Dad took me into the studio Saturday afternoon. There weren’t many people there at all and I felt complete relief seeing the other students wore their outfits–I assumed, when getting dressed, I would need to wear it but the entire trip through town I had been worried no one else would be.
Master Bao Louie introduced his cousin. We all bowed in the manner we had been taught, then took up our positions. Since the other students were more advanced than me, I went first. I stepped up to the board. A slab of foam sat before me, which caused a slight flush in my cheeks. I knew I could break something stronger than foam! I wanted to argue, to complain, to ask for something better but knew it was in poor taste to question my Sifu.
The edge of my hand made quick work of the foam. It didn’t feel like anything special but once I finished, I bowed again and stepped back. The other students went through thicker slabs. Balsa wood (which I knew I could break), oak, and finally stone. Then Master Louie himself expertly broke a thick, dark slab made from space rock. When he finished, he had the four of us partner up to show some of our fighting skills.
I faced against someone I never saw in action before. A green belt. She looked pretty tough… but wasn’t I strong? I did a lot more fighting than just this class. I could do it. I had to do it. I wanted to prove my abilities to my Sifu (and my father). Green belt and I got into our stances and we began the dance.
“Hah! Hah! Hya!” she exclaimed as she made precise, swift movements. They were easy to see, though, which made them easy to block. After my battle in the rain from a couple weeks ago this seemed almost… boring. All right, so no blades but still. Fighting someone who wasn’t out for blood felt pretty nice.
Suddenly I spotted my opening. While she made a spin and kick, I sidestepped easily, seized her arm and flipped her onto her back. She glowered up at me from the floor but I merely bowed before retreating to the edge of the mat, trying not to look at the faces around me but I couldn’t help it. Dad had a huge, proud grin on his face while my Sifu nodded, an unreadable expression on his face. He motioned for Green Belt to step side and let the other students show off their skills.
Once we were all done, Master Louie’s cousin spoke about how natural we all seemed at this. I just glowed more and more at the praise, trying not to let it go to my head but how could I not? A natural. My Sifu had told me this, and now his cousin said it? I felt really happy with myself. The look on my dad’s face also helped. Vilkas, Presea, Glados, and Lumie. Now finally me. Something more than ‘unbalancer of magic’ or whatever. Something tangible. Something I might get awards for, that I could display. The reason I had originally joined the basketball team all that time ago.
We hung around for a little while longer then I gathered my things up to leave, with everyone else–but Master Louie approached me, asking me if my father and I could stay a bit longer. Dad agreed without really consulting me which threw me in a bit of a grumpy mood. All right, so I planned on agreeing but he didn’t even bothering asking me! Ugh. I was sixteen. Not a little kid!
After everyone left the studio, Master Louie and his cousin took me and my dad into a small room. We were offered snacks and drinks, which I declined. I had a really bad feeling about all this, I didn’t like it one bit. I glanced at the possible exits for the room, feeling sick Max hadn’t followed us here. He needed some sleep and we agreed with my dad there nobody would try to make a move. But my blood froze in my body when Ms. Lu said four words that changed everything.
“I am a witch.”
I stared at her in horror, looking at my dad who clenched his teeth. What are we going to do? I thought, sweat beginning to pour down my body. We were decently strong between the two of us… but no way could we fight off two master martial artists! But maybe we could get away. I eyed the pitcher of water. I could grab it, fling it in their faces and take off running. My boots with the daggers in them were just outside. If they followed us, I could get the daggers and throw them. Do something, anything to get away. To get Dad away.
“Oh!” Ms. Lu said, covering her mouth. “Your face shows your fear. I did not mean to frighten you. I am on your side.” She spoke haltingly, having more of an accent than her cousin.
I stepped slightly closer to my dad, slightly closer to the table with the pitcher of water on it. “Oh?” I managed to say.
“Of course I have heard rumors of one who will do bad things to magic. My father who is magic told me these tales, as his mother before him, and through the generations of the Lu family.” She pressed her fingertips together, bowing her head very slightly. “I heard of your name only recently. I have been in constant contact with a few people, who have informed me of what is happening. I was directed to speak to a witch named Gretchen Penstone.” I started at hearing Grams’s name. “She informed me of the truth.”
“She didn’t warn me about you,” I muttered.
“I am sorry, I did not mean to startle you,” she replied.
Now Master Louie spoke. “We wanted to inform you that we will aid you with what you need. I think it might be adventitious for me to give your private lessons in sim fu, if you wish–and if your parents wish,” he added with a glance to my father. “My cousin is more advanced than I, and while she is in town she desired to show you some things as well.”
I looked at Dad who seemed worried. His forehead wrinkled up and a scowl just engraved itself on his face. “Why should we believe you?” he growled.
“You may ask Gretchen Penstone,” offered Ms. Lu.
Dad and I exchanged looks and then he fished his cellphone out of his pocket. Within moments we had talked with Grams and were informed that yes, Ms. Lu was a witch and yes, we could trust her. Grams apologized to me for not saying anything sooner. After we got off the phone, Dad agreed to the private lessons and after a few more minutes I did as well. I trusted Grams, so I had to trust them–right? But I didn’t feel trust. I trusted Master Louie up until this point. Now… now I didn’t know how to feel. But trust wasn’t one of the feelings.
We stayed for a while, Ms. Lu discussing with me at great lengths tips and meditation advice she had learned over the years. She suggested I spend time meditating and also maybe doing yoga (NO I don’t think so), and some ways to improve my exercise routine to better fit sim fu. She asked what other sort of self-defense I learned but I evaded the question since I didn’t really want her (or my Sifu) to know everything. Eventually Dad and I left, and I just stared out the window the entire trip home. Dad tried talking but I said nothing. Once home, I trudged up to my room–ignoring the questions from Pa and Lumie. Max, of course, waited for me in my bedroom.
“You can trust them,” he said.
“How come you guys didn’t tell me before? About what was happening today?” I demanded, shooting a very angry glare at Max. “Ms. Lu said she was a witch and I was ready to freaking fight for my life and for my dad’s life! I was freaking out! You should have told me!”
Max winced at my tone but I didn’t care. “Do you have any tuna?”
“No, don’t change the subject,” I snapped. “You and Grams should have told me that a witch was about to cross my path, and that I could trust her.” I threw myself down on my bed, trying not to pout. “You shoulda told me.”
Max came over and flopped on top of me, reaching around to poke at my face. “I’m sorry, Zaidy-boy. I guess I didn’t think to tell you.” His poking changed to rubbing his entire hand down my face. “Sorry. Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m s–“
“Okay!! Okay!” I rolled away from him, wiping my face off. “All right, fine. But Grams should have told me. I think it’s pretty damned important I be kept in the loop of things, doncha think? Yeah? Yeah. You can’t just… I mean, this is my life. My life on the line here.”
Max got up as well, folding his arms. “I am sorry, Zaidy-boy. You’re right. You’re absolutely right. You should have been told. And I’ll tell you everything from here on out, or at least I’ll do my best.” His arms went out for a hug but I didn’t go to him. So he came over, wrapping his arms around me and yanking my face into him.
“This is extremely uncomfortable,” I said, muffled from being pressed in his chest. “Dude. Let me go, come on.” Since he just held me tighter I had to wriggle my way free, fixing my hair after I managed to get loose. “I want to be alone right now. Okay?” I sent this message to Lumie, too, so she wouldn’t come bug me.
>I want to talk to you sometime soon though,< she informed me. >The sooner the better, really. Now would be best…<
>Yeah but not right now. Please!<
She gave a mental sigh. >Fiiinnnnne… Can I talk to Max, then?<
“Lumie wants to talk to you,” I said as I began getting undressed. Max shrugged, gave my back a pat, and then left me alone. I barriered my brain from my sister and then collapsed onto my bed. After exhausting day I felt tempted to text Clay and cancel my date the next day but figured I might as well go.
The date turned out to be a completely pointless thing to do. The girl Clay set me up with annoyed me to no end. She talked-talked-talked-talked, mostly about herself. Thankfully she wasn’t a supernatural–completely human. But still. I pretty much counted down the minutes till I could say goodbye, not pleased as she gave me a kiss–though I managed to move my head a bit so it landed on the corner of my mouth instead of fully on the lips.
you want 2 go out w/her again? Clay texted me after the date.
No. I replied back. Naturally he wanted to know why. she’s annoying y u think id like her?
b/c, he answered me. u need 2 date.
Wow. What a convincing argument. No i dont. im done. no blind dates. no dates. I turned my phone off after that, not wanting to hear Clay’s whining.
I found out about a week later, with Lumie barriering herself away from me and Max NOT TELLING ME AFTER HE TOLD ME HE’D TELL ME EVERYTHING, what Lumie wanted to talk to Max about.
“No,” I said. “No. Absolutely not. I’m putting my foot down.”
“You can’t,” she growled. “I’m my own person, I can do what I want.”
I spun around to face her, furious that Max even let her think it’d be okay. “No! You are not going to be trained too!”
“Damn it, Zaid!” She stormed over to me, shoving me back a bit. “You’re like, being hunted! I’m not going to sit back on my butt while my brother–my twin–is being hunted! Nope. I want to learn to fight. I want to learn to protect you.”
“Aw come on!” She stomped one foot down. “If Vilkas offered, you’d accept his help, wouldn’t you?!”
I glowered fiercely at her. “Maybe but it has NOTHING to do with gender! It has to do with the fact he can heal crazy fast, and would be in very little danger. Even then I would not be happy if he offered to protect me. It–it’s bad enough Grams and Max are doing this!” I waved my hand at the cat, who stuck his tongue out. “I am not letting my sibling do this, I am not letting my twin do this. Watcher, Lumie. If I could protect one person in this world it’d be you. Why the hell d’you think I’d be all ‘yeah put your life in danger’?!”
>BECAUSE YOU’RE THE ONE PERSON I WOULD PROTECT!< she shouted in my head. >You want to protect me, well I want to protect you!<
>It’s too much of a risk, Lumes, I don’t want–<
>I don’t care what you want,< she cut me off. “Max says he’ll help,” she finally said out loud. Max, who had been watching us curiously, now tried slinking under a bed.
I went over, seizing his shirt. “Ah-ah-ah. Did you say you’ll help her?”
“Mmmmayyybbee,” he drew out. “She wants to help.”
“I don’t want her to,” I said, letting go of his shirt. He slid under the bed and watched us with wide, round eyes. >I don’t want you to risk yourself. Please don’t do this, Lumie.<
“I want to protect you,” she whispered, coming over and hugging me from behind. “Please, Zaid. Please. I can’t stand sitting here.”
“So far I’ve been attacked when we’re apart,” I pointed out, turning to face hr. “How will you learning help?”
“But what if one day we’re together and attacked?” she asked, tugging at my shirt sleeve. >You really going to push me in a corner and make me watch the person I love most in this world fight, and do nothing? Do NOTHING?<
“No, Zaid, answer me.”
I moved away from her, trying to keep calm though I barely managed not to yell. >I don’t know, Lumie! I’d rather die and you live–<
“DON’T SAY THAT!” she screamed, punching my arm. I hissed in pain, rubbing the spot. “Don’t you ever say that.”
“It’s true!” I said, hand flailing. “I don’t want you to be thrown into a fray. I’d rather you just run away. Please. Lumie. Promise me. Promise me!”
>No.< She stormed to her bed, punching her pillow over and over. “I won’t promise it. I won’t. So either I learn or I don’t know what I am doing.”
“You’re not getting my permission,” I said flatly, going to the door. “You won’t. And Pa will be upset, and Dad won’t be pleased. And stay out of my shed.” I left her bedroom, putting up the barriers. I managed not to let my emotions get the better of me until I got to my room. I broke down. The thought of my sister risking her life for me just… I couldn’t stand it, I wouldn’t stand for it.
Max came in the room, an anxious look on his face. “Zaidy-boy?”
“Don’t you train her,” I snarled, falling face first onto my bed. “Or else.”
Lumie and I were hot and cold over the next few weeks. I knew she did some sort of training but I didn’t really know what. Whatever she did, though, she didn’t tell our dads. I think she practiced with blunt objects since I did spot a metal baseball bat in her room at one point which had never been there before.
Finally we couldn’t mentally keep the barriers up. It put too much a strain, and the moment we were back in each other’s heads I knew that she had been going out, practicing swinging the baseball bat. >You better stop,< I told her.
>Make me,< she responded.
At least Max had kept his word about not training her for anything. Sometimes I wanted to follow my sister out in the woods where she practiced to beg her to stop–but then I’d remember the faeries. Following her into the woods would probably just cause the situation I didn’t want to happen–bad people showing up with Lumes there! So I did my best to avoid here when I could. At least she didn’t drag the baseball bat around on our outings with Clay and Trysh.
Nobody seemed to attack me as the months went on though Max told me there were two attempts I didn’t know about. Once in early September when a faerie tried to get to my bedroom window but the barrier Grams had put up prevented the faerie from getting anywhere near. And in December a werewolf did make it on our property. The were and Max had a huge fight in the middle of the night that left Max covered with scratches.
“I got ’em though,” Max said proudly as Pa treated the wounds.
“You weren’t bitten, were you?” Dad asked, grouchier than usual. He had been in an absolutely terrible mood since he turned fifty a couple months ago. It still aggravated him. Pa, recently turned forty-four, constantly had to reassure Dad that Dad was still… all attractive and junk.
“Nope. Just scratched up. I won’t become a stinky wolf,” Max said, basking in all the attention he received, eventually turning into a cat so he could curl up on Pa’s lap, purring loudly.
Vilkas didn’t come in for his birthday, though he did manage to come in the weekend after for a while. It kinda sucked we didn’t get to see each other very much anymore but he had a ton on his plate trying to change things at his castle. He talked a lot about how backwards and medieval the Niveum clan acted, and how much he tried to push them forward.
“The Council makes it so hard!” he complained to all of us, since the girls had come in for his birthday party and our dads had left us to talk among ourselves for some sibling bonding. “They’re so frustrating. Everyone in the castle is frustrating.”
“Everyone?” Presea asked in a singsong voice.
Vilkas flushed red. “Shut. Up.”
“Oooh, what’s she meaning?” Lumie asked.
“Nothing!” Vilkas snapped, going redder. “Nothing, she’s not–nothing.”
“Vilkas likes a giiirll werewolf there,” Presea said and Vilkas shoved her off the couch, calling her a traitor. She hit the ground, laughing. “I had to! I had to!”
“Tell us about her!” Gladdy insisted.
“I don’t… it’s not… it’s nothing,” Vilkas said quietly. “Please? It’s nothing.”
Of course Presea, Gladdy, Lumie and I kept teasing him about the girl thing to his annoyance. We teased him at Christmas, too. A lot of teasing went down at Christmas, since Presea had a special someone though she refused to speak much about him (or her, we didn’t even get a gender), and Lumie spoke occasionally about a guy Trysh had introduced her to. So between Villy, Saya, and Lumie… loads of relationship teasing. Gladdy and I remained happily single. Oh, Clay still tried begging me to let him set me up with dates but I always turned him down. I didn’t really feel like I missed out on anything by saying no. I felt perfectly fine being single.
But then the worst thing in the entire universe happened. Ever. Period.
Vilkas had gone home, but the girls still remained for a few more days. The clock just struck ten… I sat in my room with Max, quietly discussing what sort of sword I should learn next. I could handle a one-handed sword with some decency and I reeealllly wanted to get a hold of a scimitar but Max kept trying to convince me to learn how to wield a two-handed sword. In the middle of our argument…
Knock knock knock. “Hey Zaid, can I come in?” Gladdy asked.
“Sure,” I said, not even thinking.
Glados stepped in, decked out in very little since she had gotten ready for bed. “I needed to ask you about–oh! H-hello. You must be Max.”
Max just stared at Glados. “Uh. Hi,” he mumbled in a quiet, not-Max-like manner.
“I’m Glados. Well, you probably already know that,” she laughed. “You’re, um, Mr. Fluffy… right? Both of them…”
“Uh, yeah. Um.” He got up off my bed, going a bit reddish. “You’re the only one who cried at my funeral.”
Now Gladdy blushed a bit. “Well, yes! Of course I did. I was sad you died. Glad to finally meet you–er, well, meet you as Max, I mean.”
They shook hands in a slow way that made me feel suspicious and uncomfortable. “Glad to meet you. Properly. Y’know. Not in cat form. I mean me. Me not in cat form. Not you. You can’t turn into a cat.”
Glados laughed. “No, though I’d like to be able to! What’s it like?”
“Being a cat? Oh, it’s amazing!” And he launched into a long chat with Glados about cats. She continued to ask questions and he cheerfully answered every single one. I glared at both at them until I finally found a place to jump in. “You needed to talk to me?”
Glados blinked, glancing over at me. “Oh, uh, yeah. I don’t remember now. Sorry!”
“Well, goodnight then.”
One of her eyebrows raised and I merely stared intently at her. “Night, baby brother,” she snapped. “G’night, Mr. Fluffy.” She gave him a smile and then left.
“What was that about?” I hissed as soon as the door shut. “You like, stumbling all over your words? What was that about?”
Oh Watcher, his pout had returned. “Max,” I warned.
“I like the way she treats me!” he whined. “She pets me better than anyone else, when I’m in my kitty form. She always gave me yummy snacks. And when she cuddled me she never choked me. She treated me the best when everyone thought I was just a cat!” He fell onto my bed, taking up all the space so I couldn’t even sit down. “And she cried at my funeral and put flowers on my grave. I’m taking this bed tonight. You sleep on the floor.”
I couldn’t budge the brat at all so I had to sleep in Vilkas’s old bed that night, complaining loudly until I fell asleep. I didn’t say anything about it, though… but I couldn’t help but feel just a teensy bit anxious at how Max and Gladdy acted around one another. Gladdy loved cats. Max seemed to like her… but… Max… a cat… no. No. It just–no. Nope.
Glados and Presea left, and I began to relax a bit more. Gladdy and Max didn’t interact any other time during her time home but it still made me upset… and worried… but now things could get back to normal.
January weather hit us hard. Deep snow the entire month long. Everyone stayed wrapped up, cozy at home. Grams even stayed with us a few nights which I guessed had to do with the fact she didn’t like being at home alone. Our house smelled like fresh cookies for a week straight, leading up to Lumie and my’s seventeenth birthday.
Clay and Trysh stayed the night as a sleepover. We stayed up till four in the morning watching movies and playing video games, and all of us went to sleep in sleeping bags down in the living room. Clay dropped to sleep right away. My breathing slowed, but the girls stayed up chattering to one another and eventually the topic landed on me.
“…wish he could understand…” Trysh whispered, just at the edge of my hearing so I couldn’t quite catch everything.
“He’s still awake you know,” Lumie said. >Slow breathing ain’t gonna work on me, buddy boy,< she pointed out in my head. Heh, whoops. >Don’t you whoops me.<
>What don’t I understand?< I asked and immediately her barriers went up.
“Zaid, you awake?” Trysh asked, loud enough for me to hear.
“Uhhhng, barely,” I replied, trying my best to sound sleepy and out of it.
Suddenly a pillow hit my face. “You jerkwad! I was trying to talk to Lumie about private stuff and you’re laying there listening in!”
“I wasn’t listening in!” I shrieked, grabbing my pillow to defend myself. “I swear!”
“He’s lying,” Lumie said with a smirk. “He totally was listening in.”
“UGH! BOYS!” Trysh smacked me with the pillow again and I scrambled to my feet. Trysh got up, still pummeling me with the pillow.
“WE’RE IN THE SAME ROOM!” I shouted back, laughing as I cowered. “Not exactly a huge distance between us! NO FAIR!” I yelped as Lumie joined Trysh in hitting me with pillows. “CLAY! Bud! Help!” I kicked at Clay till he woke up. “Help me! The girls have gone crazzzzyyy!”
The four of us attacked each other, soon getting into me against Trysh and Clay against Lumie. I focused on smacking Trysh with my pillow, trying not to hit too hard. I didn’t think I’d hurt her even if I used all my strength but I didn’t want to risk it. Holding myself back, it became easy for Trysh to win. I fell back on the floor and called uncle.
Trysh gave me one more victory smack. “Serves you right for trying to listen in on a private conversation,” she said, sticking her tongue out.
I held up my hands. “I give, I give! I lost, fair and square. BUT!” I got to my feet, brushing feathers off my pajamas. “But you know, I was like four feet away from you.”
After Lumie destroyed Clay in their pillow fight, we were all wide awake so we raided the fridge and flopped across the couch to watch another movie. I sat between Clay and Trysh, feeling strangely aware of the girl next to me. I began to wonder how things would progress between the two of us, or even if she wanted things to progress between the two of us. And honestly… I didn’t really know what I wanted.