Grams was incredibly unhappy at the idea of me learning to fight with weapons but Max was all for it. He hopped around the room, begging her to let him be my teacher, and then he fell asleep before she came to a decision. Her decision was yes.
“Because if I say no, I have the feeling he’d teach you anyway behind my back,” she grumbled, eyeing the sleeping form.
“Is he really a cat…? Or a–shapeshifter or something?” I asked, since I was now very curious about Mr. Max Fluffy.
“He was the familiar of a witch hundreds of years ago,” she said and my jaw dropped, unsure if I heard the word ‘hundreds’ right or not. Grams saw my face and nodded. “He thinks it was the eighteenth century, although he’s not sure about that. His memory is very unclear. In any case, he belonged to a powerful but evil witch whom he despised since she was using his familiar abilities for evil. He stole one of her best spellbooks from her and took it to a young wizard. He continued doing this on and off for a month, stealing her most powerful items. He thought the wizard was far enough removed that the witch wouldn’t suspect, but she tracked down her belongings. Of course the wizard told her that a black cat had been bringing him the stuff. She tied up the wizard and then turned on Max, accusing him of betrayal.
“The old witch used the dead wizard’s body in a spell to get Max to turn human. It used up all the magic remaining within the wizard, burning him into ash. Max turned human, but of course didn’t know how to speak. He says that his continued sputterings enraged the witch and she raised her wand to kill him when she had a heart attack from her rage.”
I coughed at that. “Whoa, that’s a bit, uh, anti-climatic.”
Grams chuckled. “It is, isn’t it? Sometimes Max likes to exaggerate and say he killed her himself but one day when he was very sad he told me the truth. Of course he didn’t know at the time what a heart attack was. All he knew was the old witch was furious and suddenly dropped dead in the ashes of the wizard. He stumbled around for a while, trying to get used to his new body, and took the first spellbook he ever brought to the wizard. He went in search of another magic-user, to try and become a cat again.”
“What happened then?” I asked.
“He knew where the few magic-users in the country resided so he was able to find another one. A young witch who fell in love with him. He spent a long time learning to speak human, so he could tell her what he wanted. During this time she…” Grams paused and her face went dark. “She fell more and more in love with him, and there are things that are not for me to tell you.” When she said that, I felt a bit uneasy, suspecting what those ‘things’ were. “When he finally could tell her he was really a familiar turned into a human, and asked to become a cat again, she went mad. She never wanted him to leave her side. She refused, and chained him up. He stopped eating. Once she saw he was wasting into nothing, she gave him immortality which let me tell you, is magic used only through the darkest, most violent means. I do not know how many people this witch must have killed. Neither does Max. But he gained immortality.
“However, by murdering people… attention was brought on her. She was accused of being a witch and was burnt at the stake. Max was found and released, everyone assuming he was just some poor idiot she found somewhere and was using for dark purposes. He still could not speak very well and was viewed as a simple-minded person, back then. So the village kept him as a sort of… village pet, which is a bit ironic. He stayed there for a while, learning more and more about the language and how to be a human.
“Finally he stole away one night because he knew as more time passed they’d see he wasn’t aging and would turn on him. He sought out another magic-user. Another witch. He begged her to turn him back into a cat. She agreed. Unfortunately, she was a very inexperienced witch and…” Grams waved her hand at Max’s sleeping form. “He merely gained the ability to turn between his two forms.”
We were both quiet for some time, just watching Max as he slept. Finally I asked, “So he gave up?”
“He did eventually. He kept seeking out magic-users but none of them could help them. The powerful spells he was needing were fading into nothing. Soon nobody was able to do magic like that anymore. At least, not until two hundred years ago. But by then he was used to his shifting form, and embraced it.”
“How did he get to you?”
She tapped her chin in thought. “He showed up on my aunt’s doorstep one day, crying for food. He stayed with her until the day she died, and when she did he came to me since we had gotten along so well.”
I studied Max now with interest. “He has no memory of what it was like before two hundred years ago? When the time problem happened?”
Grams shrugged. “He never realized it until he joined my aunt and she told him. He says he never saw it, it never occurred to him. He never realized, just like how everyone else is living. Unaware.”
There was a snort and Max rolled over and opened an eye. He stared intently with us and I thought perhaps he knew we were talking about him but he exclaimed in a loud, annoying voice: “I’M HUNGRY!”
“I think we all are,” Grams laughed. “How about I fix us up some lunch? Also we should call Chance and let him know you’re here before much more time has passed. Wouldn’t want the poor dear worrying.”
Grams reheated some potato soup for her and me, and just emptied a can of tuna on a plate for Max. I was indeed hungry but I couldn’t really eat. I was still trying to wrap my head around all the information. I wondered how many supernaturals had heard of me and believed this. I wondered how many Max had killed to protect me. I stared at him as he ate his tuna with no cutlery. He just stuck his fingers into the tuna, scooped it up, and ate it off his fingers.
“How many?” I asked and he froze, fingers in his mouth. “How many people have you killed? That were after me?”
He licked his fingers off and then made hemming sounds. “Including the faeries this morning, thirteen.” If I had been eating I certainly would have choked on it. “The two faeries, the three Briggs makes five. Then there were two werewolves that were hunting you a couple weeks ago. That’s seven. That one vampire when you went to Hidden Springs and I had to follow you all the way there–“
“You were in the yard,” I said, remembering. “There was blood.”
“Yes, I had to kill the vampire and he got in a good swipe before I got a stake in his heart,” Max whined. “So that’s Eight. Um. Last summer a wizard attempted and I finished him off, that’s nine. There were two witches and a vampire girl before the Briggs–“
“Vampire?” I remembered that vampire girl suddenly. “Shelby. I met her at the Rag. Was she… was she…”
Max nodded carefully. “She had intentions to kill you, so I had to protect you.”
That was the night I had stayed at Grams. I remembered hearing a crash and coming downstairs to find Mr. Fluffy on the counter. “You were sneaking back into the house,” I said absently. “You knocked over a planter.”
Max growled at that. “It was an accident!! Gretchen moved the planter without my knowledge! I am not clumsy. I am a graceful god.”
Grams and I both snorted at that, which seemed to spark anger in Max. He began huffing and puffing and I guess he decided to prove to us he was a, er, ‘graceful god’ because before I knew it he climbed up to the top of the door, about to leap down on the floor. I tried to protest but he jumped down, turning into a cat before he hit the ground and then once he landed on all fours he swiftly slid into human again. Albeit naked. He stood with his hands on his hips, demanding to know if I wanted to see more.
“I think I’ve seen more than I’d like,” I muttered while Grams took his clothes and threw them at him. Though there was no denying what he did was kinda awesome. We continued to eat, making plans for my schedule as we finished off the food. With me being homeschooled it’d be easier to get in ‘training’. In addition to swordsmanship, I could also learn archery, best usage of daggers in close combat, other forms of unarmed combat besides the martial arts I was already learning, and absolutely NO guns or anything like that since guns were too easily manipulated by magic into either not working or blowing up in my hand.
“Are all the people wanting me dead working together?” I asked, thinking of the four faeries who seemed to have a different goal than the Briggs.
As I figured, Grams shook her head. “No. There are several different groups or loners who are after you, however there are a couple large groups who are actively working together. One has a couple magic-users at the head, determined to stop you. I believe they’re the ones that sent the vampire girl after you two winters ago. And there’s another group, but not much is known about them. From what Max told me, they’re the ones that sent the faeries today. Which seems to fit the way they’ve been acting… They being the person behind this group, of course.”
I stared down at my empty bowl, dragging the spoon across the tiny remaining globs of soup, making little designs with them. “Seems like the whole supernatural world wants me dead.” What if what we were doing wasn’t enough? What if I couldn’t protect myself, or–or Grams and Max couldn’t? What if I was killed? What if I was taken by the bad ones who wanted to use me for bad? Why me!? Why was my blood so freaking special?! I didn’t want special blood! “WHY CAN’T I BE A FREAKING NORMAL PERSON?!” I screamed out, grabbing the bowl and launching it to the wall. It shattered when it hit the wall, sending bits of ceramic and potato soup everywhere.
I bent forward against the table and began sobbing. Grams rubbed my back and I turned towards her, falling into her comforting arms. I buried my face into her chest, making loud, hiccuping sobbing noises as she made gentle hushing sounds. Her actions combined with her familiar scent–lavender cream and baked cookies–helped get me to slowly calm down. Finally I pulled away, rubbing my eyes of the tears.
“It will be okay,” Grams said. “Not everyone in the supernatural world wants you dead. My circle will certainly do everything in our power to protect you. I know there is a family of vampires who believe firmly that these legends and rumors of you indicate someone else will be using you, and I am pretty sure they’ll do what they can.” Grams stroked my cheek gently then pushed my bangs back. “I also have the feeling the Niveum werewolves will be protecting you.”
I looked up into her face at that, a small smile on my face. “I guess. Hey, did you know…? About who Vilkas’s birth family was?”
She shook her head. “No, although in retrospect I should have guessed. The Niveum clan make up about 85 percent of the white wolves. White werewolves are not as common as the grey ones, or red ones. I should have been able to guess he was from someone of that clan but I was busy focusing on other things.” She patted my shoulder. “Now, why don’t you clean up your mess?”
I blinked and then blushed. “I’m in a bit of a crisis here, don’t you think.”
Her smile went wider at that. “Crisis or not, you don’t have any excuse to leave such a mess. Your fathers didn’t raise you like that.”
I slipped out of my seat and fetched stuff to clean while Grams called my Pa and Max watched me with interest. As I worked, Max slowly snaked one hand out and then knocked over his glass, sending milk flying all over the floor. Grams’s back was to us so she didn’t see. I just glared at Max and silently cleaned the milk as well. “Stupid cat,” I grumbled under my breath while Max just cheerfully smiled.
I stayed at Grams’s house a while longer so Max could show me some of the weaponry. I held a sword and pulled back the string on a bow. Then we all talked about whether my family should know everything or not. I argued till I was blue in the face that my dads had every right to know what exactly was going on. Grams was worried, while Max pretty much stayed out of it. Finally she agreed to let my dads know. Everything. Including Max, so he stayed in human form as Grams took us all back to my house.
I could tell Grams was a bundle of nerves as we went inside, giving Pa a brief hug. Pa hugged me tightly, telling me how worried he was. If he noticed my change of shirts, he didn’t say anything about it. He inquired about Max but Grams said she’d introduce him properly once my dad got home.
Lumie rushed down the stairs, wrapping her arms around me. “I was so worried!” she hissed in my ear, since my barriers had gone up the moment Grams told me I was past the psychic-blocking-spell-thing at her house. “You just dropped off the radar. How far did you go? But then you were at Grams’s house?”
“We’ll explain everything,” I promised my twin as she eyed Max.
“Did you get your other shirt muddy?”
“No. Um. I’ll explain later…” I wriggled free from her arms and went to sit down, eyeing the clock, wishing Dad would get home already. Lumie stalked around the room with a pout on her face since I was hiding something so actively from her. Grams was nervous. And Pa kept shooting these happily confused looks at Max. Max was the only one who seemed semi-normal, and that’s only cause he was perched between me and Grams with a cat-who-ate-the-canary look. Ugh, probably literally in his sense.
Dad came home finally and Pa ran over to the door to greet him, tripping as he went. He kissed Dad before whispering something in his ear. Dad looked over at us, an eyebrow raised. “Hey Gretchen,” he said as he came over, arm around Pa’s waist. “Is everything okay?” He was looking more at me at that though.
Grams stood up. “Yes, everything is fine. However I need to discuss a small matter–“
“Small?” I asked.
Grams sighed. “An important matter,” she corrected herself. “Involving Zaid.”
I avoided the looks my dads were giving me, as well as the knocking Lumie was doing in my head. Dad released Pa and began moving chairs in from the table so everyone could sit down. I didn’t really want to sit so I just paced around. Grams didn’t sit either, so Max just took the three chairs meant for us and stretched out across them.
Grams started with stating she was a witch. Pa and Lumie went all big-eyed while Dad narrowed his. Before they could react, she plunged on with all the stuff she told me. The legends, rumors, prophecy, possibilities, theories–all of that. She included the time bubble… and the fact there were multiple beings after me. To kill or capture for bad.
Pa cried out at that and rushed over, wrapping me in his arms, yanking me down into his chest so he could kiss the top of my head. Dad got up and began pacing like I had been. “Damn it,” he snarled. “Damn. It can’t be true. It can’t. It’s ridiculous. Why would anyone want to hurt Zaid? Why–who–why?”
Grams made a hissing sound that seemed better suited for Max. Her face contorted with anger. “Because a long time ago some magic-user began instilling the idea someone would, be be used for, the downfall of magic. To destroy it. Or unbalance it.” She threw an arm out in enraged passion. “It’s the mob mentality. Slowly building up and now, please pardon my language dears, but all hell is breaking loose. His name is getting out there. Some supernaturals will come. Some already have.”
With that she told them about the attempts thus far, explaining loosely about how she and Mr. Fluffy had been protecting me. Pa and Dad shifted their attention to Max who was asleep now, stretched on the chairs. “Mr…. Fluffy?” Dad asked, disbelieving.
“He is my familiar and has the ability to turn from human to cat,” Grams explained, reaching down to stroke Max’s hair. Max made a snorty sound and snuggled closer to her hand. “I trust him with more than my life. Indeed, I trust him with the life of one of the most precious to me. My grandson.”
“I d-don’t understand…” Pa said quietly as my dad sat back down, an angry look on his face. “This old prophecy? Or something? Says–says Zaid will… uh, undo magic, or destroy it, or unbalance it somehow? So people want to… k-kill my baby boy? An innocent child?” Pa’s hand cupped my cheek in a rather annoying way. “Does this, um, have anything to do with the strange occurrences… what, nine years back when–when the supernaturals were getting all errr… uppity?”
“Antsy,” Dad said.
“Antsy,” Pa repeated and then his eyes went huge. “Target,” he whispered. “Target!” he said more urgently. “William and Thomas, remember?” He looked at Dad who grew a deep scowl. “They came to warn us about something, that it was like a, uh, target was being put on this place, on our house. I thought it was–um, other stuff, but what if it was Zaid?” He faced me again, pushing my bangs from my eyes. I tried not to glare. I hated being treated like a little kid. “I thought it was the other stuff. Oh Watcher. I was wrong.”
With that Grams asked about what he meant by all that, so Pa and Dad explained that nine years ago when the magical world was getting weird two ghosts showed up to warn Pa. It had something to do with the fact he had become alive again, mostly, but also that there was some sort of ‘tearing apart’ thing going on and that it seemed to be targeting the house.
“I thought it had to do with an evil ghost that showed up not long after,” Pa said miserably. “Even when this started happening with Zaid, the weird things–the, uh, stories of him doing this… I didn’t even think about back then. A target. The theories about that, though, were about the magical world being rippled and stuff–” He stopped and scrunched his face up. “William said, ummmmm… the barrier. A barrier. Of what is and what was and what will be. And what should and shouldn’t be. That the barrier there is breaking down.”
“It is a possibility,” Grams put in. “One of my grandmother’s friends… he wrote a book. About his beliefs that what happened two hundred years ago, in the late twentieth century, was just that. A barrier broke down between two worlds and the magic from that world poured into this one. His daughter was expanding upon that theory when she was murdered nine years ago. She believed that the barrier that broke down was once again broken only this time the process would reverse itself, and all the magic would go to that world.”
“Symphonia!” Pa piped up and we all looked at him. His face was bright and his eyes shining. “Like in the video game! ‘Tales of Symphonia’, that gave me the name for Presea. There were two worlds and that each journey of regeneration would reverse the, uhhhhh, the uh mana flow. Like, the one with the most mana would be flourishing while the other world prepared for its journey of regeneration.”
We all just stared at him at that, and his bright face now went red. Dad then chuckled and went over, kissing the side of his head, while Grams chuckled and said, “That sounds close to what Emella believed, although without the ‘journey of regeneration’.”
“So, two hundred years ago this barrier broke and magic poured into this world,” Dad said carefully. “We already had it, though, as there were magical beings before, correct?” This question was answered with a nod from Grams. “When this barrier broke… time ‘stopped’ and magic poured in. The barrier somehow fixed itself? And nine years ago there was a possibility of it breaking again, reversing. Is this correct?”
“Some of us believe so, yes.”
“What does this have to do with Zaid?”
“There have not been any specifics stated about this, but a few magic-users–those who knew Emella and her family, and have studied her father’s book–are of the opinion that Zaid will be used to destroy the barrier,” Grams answered.
“How come you didn’t tell me this one?” I demanded.
“Because I do not believe the latter part,” she replied as she moved ot slump on the couch. “I believe the barrier is a possibility for what happened so long ago, however I believe it has always been broken. I didn’t tell you, as I didn’t want to go into all the dozens of stories circulating the downfall of magic in this world, but if you want me to, dearest, I will.”
Her words should have felt a bit condescending but her tone was anything but. “No,” I finally grumbled. “It’s fine.”
Pa was tugging at his bottom lip in thought. “I’ve heard that name before. Emella…? I know I’ve heard that name before.”
“You’re gonna be able to protect him though,” Lumie finally spoke up. “Right?”
Before Grams could say anything, I said, “I’m gonna protect myself.” Lumie rolled her eyes at me and I shrugged. “I’m not just gonna sit around and have Grams and Max kill and fight every jerk that wants me–“
“Max?” Pa asked suddenly.
“Mr. Fluffy’s real name is Max,” I said. “Or he goes by that at least.”
Grams put her head in her hands as Pa’s face first scrunched up tight and then his eyes snapped wide open. “MAX!” he shrieked and Max jerked violently, crashing to the floor, giving an unhappy yowl of protest. “You’ve been protecting this family?” Pa continued on, staring hard at Grams who was peeking up over her hands. “The name, Emella-the-witch, and the name Max–I remember! I remember now! You…! It was you! Wasn’t it?”
Grams stood up, picking lint off her shirt. She was very silent as she did this but then finally said, “Yes. My dear. It was me.”
“What was?” I asked.
“Nine years ago an evil spirit came to the house,” Pa told me, and I almost said I already knew but managed to keep my mouth shut. “We tried to fight it off but it didn’t go well, until something sorta uhhh… possessed your father. I guess it was Grams.” Now he looked back at her. “You mentioned the death of a witch called Emella. And you also mentioned Max. Eating… Doug.”
Max yawned loudly and then fell back down onto one of the chairs. “Yep. I ate him all right.”
“You ate someone?” I asked, disgusted.
“HEY! He was a rat! Lit-er-a-lly!” Max waved his hands around. “Gretchen turned that monster into a rat, and poofed him into the magic room where I got to have a lot of fun with him. You know. Batting him around. Holding him down with my paw. Little nibble here, little nibble there.” Max grinned, his fangs showing. “Little creature spent an hour running around, trying to find a way out. Even bit me back a couple of times!” He stretched out his legs, smirking. “But of course, I finally got bored of messing with him and gobbled him down.”
Pa and I were both making faces. “You really ate him?” Pa asked.
“Yep! Nommed him down. Ugh, tasted gross really. But crunch-crunch-crunch, meat ‘n bones ‘n everything,” Max said proudly while I gagged. “Best part was when he came out the other end!” Max continued, laughing loudly.
“Yes, he was so thrilled he kicked his litter all over the room,” Grams grumbled.
Max pouted. “You made me clean it up, too. Cruel, heartless woman!”
“So you did all that,” Dad said. “Protected us and… possessed me?”
“Yes. You see when Chance called me, I knew something was going on. So I popped over here very quickly–ahh, sort of an astral projection sort of thing,” Grams explained for our confused faces. “I saw what was going on, summoned my circle. They strengthened my power, and I was able to do what was needed.”
Pa stepped forward. “So Doug is dead?”
Grams reached out and took his hand, squeezing. “Yes, dear. He is very dead. He passed into the Netherworld as a rat.”
“And you’ll protect Zaid?” Pa asked. “Like you did before? With all of us? You and–and Max will be able to keep him safe?”
“I will do everything I can to do so,” Grams said carefully. “However there are many enemies, and of all strengths. Max and I will do what we can.”
“I’m gonna fight,” I said and of course my dads both began protesting this. Their voices melted together until it was one loud parental sound. I clapped my hands over my ears, shouting back until they finally went quiet. “Seriously, though. I should be able to protect myself. Like the martial arts, only, y’know, more. Max will teach me. Grams will supervise. I want to be able to fight if someone tries attacking me!” I turned to Dad. “You approve, right? I mean you were always giving me defense tips when we were in the shed.”
Pa gave Dad one of those looks, and Dad got a very guilty expression. “Eheh, I, er, might have, ah, said that…” Pa folded his arms and Dad looked guiltier. “He has a point, Chance!”
“My baby is not fighting crazed, powerful beings!” Pa snapped. “Gretchen and–and Max can do this. They have magicky abilities and Zaid doesn’t–“
“Just the reason he needs to learn to fight,” Lumie said and now we were focused on her. She lifted her eyebrows and made a face. “It’s true! I don’t like it but Watcher, you think you’re gonna stop him? Besides what if, like, a ton of enemies attack at once? Too many for this cat-dude to take care of!”
“Like today,” I said then my hand went over my mouth.
“What?!” both dads yelled.
“Errrrrr, when I w-was out j-jogging some f-f-faeries popped out and, uh, w-well… I had to f-fight them off for a moment before Max came in and, uh, well–yeah,” I stammered nervously, regretting mentioning the events. “I managed to do a little bit but not much.”
Pa looked from me to Lumie to Grams to Dad. Then he collapsed against Dad with a light moan. “I guess I don’t have a choice.” He buried his face against Dad’s chest. “Fine. Fine!” Then he strode over and held me close again, but I was just grinning, excited to start learning to wield a sword.