With under two weeks of school left, a couple of my teachers were actually laying off on the homework. The rest, however, were piling on the work enough to more than counter the other classes and warning us about the difficulties of finals, saying that our final semester still mattered. I was letting Mila do more and more of the driving to give me time for homework. I never dreamed that I would be desperate enough for time to be writing papers in the car. Training sessions with the twins were even more rigorous than before, since they felt we needed all we could get before facing Luke. I wished people would stop assuming that he’s a killer. I agreed that we had to prepare for the possibility, but assumptions based off bias would lead to bad decisions. Where life and death were concerned, I wasn’t willing to act without proof. Friday was here, and all of us were improving greatly. While fighting me, Regina was able to toss a handful of change on the ground and cause every coin to land on edge right where I was stepping, completely throwing me off balance as they moved. Aaliyah offered her banana peel to Regina for the next fight, claiming that it would add to the comedic effect. “Shouldn’t you be on my side,” I asked her. “I am. You need practice, boss-man, sir!” she exclaimed with a grin.
Though he wasn’t nearly on par with even Regina or I, Jarod was becoming proficient with the mixed martial arts Aaliyah was teaching him. I wondered where Aaliyah was taught, since the twins were taking interest in some of the forms he was learning from her. So much of the training, his and mine, was new to me that I couldn’t even guess what was catching their eyes. Aaliyah had also helped Jarod to get a patent out on the engine he designed for Mila. She convinced him the market wasn’t quite right to sell the design yet, but told him he should be able to make a “fair amount” off it when the time came. However much the design was worth, I was certain that Aaliyah would be helping get the most he could out of it. The girl was very generous with her time when she took an interest in something. I had trouble believing that all of the things she did as my secretary were done on the clock as they should be. I wondered how Chad was feeling about how much time she spent away from home for the past month. I really should talk with him about it and make sure he was doing alright. Such a large apartment seemed like it would be lonely without someone else there.
Mai landed a kick to my abs that had me doubled over. The girl was so strong. “Pay attention!” she yelled, probably standing over me. Even with Regina’s magic, I had been able to keep up with her well enough to counter with magic or my body as appropriate. Gaining focus on the magic in the air was growing easier, and I could maintain it now while doing other things. I just needed to keep my mind in the moment when dealing with either of the twins. Their prowess at magic and martial combat still put me to shame. If not for her tiny size, I would have been curious how well Aaliyah’s unique style could keep up with the twins. I couldn’t imagine the girl ever being able to truly defend herself though, since she couldn’t grow, and how could she ever have the strength to subdue someone. After Mai punched my side hard enough I was surprised that my rib didn’t crack, I swore at myself for not keeping focus again. A moment later, Emma was pressing her hand against my side. I felt the strange sensation of her healing pass over my side. “Oh James, this is still going to bruise. Should only last a week if I have enough time at it, but you need to get your head on putting Mai to the ground.” The twins spoke together, saying, “He has probably realized that he can only beat us in his dreams.” Someday, I would show them otherwise.
For now, I was doomed to continue getting bruised and healed what Emma could, which was extremely limited. The ultimate factor was the injured person’s natural ability to heal, since she was, to her knowledge, simply speeding up the process and sensing the progress. My parents had noticed several other bruises already. Father laughed when he found out girls were “beating me up.” Mother, on the other hand, was glad to see I was getting some exercise since I quit track. I still had no plans to tell them about the other training I was doing. Without any way to defend themselves, I couldn’t imagine any good could come from telling them. I tried sweeping Mai’s leg out from under her as I ducked under a kick she aimed for my chest, but she managed to jump my attack, spinning over my head and hitting the back of it while in the air. The twins were faster than I was, better trained, and somehow seemed just as strong. Everyone made mistakes though. I just needed to find a way to cause one and take advantage of it. I used magic to steal Aaliyah’s soda from her cup, projecting it at Mai’s back while I feigned a punch at her head. The soda hit me full in the face, distracting me long enough for her to trip me and lightly hit my chest.
“Nice try, James. You’ll need to do better than that though.” she told me. “Nice try? He took my drink!” protested Aaliyah. I felt that the twins being able to use magic I couldn’t see wasn’t in the least bit fair, but I knew better than to voice the complaint. Our enemies would use every advantage they had against us. Fair fights didn’t exist. “I’m taking Mila to run to the gas station,” said Aaliyah. Luckily, Jarod volunteered to go with her. I didn’t think the twins would let me have a break yet, and I didn’t want Aaliyah out there by herself. Ai was busy instructing Emma and Regina as they were sparring. Emma was faster and stronger, but Regina had improved with her magic and physical technique enough to outmatch her more than half the time. Poor Emma was falling farther and farther behind me in the use of residual magic. Regina and I were told we’d see her at her best later though. The twins hired me for the weekend, planning a camping trip for us all, and said they needed a manservant to set up their tent and fetch firewood. Emma and Regina were going to join us. Jarod had been invited, but he had plans with Laura. Aaliyah had apparently been invited as well, but she claimed that she didn’t enjoy the outdoors too much. I wouldn’t be surprised if she just wanted to have a weekend with Chad, since he was out of town last weekend.
We continued sparring for another half hour before the twins finally said we could go clean up. To my surprise, my parents weren’t at home. Mother had left a note on top of a cooler by the door. The cooler was packed with an assortment of drinks and ice. Reading the note, I found that my parents had decided to have a “night on the town,” since I was going to be gone. Mother truly was the best. Regina, Emma, and I took turns at the shower, though Emma had told Regina and me that she didn’t mind sharing. The twins simply didn’t sweat, not a drop no matter how long we worked out. I didn’t know how they managed it, but I was very envious. Regina helped me grab my stuff and double check that I had everything. The twins insisted on riding with me in Mila, since they were paying “for my services” this weekend. I still felt somewhat awkward being paid to hang out with friends, but what else was I going to do. They were right when they told me that my business gave little distinction between “friend” and “client.” Regina rode with Emma, not wanting to leave Emma alone in her car. Before we were even out of the city, I caught the girls rocking out to music when I glanced in the rearview mirror. At least, I assumed they weren’t moving like that to silence.
Mila was doing more talking than I was in my car, though “arguing” might be a more appropriate term. The twins had printed out a map to the campsite they had picked, claiming that GPS wasn’t likely to work very well. Mila, who was doing the driving once again, was arguing that the map didn’t account for time of day, current traffic congestion, or road construction. The twins continued arguing with her even after Mila put up a display of their route overlayed with the aforementioned problems on the windshield. They claimed there was no way she could be certain of those things. To my great surprise, she then put up live feeds from some of the city’s cameras at the appropriate spots on the map. Though not every dilemma was accounted by video, the twins begrudgingly acceded to Mila’s route. “Ugh.. James. Can we mute the car? She’s just as bad as having Aaliyah around.” stated Ai. Mai added “At least she no longer sounds like her.” Mila responded in her Romanian accent “Boss-man, sir, if you wouldn’t mind stepping out for a moment at the next stop, I can gas the hostiles for you. Your drive will surely be more pleasant with them asleep.” Both of the girls groaned and mumbled about Mila proving their point.
I hadn’t realized quite how long we would be driving. The sun was already down by the time Mila pulled to a stop. We were in a gravel parking lot next to a trail with no sign of a place to camp within sight. The only cars in the small lot were Emma’s and Mila. “I take it we have to hike to the camping spot,” I said as I helped the girls out of the backseat. “Don’t worry. It’s only suppose to be a bit over a mile.” replied Ai. The cooler was not seeming like a very good idea now, but the twins insisted I bring it “in case we get thirsty on the walk.” After we all were loaded up with gear, Emma asked Mila to watch after her car, which I found somewhat amusing. “I have a guard car.” I told her, leaning against Mila with the heavy cooler in my hands. Emma giggled, but Regina rolled her eyes and shook her head. By the time we arrived at the campsite, I felt like collapsing. I didn’t think my arms had ever felt quite so sore. Emma, however, was seeming more rambunctious than ever. She was literally skipping around the woods, completely excited. My break was interrupted all too quickly by the twins telling me I needed to get them each a drink, create a light, and set the tent up. I already could tell this was going to be a very long weekend.