“I thought you were bringing food, Emma! I would have gladly brought enough for us all if you simply would have told me you weren’t instead of saying not to worry about it. What are we going to do now, starve ourselves for a few days?” complained Regina. Emma, who had been smirking at Regina’s little rant, said, “Chill, Regina. Do you think the twins would go a day without food? They eat more than I do!” I was still working on the setting up the first tent, which was nearly completed now. The twins were making me do everything with magic, a task easily failed if I wasn’t extremely careful and precise. I was far more skilled than I had been when they first taught me how to move things with magic, but the level of concentration needed to manipulate multiple things simultaneously was taxing, especially after having carried a cooler filled with drinks here. The twins complained the whole time, of course, and were making Emma and Regina practice some as well, though nothing so strenuous. Even after I finished slipping the last tentpole into its pin, I was surprised at the amount of energy surrounding this part of the woods. There was far more than I had ever seen concentrated in one spot, save for that silhouette left after Luke had transformed.
“James, stop slacking,” said Ai. “Please, James, you’ll have all night to relax if you just finish setting up camp first. I’m thirsty. Would you fetch us some water?” stated Mai. I carefully maneuvered the energy to lift the lid of the cooler and then made a seeking spell to feel out the water, so I wouldn’t have to stand and peer inside. Either my spell was made wrong or there was no water to be found there. Ai let out an exaggerated sigh and spoke of how thirsty she was as I made the cooler float over to me. My gasp drew Regina’s attention, and she inquired “What’s the matter?” I just groaned and pointed at the cooler before laying on the grass. There wasn’t a single drop of water or other drink left in the cooler. All of the bottles had obviously burst and even the ice was gone. Though I wasn’t surprised someone managed to do that without me noticing in my state, I was certain no one could have done it without the twins catching them at it, leaving them as the most likely culprits. “Oh. That’s just mean, you two. Can’t you give him a little break?” asked Emma, who was now standing next to Regina and looking into the cooler. “Fine-fine, but we’re not going to be so lenient tomorrow. Emma, won’t you get us all some food while we take care of the rest?” they replied in unison.
I quickly gained focus again to try catching what all was being done as the second tent seemed to erect itself in seconds. As that was happening, the twins’ bags were unpacking themselves in the first tent and several gallons of water came floating into the camp. I caught a spell being made to seek something I didn’t recognize, only to assume moments later that it was some way to find dry wood when firewood began piling itself in a circle of earth that sunk into the ground. I studied the spell for setting the wood ablaze in the brief seconds I was given. I definitely wouldn’t be trying that one without getting another look at it for fear of what I might accidently set on fire. Glancing at the twins, I was surprised to find them caught in obvious concentration for once. I was very much accustomed to them making everything seem completely easy, though they still didn’t seem remotely strained by their efforts, just focused. I was drawn back to what they were doing when Mai started explaining and demonstrating how to remove impurities from water. Thankfully, she gave me several minutes to study the pattern of the spell before she set it to work on a small portion of the floating water. The majority of the spells I knew were far simpler, containing mostly repetition. Mai explained what each part of the spell did and guided me in duplicating the effect.
I had been so wrapped up in the explanation that I completely missed Emma’s return, until Ai started telling her to attempt the spell as well. When at last we both could do that spell to the satisfaction of the twins, we were allowed to drink and eat. Regina seemed to enjoy having me carefully guide the purified water into her mouth, though she blushed when Emma did so for her and followed the drink with a kiss on the cheek. “Ugh… I can’t believe you only got us rabbit food, Emma,” said Ai. “Where’s the meat?” complained Mai. “I’ve never skinned an animal and honestly feel a bit squeamish about killing one.” she replied. “Sure-sure. You’ll eat the thing when someone else kills it, but won’t take care of it yourself.” said Ai with a shake of her head. With the smile on her lips and the twinkle in her eye, she seemed far more amused than scornful. Emma actually seemed annoyed by the remark. I still wondered at the relationship between the twins and Emma from time to time. Something seemed off, and I wasn’t entirely sure what. Alpy, the cousin of the twins who introduced them to Emma, was probably the key. I was really curious what she was like, considering how highly they always spoke of her abilities. Before I got too lost in thought, the twins came to sit at my sides and started quizzing me on different magical patterns.
When at last we were all heading to bed, sleeping arrangements became an issue. With how enormous the twins’ tent was, I had assumed all of the girls were going to sleep in it. The twins were against the idea of sharing their tent until Regina and Emma started putting their stuff into mine, which was only big enough to fit two comfortably. After some debate during which I was entirely ignored, the girls decided to use my tent for storage and changing. “I truly would feel more comfortable sleeping in my own tent, and I don’t mind sharing with the bags at all.” Eight eyes stared at me briefly before Emma took my sleeping bag and unrolled it in the twins’ tent. “This is safer, James,” said Ai. “You really don’t want to be alone if something attacks us.” explained Mai. Regina then said, “Plus, none of us like the idea of our man-servant…” Emma interjected “man-slave” as Regina continued, saying, “being stolen away by some woodland girl in the night.” Emma gaped at her and replied “Hey! I wouldn’t be ‘stealing’ him. I’d be borrowing.” Regina gave Emma a confused expression before saying, “I meant that James seems to find girls anywhere he goes, and none of us want some unknown girl stealing him in the night.” Emma mouthed “Oh.” as Ai and Mai agreed with Regina. “She’s right, James. You never know what’s out there,” said the twins in unison.
I woke countless times in the night due to the girls’ determination to all squeeze around me, but the smell that woke me in the morning could have been a divine gift. I carefully slid my arm out from under Emma, and then gently lifted Regina’s head off my chest, unfortunately waking her. Her lips were against mine before an apology even left my mouth, and I cursed the difficulties of being a male in the morning. Especially when a giggling Emma said, “Save some for me!” Ai and Mai called from outside the tent “There’s enough for all of you if you finally get up!” Emma just had to say, “I was talking to Regina and James. They’re kissing,” in reply. The twins yelled back “Get the man-slave to behave himself or breakfast is canceled!” Regina told them “I think he’s behaving perfectly, but I’d love some breakfast!” I rolled over and buried my head in my pillow after telling them I’d be out in a few minutes. I worried about missing whatever was giving off that fantastic smell until I at last felt comfortable leaving the tent to claim some. I stood at the tent entrance for a moment, staring at the cooking meat that floated over the fire as Ai sprinkled some sort of seasoning on it. The twins obviously came prepared to cook by the small, wooden box of seasonings not far from the fire. I was amused to find that Regina was letting Emma feed her, but the food would be too hot to touch and utensils were nowhere to be found.
Before I even finished savoring the delicious meat, which turned out to be venison, Mai announced that it was time for more training. I was still chewing the last bite as I took my turn changing clothes. Regina and I were the only ones who seemed to feel that covering up in the woods was necessary. I never really had an issue with bugs biting me, but getting scratched was extremely easy, especially if we were going to spar at all. Ai and Mai wore matching blue workout capris and tank tops, while Emma wore pink spandex shorts and a matching workout bra that I found even more distracting than the twins’ outfits. Emma wasn’t even wearing shoes, which made my feet feel sore at the thought. After what seemed like a good ten minutes of diverting my eyes from the girls, we were in an area that was more crowded with trees than where we had camped. “This looks good. You two need far more practice fighting against the unexpected.” explained Mai. Then Ai said, “To help you with that, we’ve convinced Emma to provide some distraction while you two try utilizing your surroundings against one another. No magic. Just melee.” Regina looked as uncertain as I felt about this idea, but we squared up and started at the twins’ command.
Emma didn’t have to do anything to distract us. Regina and I both had tremendous difficulties keeping our footing in the forest, each step potentially leading to our clothing getting caught or an unseen root tripping us. The twins encouraged us to continue fumbling along for quite some time before they allowed us a break. “You two are honestly not doing bad considering everything.” commented Ai. “If Emma decided to mess with us, I doubt we’d truly fare any better,” said Mai. Emma was casually leaning against a tree and smiling. I focused on her and found that her whole body was covered in residual energy. As I continued to watch, I saw a far greater flow of energy from her heart than I had seen when she first made a flower blossom in front of me. “What exactly are you doing?” I asked. The twins looked at one another and then said, “How about we reintroduce you to Emma?” Both of them ran at her, only to have grass wrapping up around their legs as they moved, but I could see the grass being cut as spells I couldn’t follow were being made by the twins. Mai tried to sweep out Emma’s feet as Ai leapt into the air and kicked at her chest. Emma’s entire body was pulsing with bright light, leaving massive amounts of residual energy in her wake. Massive roots cracked and then healed almost instantly as they blocked Mai’s sweep and bound her to the ground. At the same time, a branch swatted Ai to the ground hard enough that I feared that she’d have broken bones.
Amazingly, Ai had landed in a crouch and was darting after Emma, who had started moving the moment the twins were deflected. I looked back to Mai and found the roots that bound her withering and breaking. The water from the tree formed a sword-like shape in her hand and seemed to freeze solid. Watching her, I had missed how Ai became neck-deep in the ground. A gust of wind threw Emma into the air, but she caught a tree branch as it swung down toward her and flipped up onto it. The earth parted around Ai, and she quickly pulled herself out. Ai and Mai joined hands and the whole tree Emma was on withered and cracked as a stream of water leapt from it at Emma. Before the stream could touch her, a mass of roots encompassed it, and the tree flourished once more. The twins dove to opposite sides as the roots slammed back to the ground where they had been. Mai’s sword cut through them, but seemed ineffectual as the roots reconnected a moment later. As I watched the fight go back and forth between the twins and Emma, I questioned again the life I was choosing. What could I possibly do to help people survive in a world where beings wielded such potent power? I never dreamed Emma could be so dangerous… or so entirely beautiful. She had always seemed lively to me, but here in the forest she seemed to be an incarnation of life, every touch making things grow and thrive. There was so very much for me to learn.