“So… who’s gonna knock?”
“You’re the oldest.”
“Fae likes you the most.”
Shana sighed. “I keep thinking my older siblings are adults, and I keep getting disappointed,” she said.
“So… are you gonna knock?” Caleb asked.
Shana, Shias, and Caleb stood at the door to Fae’s dorm room at Grimoire University. There was a small dry-erase board on the door, which had written on it “Fae’s Room,” “Knock: It’s Polite,” “No Boys Allowed,” and “will you out w/me?” That last grammatically incomplete phrase was written in a hastily scrawled, messy style that was clearly different from the neat and stylish handwriting for the other three messages.
“It says ‘no boys allowed’,” Shias offered. “I’m guessing that will include us.”
“But you’re her brothers,” Shana said. “There are always exceptions.”
“Is anyone gonna knock?” Caleb asked.
Shana sighed, shaking her head. “I will,” she said. She knocked three times, and the door opened almost instantly.
“I could hear you three arguing outside the whole time.”
Standing in the doorway was their sister, Fae Greyson. If the twins and Caleb took after their mother in appearance, Fae was the spitting image of her. That was only in appearance, though. She had the looks, but none of the warmth of the Greyson matriarch. Couple that with her choice of glasses – wide frames that seemed to make her dark, glaring eyes seem larger than they were – and she was rather intimidating.
“Hey, Fae,” Caleb offered meekly with a wave. “Long time.”
“Did you notice the sign?” Fae asked, pointing to the “No Boys Allowed” on her dry-erase board. As she did, she noticed the “will you out w/me?” message and glared at it. Unclipping the eraser from the side of the board, she hastily eliminated the messy scrawl.
“Yeah, but, you know, we just thought, since we’re your family…” Caleb was clearly struggling to form ordinary sentences, and his voice had risen in pitch. Shana would have found it comical if Fae wasn’t glowering at the trio.
“What do you want?” Fae asked. Her tone was low and empty of emotion, and the main thing that Shana always found made her older sister unapproachable. No matter what, she always seemed like she didn’t want to have anything to do with other people.
One arm was on the open door, the other on the silver belt around her black dress. She was slender like her siblings, but her posture clearly was blocking her room from entry.
“We thought we’d visit,” Shias said. Like Caleb, he was also breaking from his usual demeanor, showing how nervous he was. “It’s been a long time.”
“Whose idea was this?” Fae asked. She glared at Caleb.
“You don’t have to look at me like that,” Caleb said, waving his hands innocently. “I just… you never answer my calls or texts. I was worried about you.”
Fae chuckled, but with her mouth in a thin, unsmiling line, it was hard to find any mirth in it. “Worried,” she said dryly. “Right.”
“Can we… I just…” Shana fumbled for words. “I missed you.”
There was a long silence, with Fae watching Shana with a strange look in her eyes. Her expression seemed to have softened, for just a moment, before she looked to Caleb and Shias, glaring again.
“You two can leave,” she said simply. “Shana can stay.”
“Wha –” Caleb started, unable to even finish his first word.
“It is on the sign,” Shias muttered, shrugging his shoulders.
“Are you sure?” Shana asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.
Fae nodded, stepping aside to allow Shana entry. “Come on in,” she said.
Shana looked back at her brothers, who both nodded, so she stepped into the dorm room. Fae quickly closed and locked the door, separating the girls from their brothers.
“So… this is your room,” Shana said nervously, taking in the sights.
She hadn’t known Fae had a single room. There was only one bed, with black and grey sheets and pillows. Two windows that should have let in the silver moonlight were shaded with dark curtains. Rather than using the bright overhead light, Fae lit the room with two lamps in opposite corners, each giving off a dark blue tint. Fae’s desk was neat, with sketchbooks, erasers, and drawing implements stacked next to her closed laptop, a tablet on the attached shelf, several styluses and tablet pens, and only a few pieces of memorabilia and decorations. Shana recognized the figurines and plushies that Fae decorated her desk and shelves with. They were characters from a variety of fantasy and sci-fi shows that Fae had enjoyed through high school, and two dozen Blu-ray discs of some of those shows were bookended by figurines – one of an armored female knight with sword and shield, the other of a starship captain in uniform, with a blaster holstered at her hip.
“You don’t have any roommates?” Shana asked.
“Nope,” Fae said, sitting in her desk chair and gesturing to her bed. Shana took a seat. “I did last year, but we both wanted single rooms, and luckily two opened up.”
“Are you still friends?” Shana asked.
Fae finally cracked a smile, laughing softly. “Come on, don’t look so scared,” she said. “Yeah, we’re still friends. I have a bunch of friends, actually. I’m part of the animation club.”
Shana smiled. “Just like in high school,” she said. “I’m glad you’re still doing that. I always loved your drawings.”
Fae looked like she was blushing as she glanced away, but it was hard to tell in the light. “Thanks,” she said softly. “So… it has been a long time, huh?”
Shana nodded, taking a deep breath and then letting it out. “I’m… sorry I haven’t called you or texted or anything,” she said. “I missed you, but I kept waiting for you to make the first move, which was silly, so I –”
“It’s fine,” Fae said quickly. “I’m… I’ve been trying to distance myself from my family. But… well, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have ignored my sisters.”
“What about Caleb and Shias?” Shana said hopefully.
Fae shook her head. “Caleb’s annoying,” she said. “So happy-go-lucky, always smiling for no reason. And Shias… he weirds me out. I can never tell what he’s thinking.”
Shana giggled softly. “I get that. But… why do you want to distance yourself from us?”
Fae sighed. “It’s not you. Not even Caleb or Shias, honestly. It’s our parents.”
“What about them?” Shana asked, concern tightening in her chest.
Fae’s face regained that harsh, blank expression that was hard to read but always put Shana ill at ease. “You wanted a normal life, right?” Fae asked. “That’s smart. Being part of the magical community here in Grimoire, it’s…” She looked away, her eyes unreadable. “You learn a lot of things you wish you hadn’t.”
“Like what?” Shana asked.
“Our parents… you know how they’re rich, and they’re part of the Council of Mages, and they have friends and seem well regarded and liked by other mages. But that’s not as true as we thought.”
“What do you mean?”
“Some of the most prominent mage families… well, I won’t sugarcoat it. They hate the Greysons.”
Shana felt her breath caught in her throat. “H… hate?” she asked softly.
Fae nodded. “Not a word I’d use lightly, just so you know. Most of my friends are mages, and from pretty prominent families, so I hear a lot. It was actually hard for me to make friends, at first. But when my classmates and roommate learned that I wasn’t really much like my parents, we were able to hit it off.”
“But… why?” Shana asked.
“That was my question, too. Well, you know how the world changes. Cultures change. Attitudes change. Grimoire changes. The magical community’s changed, but our parents are still stuck in the previous era. They aren’t changing with the times. That makes enemies.”
Shana pursed her lips. “I don’t get it.”
Fae shrugged. “I didn’t think you would.”
“No, I mean… just because things change, they have to change with them? What if the world is changing for the worse? Then it would be wrong to change with it, right?”
Fae sighed. “And what if the world is changing for the better, but dear old mom and dad refuse to change with it? How should people see them?”
“As people,” Shana replied instantly. “We’re all different, right? Just looking at the world through changes and people changing with it… that doesn’t make sense. That’s acting like the world itself is just a single idea, a single attitude, a single sort of mentality. And when that changes, every single person should just follow suit? That’s not being human, that’s being a robot.”
Fae raised a hand. “Okay, I see you’re upset. I expected you’d be. Let’s just drop it, then.”
Shana huffed. “I don’t want to drop it. I want to understand. And even if your friends hate our parents, why does that mean you have to cut off your entire family? What kind of friends would project their hate for someone else onto their children?”
Fae leaned back, staring at the ceiling. “Shana, I don’t know what to tell you. People are weird.”
“Can you…” Shana started, scared for what Fae’s response would be, “can you just… can you promise me something?”
“What is it?”
“Can you promise that you won’t keep this distance between us anymore? Can we… can you call me sometimes, and I’ll call you sometimes? Can we hang out, go places and do things? Can we… be sisters again?”
Fae looked shocked, and then she stared at the floor. There was a long, empty silence, and Shana fought against the desire to fill that silence. If Fae needed to think, she’d let her. But in her mind, she kept repeating, over and over: Please say yes. Please say yes. Please say yes. Please say –
“Yeah,” Fae finally said, offering a small smile. “I did miss you. Sorry I… well. I’m not very good at this.”
Shana felt like her heart was going to leap out of her chest. She smiled hugely. “Thank you,” she said softly, emotions threatening to completely overwhelm her if she said more.
“Don’t get all weepy on me,” Fae said, waving her hands. “I can’t handle that.”
Shana sniffed, fighting back tears, and nodded. “I won’t,” she said.
Fae sighed in relief. “Okay. So… anyway. How are the others? I hear plenty about Caleb, though – he’s the talk of the Hunters most nights – so you don’t need to tell me about him.”
“You hear from Hunters?” Shana asked, surprised.
Fae nodded. “Some of my friends are interning with the Hunter Guild while they finish their studies,” she said. “He’s a big shot, even though he’s only been at it for a year.”
Shana grinned. “He’s pretty great.”
Fae rolled her eyes. “So anyway… how’s Delilah?”
Well, that put a spotlight on Shana. What do I say? she wondered frantically, recalling how angry Delilah had been just about the thought of going to see Fae. “She’s…” Shana grasped about for words. “She’s fine. Still collecting, you know.”
Fae chuckled. “I’m surprised she doesn’t have a cat of her own by now,” she said. “She always was a bit obsessed.”
Shana laughed, while she mentally breathed a massive sigh of relief.
“So what about you?” Fae asked. “How’s normal life going?”
Shana pursed her lips. “I dunno,” she said. “About half of my friends are mages. I use magic every day. And with the way things are, I’m not sure a normal life is something I can look forward to anytime soon.”
“The way things are?” Fae asked.
“Have you noticed that kids are disappearing?” Shana asked.
Fae nodded. “What’s that have to do with your life?”
“It’s the Pipers,” Shana said. “There are more and more of them lately, at least that’s what Caleb said, and the Hunters and everyone else can’t figure out where they go, or where they take the kids. So –”
“So you think you should do something,” Fae said flatly. Shana nodded emphatically. “Let the Hunters handle it. They haven’t figured it out yet, but they will eventually. And if they can’t, what could you do? You know the Hunters are some of the best and most well-trained mages in the city, right?”
Shana nodded. “I know. But maybe they’re stuck in their ways. Maybe their methods aren’t the right way to solve this. Maybe I can do something.”
Fae shook her head. “Like what? Do you have a plan?”
“No. But I’m working on one. I only just found out from Caleb about the Pipers earlier today.”
“Shana, don’t,” Fae said firmly. “You’ll get yourself hurt, and you could even get yourself killed. Let professionals do their job.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” Shan asked desperately.
“Live your life,” Fae replied. “Don’t worry about it. It isn’t your job, and it isn’t your place. If you try to do something about it, you could even get in the way of the Hunters, and make their job harder. You’re not very strong with magic, and you don’t know much about it, either, and that was by choice. You didn’t want this life. And that’s fine. You’re free to make your own choices about your life.”
Shana found herself staring at her feet. Fae was right. She had, on many occasions, given impassioned speeches to her siblings and parents about how she wasn’t going to live their life, how she wasn’t going to be a mage or join a guild…
And yet, how long ago had the last one been? And how could she say things like that and still call on Altair? Heck, she had her own magical library, having run out of space for books in her bedroom, spilled over into Shias’ room, and finally been told off when she started taking over the family library. She used magic every single day. And she didn’t hate it. She couldn’t imagine life without Altair, and she would never try to replace him with a regular dog.
Even as she thought about living a normal life, she didn’t feel the passion she used to feel. It was strange, but…
“Things change, right?” she asked softly. “I… I don’t know what I want to do.” She laughed. “It’s kind of weird.”
“Been there,” Fae said. “Around your age, actually.”
“Hey… if there was a way for me, or for us, to do something about the missing kids, something no one else could do… would you help me?”
Fae sighed. “A literally impossible hypothetical scenario?” she asked. “Yeah. If something crazy like that actually happened, and you and I were the only ones who could do something, I’d help you. But don’t get your hopes up for something that crazy happening. I don’t want to be a Hunter, either, so that’s kind of out of my area of expertise.”
“What do you want to do?” Shana asked, leaning forward excitedly.
Fae chuckled. “You’re such a kid,” she said. “I… well, what I want to do doesn’t have a lot to do with magic. I want to be an animator.”
“You’ll be awesome!” Shana exclaimed happily. “You’re so good at drawing. And I haven’t even seen any of your artwork in, like, two years, so I’m sure you’re even more amazing now!”
Fae blushed, looking away. “Yeah, okay,” she said quickly. “Well, anyway… thanks.”
They chatted after that for a while longer, just talking about this and that. Shana did most of the talking, she was so happy to be reconnecting with Fae. And in the back of her mind, despite her older sister’s protests, Shana began to formulate a plan…