rumors of someone who would destroy magic for good.”
“So the stories have been going on for… two hundred years?” I asked.
Grams nodded. “Yes. It wasn’t until more recently that your name started getting involved in it, publicly, but… it had been mentioned once or twice in some groups before you were even born.” She paused, seeing the look on my face. “Yes, I’ve known it was you all these years. I’ve known since before you were born. I’ve known since before your fathers got together. My sister was a witch with psychic abilities. She told me what I needed to do. She told me to buy the house in Moonlight Falls, and to rent the upstairs house out to Specter Greyson.” Grams gave a small laugh at that. “I wasn’t sure how true it would be, so it was surprising when your dad showed up on my doorstep one day, needing a place to live.
“I knew when Chance joined him, even though they never informed me much about the new tenant,” Grams continued, “but I knew it was Chance. Sure enough, they got married. Were going to have a child. But then the miscarriage happened and he couldn’t carry a child to term.” Grams frowned now. “I thought my sister was wrong. I started questioning everything I knew about the possibility of magic’s destruction. But then Chance started showing symptoms, and sure enough he was pregnant. None of us ever knew how it happened. We still don’t. But it was a girl, Presea. And then another girl, Glados. And then twins. Lumie and…”
Her eyes met mine. “Zaid,” she said in a tense tone. “Zaid. I had no idea if it really was you, or if–somehow–people were getting mixed up. I put protection spells on you and your house. I did everything I could. I spent all my energy, every waking hour trying to keep you and your family safe. I put up barriers to stop most supernaturals from coming and going. Vampires, ghosts, faeries, etcetera. I couldn’t protect from werewolves, because of Vilkas, or magic-users because of me. But I thought it would be enough.”
The door opened and Mr. Fluffy… errrr… Max came in, holding one of my shirts that I kept here for emergencies. He threw it at me and I caught up, fumbling with the fabric until I got it on.
Grams began talking again. “You were seven or so when things got worse. Magic amplified even more. And the prophecy started getting more widespread. Your name started to be spoken more and more, until finally you were fourteen, my abilities were being stretched to their limit… and I knew I had to do more.”
“That’s where I came in!” Max exclaimed cheerfully as he hopped back up onto the counter and sat there, smirking at me in an arrogant manner that made me want to punch him.
Grams nodded. “I assigned Max to be your personal bodyguard. To protect you from any possible dangers.”
“I knew one of you kiddos was the special one,” Max said, swinging his legs, “but I didn’t know which one till Gretchen pointed you out. I’m glad it was you. I’ve always liked you. I didn’t want it to be the ummmmm… errrrrr… Presea.” Max crinkled his nose up at that. “She likes dogs. Ew. Psycho, in my opinion. Who could ever like a dog more than a cat? Cats are perfect. NO! No! We’re purrfect! GET IT?!” he shrieked with laughter.
“I get it,” I groaned. “I just don’t want it.” I decided to ignore him for now, turning back to Grams. “Why didn’t you tell me all of this before?”
“Because you’re just a child,” she sighed. “I wanted you to be able to live out your childhood without too much worry.” She came over and gently put her hands on my cheeks. “I love you, Zaid. I love all you kids. I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure you all grew up without much worry about the magical issue, without the issue of the prophecy.” She planted a kiss on my forehead and I felt a bit relaxed. It wasn’t magic, it was just a grandma’s touch. “Perhaps it was a mistake. But we can’t change what’s happened. We can only change what might happen.”
I swallowed at those words. “Do you think it’s true?”
“I think… it could be,” she said, letting go of my face. “You’re not a normal human boy, my dear. You are so much more than that. All of you children are. Your father was a ghost turned human. Your grandfather we don’t know much about, but he was a ghost turned into a special ghost by some unknown, magical means. We believe it was genie magic, although we’re not sure. One of your ancestors was also a human, turned spirit, turned real albeit through other means. We’re not sure, of course, that was in the early twenty-first century. There is psychic power within you, too. And there’s something else in you, something we’re not sure of.”
I blinked, trying to wrap my head around all this information. “I have all that?” I asked and she nodded. “But why me? Why not… Lumie? Or Gladdy? Or Saya?”
“You and Lumie were the only ones to gain your grandmother’s psychic abilities,” Grams explained. “As for why you and not Lumie, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. We… we think there might be something… different about you.” I rolled my eyes, making a bit of a sneering face at that. “Not in a bad way, dear.”
“You’re the chosen one,” Max piped up. “Like Harry Potter! Only without the scar. And the glasses. And the black hair. And the magical ability. And the owl. Are you gonna get an owl? Cause owls are tasty.”
I stumbled back and collapsed into a chair, rubbing my forehead. “So I’m some sort of freaking chosen person? For the downfall of magic?”
Grams came forward and knelt down, putting her hands on the chair’s arms. “We’re not sure, but we think that your body can be used as a sort of… vessel. For magic, perhaps? We don’t know. One theory is that your body can be used to bring in an extremely high amount of magic, and then be ruined into nothing, wiping most the magic from this world. Another theory is that your body can be used in some sort of sacrifice to wipe the magical beings from this world. Yet another theory claims that you’re a magic-user yourself and will do a spell that will use up the magic, though that’s not true as you are human. There are dozens of other theories besides those. Some say you yourself will do this, others say someone will use you.”
With each word she said I felt worse and worse, feeling on the verge of vomiting when she was done. “What do you believe?” I finally croaked out.
She stroked my cheek gently. “I believe someone is going to use you. For what purpose, I don’t know. That is why we’ve been protecting you.”
I looked at her then at Max who looked rather serious, and then I turned back to Grams. “You should have told me.” I got up, brushing past her, hugging myself. But I understood why she didn’t. Wouldn’t I have done anything I could to stop what happened to Lumie? She was so different now. Forced to grow up. Like I had been after the Briggs. “The Briggs…” I looked at Max now. “They did nothing… wrong…”
“They wanted to kill you,” Max said darkly.
“Why couldn’t he just leave them alive?”
Grams closed her eyes, pressing her fingertips against her eyelids. “If he had kept them alive, they would have come after you again. In full force. With more magic-users. To a point where I don’t know if we could have protected you. It was either them or you.”
My head bobbed up and down even though my insides were screaming in disagreement. “Then there’s only one thing we can really do, isn’t there?” They both looked blankly at me, obviously not understanding.
I lifted my chin, eyes blazing. “Teach me to fight.”