Mila opened the doors to my home as I approached with Alma and my parents. I took pause, looking at the crowd assembled in the hall. Save for Marco, Aaliyah, and Portentia, everyone was here, though Raine was practically hiding behind Emma and Cosette.
Stepping forward, Mila said, “I took the liberty of informing everyone that they should gather if interested in demonstrating their abilities.”
Father looked at all of them dubiously, but mother at least seemed curious. They both still followed me inside.
Brandon took one enormous step forward as he doubled in height, causing the loose clothes he wore to pull taut against his new frame. “How’s it going?” he asked with a grin.
Mother had ducked behind father, but whispered “That’s amazing…”
Father nodded and reached up to shake Brandon’s enormous hand. “Good to see you again.” he stated, sounding a bit gruff.
“Pick a color.” ordered Brenna as she stepped in front of her brother.
“Pardon?” asked father.
“Blue.” stated mother.
Father bumped into mother as he attempted to step backward. Brenna’s hair was now a dark blue, and her skin was light blue.
“She saves a ton on hair dyes.” teased Emma.
“No need to be jealous, just because mine’s natural.” replied Brenna with a smile.
Sighing dramatically, Emma said, “You know I am.”
“And what do you… do?” asked father.
Emma smiled and said, “Best wait on mine till we’re outside again.”
“Is it dangerous then?” he asked.
“Oh no. It’s fun!” she insisted.
“I’m a vampire.” interjected Cosette.
“I… see.” stated father.
“No, really. Check out these fangs!” exclaimed Cosette as all of her teeth elongated and sharpened to points.
Father froze in place, looking startled as mother hugged him from behind.
“I believe you have a few too many.” I stated.
Cosette rolled her eyes and most of her teeth returned to normal, only leaving the top two canines slightly elongated. “Is this better?” she asked.
I nodded and told her “Much more traditional.”
“No, not really. You know… oh, yes. Your parents probably don’t yet. Most vampires only grow fangs like this as a joke.” she informed them, returning hers to normal. “Some of us are fans of vampire stories and legends.”
“Ah.” stated father. “So are you actually supposed to be hundreds of years old?”
“No, actually. I’m sixteen. I was fifteen when we met. Sorry for the deception. My new identity states that I’m twenty.” she replied.
“New identity?” asked mother.
“Why do you need a new identity?” asked father.
“My parents died, and I was advised not to keep ties to their last identity.” she informed them.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” stated father. “Was it the vampire who turned you that killed them?”
She smiled ruefully and said, “I was born a vampire.”
“Oh.” replied my parents in near unison.
“Vampires can be made from humans as well.” I assured them.
“Do you actually… well… do you drink blood?” asked mother.
Cosette nodded as she said, “Yes, in a manner of speaking. Blood is a necessity.”
“But you don’t kill people?” asked father.
“No, I do not, nor have I ever. I’m blessed with knowing someone that has a limitless supply.” she told him.
“Portentia.” I stated.
“What an adorable kitten!” exclaimed mother as she noticed Emma picking up Raine. “Is it yours?”
Emma giggled and said, “I wish.”
“That’s one of my employees, mother.” I told her.
“What? Son, how can you employ a cat?” asked father.
“Remember Raine from Thanksgiving?” I asked.
“The shy girl?” he inquired.
“Oh.” stated mother.
“Raine’s a therianthrope, similar to a werewolf.” I told them.
“But sooo much cuter!” exclaimed Emma, hugging Raine.
“She usually seems more comfortable around people in her present form. Of course, she might just be trying to hide.” I suggested, seeing how she was trying to nuzzle farther behind Emma’s arm.
“Oh!” gasped mother as my little fairy friend flew to me.
“Sorry, master, but she has been searching for you for hours. I still haven’t perfected a way to tell her you’re out.” stated Mila.
Father’s eyes were wide as he stared at the tiny fairy hugging my nose.
“Yes, father, I believe in fairies.” I told him with a smirk.
“Me too, dear.” stated mother, still staring in awe.
My little friend was being as chatty as ever.
“What am I seeing, son?” asked father in a whisper.
“Her day. This is how the fey communicate, projecting images, sounds, and even feelings directly into your mind. The other creatures you don’t recognize are other types of fey. They all live in my forest.” I informed him.
“James tends to neglect telling anyone that fey can be dangerous.” stated Alma. “They are, however, the absolute masters of parties.” The last part was said with a breathtakingly beautiful smile.
“How could she possibly be dangerous?” asked mother.
“She can project light with lethal intensity, just like a laser weapon.” replied Alma.
“She can also bend light around herself, practically becoming invisible.” I added.
“She’s also good at stealing food.” stated Ai.
“She loves to take my bacon.” insisted Mai.
“And sausages.” agreed Ai.
“You’d be amazed by how much she can eat.” they concluded in unison.
“And what do you two do?” asked father.
“Let her.” stated Mai.
“We don’t want cooked.” agreed Ai.
They grinned and ducked behind Jarod. I noticed Alma was frowning at them when I glanced at her.
“I believe those three want to announce something.” she stated.
“Yes, actually.” agreed Jarod. “We’re engaged.”
There were numerous cheers from those assembled. I stepped closer to shake Jarod’s hand and congratulate him.
“To which one?” asked mother.
“Both.” he replied.
The twins held out their hands bearing matching engagement rings.
“But… is that even legal?” asked father.
“Generally, no, but we’ve sorted out how we want to proceed already.” stated Jarod.
I placed my hand on my father’s shoulder and said, “Just be happy for them. I assure you there are good reasons for this.”
He gave me a long look but nodded. “Congratulations to all of you.” he told them.
“When will the wedding be?” asked mother.
“We need to sort some things out with our family before we make official announcements.” replied the twins.
Alma flatly stated “Oh joy. You haven’t informed your mother yet.”
The twins grinned at her.
Shaking her head, she smiled and told them “You know I will back you.” Then she turned to Jarod and said, “I would like to discuss some things with you later.”
He nodded, grinning ear-to-ear.
“We, by the way…” started Mai.
“Can control water.” finished Ai.
As they spoke, I felt their magic in action. The air around us was becoming dry as water gathered around the three, forming swimming fish.
“And I,” stated Jarod, “control them.”
He winced and grinned more as they each punched him in the side.
“I never realized you enjoyed living quite so dangerously.” teased father.
I was happy to see some of his good humor returning.
“My turn!” exclaimed Emma, skipping forward.
Jarod stepped back, saying, “Not everyone gets a turn to punch me.”
“Yeah!” exclaimed Ai.
“He’s our punching bag.” insisted Mai.
Emma stuck her tongue out at them before turning to my parents and saying, “I got a bit excited when I was told you two were coming to see magic, so please indulge me.”
Mother smiled and said, “Since you insist.”
Father looked less optimistic, but followed Emma toward the back of my home. The rest of us followed behind.
“James surely mentioned that I’m his gardener at some point, but I think you’ll enjoy seeing how I garden.” claimed Emma.
“Is that really Raine?” asked mother.
“Sure is! She’s just the cutest kitten ever.” cooed Emma.
Looking at Raine as they walked, father said, “Stories of lycanthropes always make them seem strong and dangerous. I never really considered a similar creature… er… person being so… tiny.”
“Her kind can also assume a hybrid form with cat-like claws and teeth in a more humanoid shape. You really can’t judge something strictly on appearance.” warned Alma.
“Is she sleeping?” asked mother.
“Probably.” replied Emma. “Even when she’s a human, she just dozes off wherever she feels warm. She played Ancient Tribes of Earth with us before we ever met her. She’s got incredible crafting skills in the game, but randomly stopped responding at times. I never really understood until she moved here. She’ll be in the middle of doing something and suddenly be out like a light.”
“When she disappeared at Thanksgiving, had she turned into a cat?” asked father.
“Oh, no. She fell asleep at the table and slid out of her chair. We just let her sleep when she wants. She gets… umm… skittish.” she told him.
“Skittish?” asked father. “You can’t mean…” He turned to look at me.
I could see that something had clicked in his head. Why did Emma and I have to both refer to Raine as being “skittish”?
“Raine is unique, as far as I know. She’s quite incredible.” replied Alma.
Father simply nodded.
Conversation turned back to Emma’s gardening as she told my parents of the different types of plants throughout my yard. I felt her details were a bit excessive, my parents seemed to like the normality of the conversation.
When we arrived out by the garden, mother’s shock was evident as she said, “James, you still have fresh vegetables? There’s snow on the ground!”
“Alma taught me a nice spell to keep the garden warm for Marco. He has trouble finding things in the snow.” explained Emma.
“And how do you find things?” asked father.
“With bare feet!” she teased with a wink. She slipped off her shoes and jumped into the snow. Plants quickly enveloped her leg up to her calf.
“What is that?” asked mother.
“Just grass. James will have green grass all year. If you want a snack before dinner, how about an apple? Maybe an orange? We’ve got cherries and grapes! Do you like pears?” she asked. With every fruit she named, matching plants erupted from the ground. She continued naming more, and the plants came far faster than she spoke, creating a sort of arched hall filled with fruits. “They’re as fresh and ripe as you could hope for!”
“Emma’s produce always tastes amazing. Marco loves having her around.” I confided.
“I’m sure.” stated mother, as she looked around.
“They’re really safe then?” asked father.
Alma smiled and told them “Perfectly. I actually had some concerns myself initially and personally conducted numerous tests. There are obviously no preservatives or insecticides used here, and each fruit is a perfect specimen.”
“Try some.” insisted Emma with a wink. “And then come this way! I have more ahead.”
We followed Emma through her small forest as she talked about the different types of plants. Flowers came into bloom with her every step, and no more snow could be found beneath the canopy, pushed aside by the verdant ground. A larger clearing ahead had wooden tables and chairs awaiting us.
“How did these get here?” asked mother. “This furniture’s beautiful even unfinished.”
Emma turned back at her and grinned, saying, “I grew them as we walked. I’ve gotten better with furniture, since I moved here. I need to come up with some more designs, but you’ll find no seams in the wood. No nails needed. Everything’s perfectly solid.”
She then explained what types of wood she used, blending different types of trees together to provide some of the unique coloring. Emma’s knowledge on plants really was extensive.
Grinning, she said, “I’m gradually collecting every type of seed in the world, so I’ll be able to grow anything we might want. Just let me know if you two ever want anything I can provide. I really don’t mind at all.”
“Will all of this vegetation remain when we go inside? I mean, how long does it last?” asked father.
“The plants are perfectly real, Mr. Somerset. I just encourage them to grow. If I left them be, they’d live their normal lives from their current growth. This would be a rather awkward spot to leave a grove though, so I’ll clean them up.” explained Emma.
Father gasped as everything around him shrank down, returning to seeds. Even the unused tables and chairs sprung alive and returned to seeds.
“That’s incredible. You could easily have a business of your own, and your profit margins would be enormous.” he announced. “I must ask… why are you working for my son?”
Emma giggled and said, “This is home. What more could I really want?”
I smiled, thankful she shared the feeling. This was home.