“Oh come on… They couldn’t have hit you that hard. The girls are so tiny!” exclaimed Brandon as I gingerly stood. I should have known better than to sit down immediately after a hard workout. Little Aaliyah had her hand on my waist as if for support, but she had to reach up even to get that high. If I wasn’t so tired, I would be very tempted to tickle her. Instead I made my way over to the wall and responded to Brandon, saying, “If you really think you can take them, be my guest, but I’ve seen you fight and don’t like your odds.” He laughed and stood up before telling me “You haven’t REALLY seen me fight. You’ve only seen that I don’t know your fancy kung phooey stuff. Let me grab some different clothes, and then I’ll show you how to deal with overly trained little girls.” I would say that Brandon was suicidal to taunt the twins like that, but I wasn’t entirely certain of what he was capable. On the other hand, he obviously was underestimating the twins considerably. Beating me up didn’t really demonstrate how strong the girls were to him, and I was betting they were holding back some, having seen them casually break tree branches as thick as my leg. As Brandon hurried out of the gym, Ai and Mai said in unison, “Poor James. You look all worn out. On the bright side, you’ll have time to play with us now! Aren’t you excited?”
The twins were still teasing me at length about how I couldn’t possibly train anyone while being so worn out when Brandon came back into the room, shirtless, shoeless, and holding up his sweats with one hand. Before my eyes he grew to nearly twice his normal height, muscles bulging out till he looked like a gigantic, professional bodybuilder. “Ready to go, little girls?” he taunted. “Oh no, sister, not a giant,” said Ai in a monotone voice. “Whatever will we do?” asked Mai, mirroring her sister’s tone. Ai shrugged slowly and then moved in a blur. She was standing on one leg with her other just past where Brandon’s knee had been. Then she casually flipped forward, raising her hands afterward, as if she was competing in gymnastics at the Olympics, while Brandon collapsed, yelling in pain. The sound was deafening, his massive lungs creating a breeze in the room. His body shrunk, and the sound that accompanied it reminded me of a body being mangled in a horror film. I was astonished when he stood up mere seconds later and exclaimed “That was completely unfair! Were you using magic? I barely saw you move! You had to have cheated.” Aaliyah, who had walked up to his leg during the tirade, started poking at the back of his knee. “Hey! That’s ticklish! Cut it out!” he told her.
With a dramatic sigh, Ai said, “Oh sister, the soulless creature is complaining again. Where are our servants to deal with him?” Mai, looking apologetic, responded “Poor Ai. We must have forgotten them in Japan when we left. Now who will save us from this untrained ape?” Brandon looked back and forth at them and said, while trying to hold in laughs, “Come on you two. Fight fair, and I can totally take you.” As Emma lifted Aaliyah away from Brandon’s leg, she asked “How did you know he could heal from that?” Ai looked at her in disbelief and said, “I didn’t. If he couldn’t heal, maybe he would actually learn some respect for his betters.” I felt a surge of anger over how casually Ai would give someone such a crippling injury, but I held my tongue and tried to reason things through as they continued to talk. Brenna spoke up hesitantly and said, “Umm… for future notice, I can’t heal from that, so please don’t break me on a whim.” Mai told her “Just show your training some respect, and we’ll be kind. Your brother is just too big for his britches.” Laughing, Ai corrected her, saying, “They’re too big for him at the moment, dear sister.” Mai stuck her tongue at Ai before telling Brandon “You have no real skill. Brute force can be helpful, but you need to learn how to anticipate attacks. We’ve done this our whole lives and still know some who are better.” Emma piped up and said, “So basically, never underestimate how evil the twins are!” Ai and Mai glared at her as she high-fived Aaliyah.
“You know that I’d win if you didn’t use magic though, right?” asked Brandon, still pursuing the subject. Ai threw him to the floor before telling him “I didn’t. You’re not the only one who isn’t entirely human. Though few in number if you look at percentages, there are many who could break you with ease. Learn how to fight before challenging us.” Mai had joined Ai in speaking on the last sentence. Brandon was staring up at them in disbelief but just nodded. The twins then turned to me with a smile and said, “See you in the ballroom, James!” I sighed and then said, “Hey, Emma… mind giving me a bit of help?” She looked confused for a second, and then told me “Oh! Sorry, man-slave!” as she realized I wanted help healing. “They really didn’t use magic?” inquired Brandon, who got to his feet while Emma knelt by me. “No magic at all. You should see those two spar with Emma in a forest sometime. With all three using magic, it’s quite the show.” I explained. Emma, whose magic I could feel helping me heal, then told him “Actually, we were just fooling around when James saw us. If Ai and Mai were my enemies, whoever attacked first would probably be the victor in a forest. I can force a plant to grow straight through someone, but they know far more about residual magic than I do and have very strong water magic, especially when working together.”
“Okay. Okay. I’ll take the kung phooey more seriously.” stated Brandon. Brenna started laughing. When she noticed Emma and I staring at her, she said, “Sorry. I’m sorry, but I’ve never seen Brandon be so quick to get serious about something. Still is gross to see his bones break.” My anger at the twins had mostly subsided, but their callousness was very disturbing. Even if they had known that Brandon would heal, what was the point of being so brutal to an ally? At best, I could hope that they were simply trying to force the point on Brandon of how fragile he was compared to them. At worst, they might only be slightly less dangerous to mankind than Alma. Maybe I could get Emma alone sometime soon to talk with her about why she seemed to trust them. Things were much simpler when I had thought of the twins just as beautiful clients or difficult instructors. Worrying over whether or not I let a Trojan horse through my door was making my tired brain ache. I looked at my shoulder when Aaliyah touched it, but found her looking at her hand and making a disgusted face. “You’re sweaty, boss-man, sir. I bet we can talk Emma into helping Brenna practice magic later if you demonstrate how to clean up with it. Then we can all go play!” commented Aaliyah while smiling at Emma. Emma laughed, lightly poked Aaliyah’s nose, and said, “You silly goose! Of course, I’ll help Brenna.”
Brandon, and even Brenna, looked happy about the idea of gaming instead of training today, so I gave up. I told Brenna to pay attention, took a deep breath to help my tired mind focus, and cast a spell to clean myself and Emma’s hand of my sweat. We then joined the twins in gaming for what was a rather delightful time in that strange, fantastical world. If people realized that I saw magic daily, had an employee who could change size, and had faced two types of vicious therianthropes, they would probably wonder at how I could enjoy a game in a world so similar to my own in the dangers I faced. I wasn’t entirely sure what I would say to such questioning, but I was certain the sense of adventure combined with the lack of fatal consequence in the game lent well to my peace of mind. In the real world, I was soon to face my parents without any buffer between me and their sorrow over having been ignored for a whole month by their only son. I was certain they knew I was depressed over the loss of Regina, but allowing myself to be overwhelmed by it was inexcusable. No matter what crazy twists came my way in the future, I needed to always let my parents know that I still loved them and would be there for them whenever they need me. Mother surely missed Regina as well. I needed to make amends.