“Oooooooooooooh Auntie!” exclaimed my niece.
“What now, child?” I questioned as I sipped my tea.
“Know of the twins who serve that Slayer’s brat you saved?”
“You know I do.” I muttered. I knew she put things in such a way for the sake of others, but the idea of her asking if I knew something was ridiculous.
Grinning at me as she crawled onto my lap, she said, “One of them needs you.”
An image appeared in my mind of a poor wreck of a girl forcing herself to walk. Her skin had been partly flayed, exposed muscles had burn marks, bits of her were swollen, and neither hand had finger nails.
“Why are you waiting?” I demanded, having set down my tea cup.
“One thing first.” she replied with a smile. Then she pulled out two small vials. “No healing them unless they both drink this.”
I scowled and agreed. There was no arguing with her. Strangely, I didn’t appear where I expected, standing instead in some lavish room where the injured girl and her partially dressed sister were gaping at one another. I coughed politely to get their attention before saying, “I am Ariadne, a healer. If you don’t mind, I need to examine you.”
Both sets of eyes instantly turned on me, cool and calculating despite the one’s injuries.
“Yes, you don’t hear a heartbeat. I’m a vampire, but I am here to heal you.” I stated as they both attacked.
One created a spell to press the button on an intercom.
“James, get in here!” they exclaimed together with surprising unison.
There was some skill to them, but I was certain I could fend them off with my eyes closed while sipping tea back in my favorite chair. These two were far too weak to injure someone of my age, but they made examining the one far less pleasant than this could be.
“Stand still, or I won’t be able to heal you.” I swore as I tilted my head away from a punch. I’d have bound them both, but the injured one would surely have struggled and made things even worse. She shouldn’t have been fighting. I could tell already how she had been tortured.
The little monster even used her tears as weapons, sending them flying at me with impressive speed. The door opened behind us, and I thankfully saw James there.
“Young man, could you attempt to calm these two? I’m having difficulty doing a proper examination while holding them off, and restraints might injure this one further.” I explained, hoping he might be able to calm the twins.
“Allow me to introduce Ariadne. She’s the one who saved Alma after the necromancer’s attack.” he told them, sounding calm while carrying a note of authority in his tone.
Thankfully, the two stopped attempting to harm me.
“She’s a vampire.” stated the injured one.
“She admitted it.” insisted the other.
James stepped closer. While staring them down, he said, “She’s here to heal you.”
“No, I’m here to examine this one. My niece said not to heal her unless they both take this.” I replied as I held up the vials.
“Never.” they asserted in perfect unison.
I had never seen two such perfectly matched twins. Even their hair would match perfectly if the one hadn’t been injured; everything that was intact certainly did.
“Please…” I pleaded. “I know the pain you feel. Normally, I would heal you instantly, but I made a deal that I cannot break. You must take these first.”
Even I didn’t dare break a deal with my niece. She could be sweet and kind, but she also had explained to me the importance of her deals being absolute in far too much detail. When I had found her broken and healed her, there had been no knowing what she would become, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. She was needed as she was.
“I’ll heal eventually without the help of a vampire.” stated the injured one.
Nodding, the other said, “We won’t betray our family.”
“You feel Alma betrayed the family by drinking what’s in that vial?” inquired James with a tone of surprise.
“What?” inquired the healthy twin.
“Never.” insisted the other.
Speaking together, they said, “She didn’t know what you gave her.”
I caught the oddity of their brains this time. No two brains could typically be in such perfect synchronization. “Telepathy. I thought there was something strange with your minds.” I told them with a smile.
Their telepathy was beyond even what my fey kin could accomplish, and the fey only used a form of telepathy for communication. I wished I could take a peek at James’ brain, or any of his inner workings for that matter. I had never before seen such extraordinary magical defenses.
The twins looked scornfully at me, obviously offended that their trick was known.
“I’ll ask Mila to send for Alma’s doctors then, though I fear their skills won’t be up to the task.” muttered James unhappily.
The girls turned to look at one another for several seconds.
“No, you’ll never be identical again without my help. Wounds have already started to heal imperfectly.” I explained, hoping they would see reason. Whatever the vials held, I knew the substance wouldn’t kill them. I’d rather burn myself to a crisp attempting to heal someone than let them die in my presence.
James spoke first, saying, “I trust her. The choice is yours, but I doubt you’ll get another chance.”
I sighed. “Unfortunately, they won’t. You know my niece. She’ll take away these vials and leave these two to rot without a care. As much as it will pain me, I won’t break my word to her.”
“Aaliyah.” stated the twins in unison.
“We wondered who this ‘niece’ of yours was.” explained the injured one.
“No one has harsher contracts.” agreed the other.
I almost acted on instinct when the two cringed, staring around as if sensing a terrible threat. Shockingly, they grabbed the vials, popped the caps, and instantly gulped them down. I didn’t wait, accepting the burn of my magic gladly as I went to work. Under a second, but I needed blood. I hadn’t fed in too long. Still, I could smile. The two were identical now, save for the eyes and slight differences in brain activity.
“Alma told us about what happened.” stated the newly healed twin as she tested her muscles.
“But that… that was so strange.” insisted the other as she followed her sister’s movements.
The first looked to me and asked “What sort of magic was that?”
“The fey kind. There could be more healers like me if not for your lot.” I explained.
Frowning, the second one asserted “The fey were out of hand.”
“They needed to be stopped.” agreed the first.
“I was there.” I snapped, staring them down. “My friends were only defending themselves. They didn’t understand war. They…” I was going to follow my niece’s example by giving these two a firsthand account of the war in as much detail as I could manage, but I felt a joy I hadn’t known in two thousand years entering my mind, telling me of wind and leaves, birds and song. She was mad at James for missing it, leaving her behind again. I knew this whimsical voice.
She flew to me and hugged my nose, giving me her experiences with no sense of order. My knees could support the weight of a car if I had reason to lift one, but they felt weak now. Tears flowed from my eyes as I smiled, giving my lost friend images of hugging her back. I showed her a little of my travels as she wondered about why I hadn’t been with her… with… them? Were there more? So many of my friends were alive!
“They’re doing that thing, aren’t they.” muttered the twins.
I ignored them, trying to absorb every last bit of information from my friend’s words as I watched her at play through what was probably years, though this could all be a single day. Then there was something unmistakable, an overwhelming feeling as if something connected to every last piece of existence took notice of you, staring at you with awareness so massive that your own life seemed completely and utterly small.
“Ah. That would be my niece.” I stated aloud.
“What?” inquired the newly healed twin.
“Mother and Jarod wish to enter.” stated a voice from another room.
“Mother!?” inquired the twins in shock.
“Ugh. Mila’s back.” complained the second twin.
“The first thing she did was find Ai.” insisted James.
The girl shrugged, unappreciative of the aid.
The other said, “Fine. I’ll buy her a new dress.”
The one I healed was Ai then. Youngsters were terrible at proper introductions.
“Let the brat in.” loudly ordered Mai.
“Whoa. We did not say you could enter.” declared Ai as she stared at someone resembling Alma.
A quick look surprised me. This girl was a cyborg but on a completely different level than my niece had been. I couldn’t even find a brain!
The girl smiled and curtsied, saying, “Jarod asked me to come along. Since you gave him full access rights to your wing, he also has the right to invite me inside. Mother wanted to ask you as a courtesy.” Her voice matched the one they called Mila.
“She’s your creator, not your mother.” argued Ai.
My niece was grinning as she hugged Mila’s leg, which didn’t bode well for Ai.
“Sorry. I wasn’t thinking. Are you injured?” asked a young man who looked between the twins with concern. He seemed quite healthy save for slight malnourishment.
I gave him a little boost as Mai rolled her eyes.
“I was the abducted one, so hugs over here. As for injuries, this vampire did something to me.” stated Ai without a hint of gratitude.
“Vampire? Wow. You look remarkably like Aaliyah, but slightly older. Oh, and your eyes…” stated the young man.
“Yes-yes. They’re green.” I replied, more interested in the conversation in my head than with the color of my own eyes. When I was young, the fey had seemed so quick and lithe. Now they seemed far slower, but still graceful. So many years had passed.
“Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V requests to enter.” stated Mila.
“Alma? I thought she was on a plane.” mumbled James.
“Let her in, you stupid machine.” ordered Ai in annoyance.
“She did. You couldn’t keep up with her before, and she’s even faster now. You’d be wise to finally treat her properly. She did die fighting alongside us.” stated Alma.
Rolling her eyes, Mai said, “Yes, Lady Pendreigh.”
Pointing to another room as she stared at Mai, Alma said, “Go put on clothes this instant.”
Without argument, the girl left.
“Huh? Wait. How are you here? I thought you left?” stated James.
“Unlike my cousin, I fly by plane. We had barely received clearance for takeoff when Adelmar returned to his senses. He’s fine.” explained Alma. Turning to Ariadne, she said, “Thank you for your help.”
I kept myself from frowning. I was confident that I could do something about the Slayers turning into dragons if they allowed me to examine them thoroughly, but even my niece was against the idea.
“Isn’t Auntie amazing!?” asked Aaliyah with a larger grin.
“Quite.” replied Alma.
“Lady Pendreigh, she made us drink something. We believe…” started Ai.
Alma interrupted her, saying, “I’m aware. Adelmar informed me. Would everyone care to join me for some tea?”
“I’d like to introduce Auntie to Portentia first. This will be funny.” insisted Aaliyah with a giggle.
I felt as if every hair was standing on end. There was little in this world more dangerous than my niece’s idea of humor. Unfortunately, going against her suggestions was unwise even knowing that there was likely danger ahead, so the group set forth to meet this Portentia.