Days passed in a blur of activity since Regina’s discovery of Luke. Her father’s secretary had sent an article about one of his recent purchases, a rundown factory he planned to remodel, over to Regina, which was how the secretary had always tried keeping Regina in the loop. When looking at the picture, Regina noticed Luke at the far edge of the building, entering through a side door. The twins had bluntly told us that we were nearly ready to face him, but they wanted to teach us more about how to kill with magic first, warning us again about his strength and speed. They had pointed out how Luke was only dazed after being slammed through concrete by my spell, and how messy that was to clean up. I felt as part of me was shriveling up inside as they had lectured. I looked up information on Nathan’s funeral, which I had already missed by a day. His parents had him cremated after finding out that “a wild animal” had ravaged their son “as he was leaving the school.” The twins had covered the whole thing up. When I asked, they said they had hired a crew to go in that night and fix the wall. I couldn’t believe that I had let Nathan’s death slip my mind so quickly, but I hadn’t wanted to think about it. Ever since Aaliyah’s party, I was constantly busy with other things and just didn’t think on Nathan’s death, save for wanting revenge.
Now that revenge was so close at hand, I found myself questioning once again if I could actually take a life. I knew that Luke killed Nathan and that he could easily kill again in a fit of rage. I knew the police weren’t going to be searching for a boy when Nathan was clearly killed by an animal, but I wasn’t sure if I could put that animal down. I hadn’t even meant to throw Luke as hard as I did. I was scared and not thinking clearly about what putting so much energy into a spell could do. Knowing that Luke took that hit and healed from it within minutes was intimidating as well. If he had been human, I would have killed him on accident. As he was, I was too late to save Nathan and wouldn’t have even saved myself if Luke hadn’t ran. He could have easily came up behind me and killed me as I was trying to figure out what to do. Was I really ready for this? No. Was there any choice? Always, but I wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt if I found out that Luke killed again. What if he decided to strike back at me and went after my parents? They didn’t have any way to defend themselves. Neither of them even owned a weapon.
When I thought about that, I had immediately sent Aaliyah a text, once more ignoring that she was on vacation. She had agreed to design a security system for my parents’ house for me when she returned and then sent me a picture of her and Chad at the beach. That girl’s smile took up half her face when she was with her father. I already had felt a bit more secure in my parent’s safety though. Aaliyah’s work was always in a league of her own, and I could surely talk my parents into taking a vacation for long enough to get whatever Aaliyah designed installed. I was tempted to tell the girl “no missiles”, not wanting part of the neighborhood destroyed, but I had to trust that Aaliyah’s targeting systems were as amazing as everything else. I wasn’t as worried about the mansion with the twins around. If someone attacked us from the yard, Mila would probably drive my car out there and run them over. Or shoot them. I would hope she wouldn’t blow them up close to the house. I still shuddered involuntarily whenever I considered why Aaliyah felt Mila needed such powerful missiles. I didn’t want to meet anything that could survive a direct hit from a small missile. The twins still thought that some of the weapon’s Mila listed as being in the car couldn’t possibly fit, but I couldn’t bring myself to doubt Aaliyah, not after seeing so many of her accomplishments.
I spent four hours each day training in the morning, worked two to three jobs, and then trained another two hours with the twins each night. The training was far more intense than normal, and the twins were not being remotely gentle. Regina, Jarod, and I all needed Emma’s help healing just to keep up with the insane workouts. I fell asleep two of the nights while Emma was helping me heal. She didn’t complain, but I felt exceptionally uncomfortable when I woke with her arm and leg around me. I felt some consolation one morning where Emma and Regina had walked in late for breakfast. Regina’s embarrassed blush was priceless when Emma had apologized for being late while explaining that Regina was quite the cuddler. Marco’s hearty laughter had only pushed Regina’s blush into a deeper shade of red. I was growing more and more appreciative of his cooking as time passed. After the second time Marco mentioned that he would need to know my schedule if he were to prepare meals for me accordingly, I told Mila to give him access as Aaliyah updated it. Then the man always had something magnificent prepared for me to eat. If I ate in the kitchen, he would regale me with tales from his youth in Italy, many of which seemed improbable.
Jarod drove over each day, often early enough for breakfast. When I suggested he stayed the night and actually give a bed a try, he told me “Nah, man. Don’t want my parents thinking I live here of anything. Then they’ll force me to move out! Can you imagine me doing laundry?” I still hadn’t actually met a single one of the maids or even checked out the employee wing, but everything in the house was looking spotless. Someone must have been making my bed, and my clothes were getting laundered daily. After we took care of Luke, I wanted to make sure I met these mystery cleaners. Father would be disappointed if he learned I hadn’t yet, especially with them taking such good care of me. He probably would be disappointed that I hadn’t officially started training Jarod still, especially with Jarod taking a job as a Best Friend at least once each day. I had at least checked the feedback from his clients, and they were all complimentary so far. When I asked him how he felt things were going, he just said, “Eh. They’re going fine. I wasn’t really into the painting the other day, but Chuck’s a cool guy. We had some fun.” I was glad that he didn’t have any major complaints yet. Beyond an employee, I didn’t want to alienate my best friend by being a bad boss.
By Monday, I realized that there were decorative plants throughout the house now. When I asked Emma what she thought of them after practice, she laughed and said, “I planted them silly. Part of my rent is covered by taking care of everything that grows. Houses look better with a bit of life in and around them.” Regina then told me “Haven’t you noticed how your grass doesn’t grow? Emma told it not to. She also takes care of your garden, the labyrinth, and everything else green out there.” I felt a bit embarrassed when I admitted that I didn’t realize we had a garden, much less a labyrinth. Regina and Emma walked with me through Emma’s floor of the northeast wing on the way to make me look at my backyard, and I felt as if part of the yard had moved indoors. Beyond the numerous living plants, every piece of furniture appeared to be mostly made of wicker. Emma, seeing my surprise, explained that she grew her furniture from the willow tree in my yard to save some money. I smiled and told her “You could make a fortune if you went into construction.” She shrugged and sheepishly said, “I kinda get a bit attached to the things I grow. People would probably get weirded out if I showed up weekly to talk to their house.”
We all were up far later than we should have been, only partly due to getting lost in the enormous labyrinth before Emma took her shoes off. At the labyrinth’s center was a small, but beautiful, pond that had stone benches and statues around it. Some of the statues were of beasts that I hoped were truly mythical. Others were lifelike people, mostly striking heroic poses with their stone weapons. With the moon reflecting in the pond, the place was far too serene for us not to enjoy after five days of intense workouts. The three of us took turns moving the water around the pond with magic, creating swirling designs to be lit by the moon. Emma’s had me beat in beauty, but Regina made Emma and I both gasp in awe as a spiraling tower surrounded by smaller intricate designs rose out of the water. Each of the tiny droplets surrounding the central design captured moonlight and added another sparkle. When we headed inside together, Emma explained that she usually just stuck her feet out of the door to tend to the yard, and then she thanked us for letting her see how beautiful it was in person. Emma then said, “You still have to see the rest of your yard sometime, man-slave. I keep a very well-stocked garden for you, and Marco makes wonders out of it.”
I had smiled happily as I was leaving her room, but a growing sense of dread had joined me part way back to my own. Tomorrow, we were going to kill Luke, who had been my trackmate before he murdered Nathan. With all of the new spells and new uses for spells Ai and Mai had drilled into my head, I felt that I would be a match for him alone. I was certain that he wouldn’t have a chance against all of us, but even with the twins assuring me that they’d be able to take care of the cleanup afterward, I couldn’t feel easy about the idea of taking a life. Who could rightly be judge, jury, and executioner? Our society didn’t work that way. Yet I couldn’t ignore that our society didn’t acknowledge anything supernatural as reality. We had no laws directly regarding the use of magic. There weren’t special prisons for beings that could change their shape. What could the most decorated police officer do against the vampire who killed Emma’s father? Most likely, he would die without a clue of how or why. With knowledge of a world where normal people had no way to defend themselves and with the ability to act, how could I possibly stand by and let more helpless people be slain. I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling I had about killing someone, so I took slow, deep breaths and tried to convince myself to sleep. Tomorrow would be a busy day.