Chapter 18:

The Calm After the Storm

The Wizard's Virginity

Dan’s breathing slowed, and I could feel her life slipping away. The tears I had started to shed earlier returned. While Hayley and I were safe, it didn’t seem fair that I now had to lose Dan. I still had so much I wanted to ask her. Holding her broken body in my arms, feeling her close to me, showed me that nothing else mattered. Even though she had lied to me for so long, what she had just said was true: our friendship was real.

“Stand back.” There came a voice from behind me, and I tensed my body, expecting another fight. But I quickly realised that the voice didn’t belong to an enemy. It was the voice of an old woman who I knew well. I turned around and saw Ms Matthews.

“I’m sorry, James. I know you’ve had enough surprises today. But now I need you to give me some space so I can try to help Dan.”

As Ms Matthews said, I’d already had a lot of surprises today. There had been so many by this point that the inexplicable appearance of my elderly Citizenship teacher didn’t actually shock me all that much. Anyway, all that mattered was that this meant there was a chance that Dan could survive. A chance that we could talk about everything. A chance that there would be time for me to understand her motivations and, hopefully, forgive her.

I gently laid Dan’s head on the floor, and obligingly moved away. My arms and legs still felt strangely numb, but I could move them mostly as normal now. Reiko’s attack on my nerves must have only been effective for a very short time, luckily for me. I didn’t hurt too much either. I didn’t know for sure, but I guessed that Reiko had deliberately tried to minimise the damage done to me. It made sense; even with all the aphrodisiacs in the world, it would have been tough for me to get a boner if I had been in excruciating pain.

I watched for a few moments as Ms Matthews held her hands over Dan’s bloody body. A soft white light started to emanate from her palms. I had assumed from her sudden appearance that Ms Matthews was also magically inclined, but seeing her work prompted the sudden thought of, “wow, magic really is real.” It was silly, given that I had now seen several different types of magic from Reiko, Aoife and Dan. However, there was something about seeing real healing magic, like something from an RPG, that drove it home in a different way.

There was a small clatter behind me, and I turned to see Hayley, fiddling around with her school bag. She was still breathing a little heavily, and I imagined she must still be in pain from the force of Reiko’s kick, but she didn’t seem to have suffered any serious injuries.

“How are you doing, Hay?” I said, crouching down next to her.

“I’m fine.” She glanced at me, and added, “You have a lot of blood on you.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “But it’s mostly Dan’s. And some of Reiko’s, I guess.”

“You’re also not wearing any trousers.”

“Yeah… Not exactly by choice.”

“So, why did that evil Japanese girl try to take you to pound town?”

I laughed in surprise. “Jesus, Hayley! You don’t have to say it like that!”

“Okay then,” Hayley said, starting to giggle herself. “Why did she try to toodle your noodle?”

“Now that one isn’t even a real phrase!”

We both laughed, and I felt compelled to hug my sister. It wasn’t something I did enough, and the events of the last hour had highlighted to me how important it was to show her that I loved her. I reached out my arms, but she backed away in disgust. As she did so, she dropped her bag, and it fell to the floor with a loud thump.

“Gross, get away from me!” she said. “I don’t know what’s worse, the blood and guts all over you or that you’re in your pants!”

“That’s fair,” I said, although I did feel a little rejected. “Anyway, what’s in your bag?”

“Just a souvenir,” Hayley replied, hastily retrieving her bag and putting it behind her. “It’s the book I used on the evil girl. You’re not gonna make me put it back, are you?”

“No way, I think you’ve earned whatever souvenir you want! Speaking of which, you were very brave there. Thank you for helping me. But you really should have run away and called for help, rather than trying to fight Reiko yourself.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Hayley said derisively, as though telling me off. “I wouldn’t just attack a bad guy without calling for backup first. Your Japanese friend had left my phone on the floor. She didn’t tie me up very well, so when I woke up I slipped out, and sent our location to Mum. Then I looked for something that I could use as a weapon, and found that big old book.”

It seemed that my sister was a lot smarter than I was. While I had rushed headlong into danger without thinking, she had decided to call for help first. My decision to keep Mum out of this had been deliberate, based on Reiko’s threat against Hayley if I didn’t come alone. Then again, it wasn’t Mum who had appeared in response to Hayley’s message, but Dan, and subsequently Ms Matthews. That raised a question.

“You said that you sent our location to Mum. Did you also send it to Dan?”

“Why would I have sent it to Dan?” she asked. “I had no idea he could do… that stuff.”

“Yeah, well, I only found out recently myself,” I said. “Also, just FYI, Dan isn’t a he, he’s a she.”

“Oh yeah, I thought so,” Hayley said casually. “She never smelled bad enough to be a teenage boy.”

Letting that backhanded insult slide, I continued. “Anyway, I wonder how Dan knew about us being here…”

“Well, when she’s better, you can ask her.”

“Yeah…” I paused, and looked over at Ms Matthews, still intently holding her hands over the unconscious Dan’s chest. “When she’s better…”

Hayley interrupted my train of dark thoughts. “Just so you know, I still haven’t forgiven you for yesterday.”

“Yesterday?” I thought back, and remembered when I blew up at Hayley for shouting at me when I arrived home the previous evening. Man, only yesterday, and it felt like ten years. “Oooh, your painting. I’m really sorry, Hay. I’ve been in a bad mood recently. I mean, all this magic stuff kind of took me by surprise, and it’s been hard to adjust.”

“Why would magic take you by surprise?” Hayley asked, her expression one of confusion. “Dad always used magic.”

My mouth dropped open. “But, how do you know about that? Mum threw away all Dad’s stuff.”

“Yeah, but I still remembered. And me and Mum talk about it sometimes.”

“You never spoke to me about it,” I said, hearing the pitch of my voice go slightly higher. I felt like a little kid who had been left out of the grown-ups’ conversations, but in this case, one of the grown-ups was a 12 year old.

“You never wanted to talk about it. You were so grumpy with Mum that you never let her talk about Dad. So I never talked to you about him either. But I always wanted to.”

I was shocked, which was shocking in of itself, given how many other crazy revelations there had been today. All this time that I thought I was harbouring this deep secret of my Dad being a wizard, a secret that I only partially believed myself based on old notebooks and fuzzy childhood memories, Mum and Hayley had been casually chatting about it together. And the reason I didn’t know about it wasn’t because they were hiding it from me - this wasn’t like Dan’s betrayal. It was because I was too angry to have a proper conversation with Mum, still resenting her for removing every trace of Dad from the house after he died.

I had never actually asked her why she did that. I had never tried to talk to her about Dad, never tried to find out what she was thinking or feeling. Looking back, I remember her trying to explain it to me, something about a fresh start, but I refused to listen. I had been a stubborn kid. I realised that I still was a stubborn kid. Maybe it was about time that I gave her a proper chance to explain.

Back to Hayley, I thought about the last thing she said. ‘I always wanted to.’

“Ah!” I exclaimed, belatedly realising something. “That’s why you painted the animals. You wanted to talk to me about Dad!”

“Took you long enough to work that out,” she said, rolling her eyes exaggeratedly, but I could see a smile forming on her face. “But, you saw it? What do you think?”

“I think it’s amazing! It was exactly as I remembered it. Better than I remembered it!”

Hayley’s burgeoning smile now turned into a full beam. As her mood improved, her voice grew louder, but I found I didn’t care.

“I knew you’d like it! My friends thought I was being a baby for painting dancing animals as my Art project, but I did it anyway, because I wanted you to see it!”

Apparently forgetting about the blood that covered me, and also the fact that I wasn’t wearing trousers, she rushed forward and threw her arms around me. I put my own arms around her.

“You did well, Hay. I love you.”

With her face buried in my chest, she said, “Gross, don’t make it weird.” Still, she didn’t pull away.

After a few seconds, I realised I had one more important question for my sister. I gently held her shoulders and pushed her away from me, and looked down into her face.

“Hayley… Why did you call Reiko a ‘sex pest’?”

“That’s what Mum says they’re called. People who try to do sex stuff with other people who don’t want it.”

We both laughed again. Hayley and I continued talking as I told her about the events of the last few days. It’s not like I deliberately ignored my sister usually, it just always felt like there was something more important to do than spend time with her. And at home, whenever she did talk to me, it felt like she was trying to be as annoying as possible. But now, it was just like old times. I didn’t like to admit it, but I was having fun speaking with her.

Eventually, Ms Matthews came over to us. “Dan is sleeping now. I still need to do more, but we should move her to somewhere safer than this place.”

“I don’t think we need to worry about Reiko, at least for now,” I said. “Dan did some serious damage to her.”

“That may be so, but unfortunately she isn’t the only threat.”

I thought back to my conversation with Reiko, and remembered that she had mentioned a ‘Fusae-sama’, and said that she would ‘be here soon’. I told Ms Matthews, and she nodded her head.

“Exactly. That’s Fusae Kitahara. The High Priestess of Sekkaku coven. We believe that she is giving Reiko orders.”

“Yeah, that’s what Reiko said. Although by the sound of it, Reiko went a bit rogue. I guess she was meant to give me to this Fusae, but then…” I paused, unsure how to finish my sentence.

“Reiko decided she wanted you for herself?” Ms Matthews finished for me. “Yes, that’s the danger of using witches motivated by power. They’re liable to turn against you if they see a chance to get more power for themselves. Particularly ones as unstable as that Reiko girl.”

“Wait a minute, you said Fusae Kitahara. Kitahara is Reiko’s surname. Does that mean…”

“Yes, Fusae is Reiko’s adopted mother,” Ms Matthews confirmed. “Although knowing her reputation, I can’t imagine it was through any sort of goodwill. More likely she saw a way to use the poor girl.”

It was odd to hear Reiko, the girl who had just tried to murder me and my sister, referred to as a ‘poor girl’, but I didn’t comment on it.

“One other thing,” I said. “Dan also mentioned taking orders from a High Priestess. I'm guessing she wasn’t talking about Fusae?”

Ms Matthews smiled kindly. “No, thank Goodness, she was not. Every coven has its own High Priestess. Well, the majority of them do. They are the leader, usually the most powerful witch in the coven, and the one responsible for passing down the teachings of the coven to a new generation of witches.”

“In that case,” I asked, “are you the High Priestess of Dan’s coven?”

“Heavens, no! I’m just your bog standard old witch. I was sent here to support Dan if anything happened.”

“Tell me, is there anyone in my life who isn’t secretly a witch? You know, either sent to take my magic potential, or to stop other witches from taking it?”

Ms Matthews laughed good naturedly. “I think you know about all of us now. I am sorry for hiding it from you, James. But the High Priestess thought it was best to respect your mother’s wishes. She wanted to give you the chance to live a normal life.”

My capacity for the amount of surprise I could endure in one day was yet again tested by the news that my mum was involved in this. Although given what Hayley had told me, about her and Mum having secret discussions about Dad and his magic, perhaps it wasn’t that crazy. It would also explain how Hayley sending our location to Mum led instead to the appearance of Dan and Ms Matthews.

“So, the reason you and Dan kept your identities secret is because my mum asked you to?”

“There’s a little more to it than that. But you can ask her about it yourself, once we’re back at the safe house.”

“Yeah,” Hayley piped up. “I’m bored, I’m hungry, and I want to see Mum.”

“Of course, sweetie,” Ms Matthews smiled down at Hayley, and extended a wrinkled hand to pat her head. I half expected her to go full grandma-style and offer her a lollipop. “Your mother is already waiting for us there.”