“Wren, take it easy!” I shouted to my sister over the howling winds that whipped along the rock-studded beach and stirred the crashing waves into froth.
Instead, my twin threw all of her power against me, knocking aside the rock I’d held there for her, hovering in mid-air despite the fierce wind. I scowled, but played along, raising rock after rock as she dashed them back to the earth.
Wren’s expression was a mirror of my own as we faced off. We were identical, on the surface, even if we had little in common outside the physical. The wind had already stripped strands of Wren’s long dark hair out of the braid I’d done for her not half an hour ago. Deep gray clouds studding the horizon spoke of a rainstorm on the way.
Finally, Wren threw one of the stones far. It flew past me, into the waves. I made sure not to gape; she loved to show her superior strength in these games, and I wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of knowing it bothered me.
“My turn.” I told her, watching the trail behind her for any sign of movement. If the aunts caught us at it, we’d be days recovering from the pile of chores that would result. Since we hadn’t started twin school, we were supposed to use our powers sparingly. Too many twins explored their powers in dangerous ways without the proper training and ended up dead before they could be of any service to the Lady at all. But tell that to a pair of fourteen-year-olds who could move matter with their minds. We couldn’t resist.
Wren raised a boulder first. A bead of sweat rolled down her temple as she concentrated her energy on the single rock. Instead of doing as she’d done, I twisted it, raising my own rock and beating it against the boulder, attempting to dislodge it and send it back to sea or sand. One rock wasn’t enough, so I was in the middle of raising an army of rocks – not one of my better ideas – when we were interrupted.
A ball of white fur hurtled toward us. The dog had gotten pretty close before I noticed it, and Wren’s back was to it. It started barking before I could warn her, a sharp yip that made Wren jump. She dropped the boulder, which shattered into two pieces as it hit the rocks below. I stared at it for a split second. Breaking rocks. Now that was cool.
I didn’t have time to say anything before Wren twisted to face the dog, now a scarce ten feet from her. She threw up a hand and a wave of sand and rock lifted the dog off its feet, and sent it flipping through the air.
It was then that I noticed a man running toward us from farther down the beach, obviously coming after his dog. He stopped, confused, when he saw Wren’s action. I couldn’t be sure what he thought he saw, but I let out a little shriek that alerted Wren to his presence. If there was any rule that governed our lives, it was don’t use powers around strangers.
The dog landed on all fours and gave a final yip before scurrying off with his tail between his legs and his ears flat against his head.
I grabbed Wren’s hand, holding tight despite her protest, and ran toward the wooded trail. I expected to hear the man yell behind us, but if he said anything at all, the wind tore the words away before they reached my ears.
Around a bend in the trail I slowed and dropped Wren’s hand angrily. She clasped her hands together and looked at the ground. She could tell I was mad, but I knew she had no idea why. That frustrated me even more.
“Wren! You cannot lash out like that with your power. Don’t you know you could hurt somebody?”
“It was a dog. An annoying dog,” she told me resentfully.
“Did you see the man running toward us?” I didn’t even have to ask. “Wren. We’ve been over this. We’re not even supposed to use our powers like that around the aunts, much less around a stranger. You can’t act like that. We don’t own the beach, you know.”
“We were there first.”
“No matter. If you can’t control yourself, I’m not playing.” I stalked off, too upset to say more right now. I might say something I’d regret. Not that my sister would notice. She could be selfish, not to mention dangerously out of control. Our temperaments were polar opposites. My sister was quiet, shy, and didn’t care for people. In fact, as she’d just shown, she could be dangerous. It wasn’t that Wren actively disliked people; it was that she didn’t care. Another person’s joy, or their pain, never really got through to her.
I stayed ahead of Wren the whole way home, taking our usual path alone. I don’t know if she trailed me or took another route. Sometimes I got tired of caring. She could find her own way home. She was capable of that much.
I strolled by my friend David’s house, but didn’t see any signs of life no matter how slow I walked. I hadn’t seen him in weeks, which was unusual for the summer months. His family lived in the city, but came to their coastal cabin for many weekends, regardless of the time of year. In the summer even more so, as his mom exchanged the heat of city sidewalks for the serenity of a beachfront paradise, taking her kids along. David’s mom always dressed in flowery prints, bright and sunny, just like her smile. David was lucky; his family was nice. Normal.
I’d known David since I was six. When he stayed at his family’s cabin, we had a secret way to exchange messages, and several secret places we loved to meet.
I hoped he’d be back soon. I was getting lonely with no one but my twin for company. You might think that would be enough, a twin to share everything with. I loved my sister, but sometimes she wasn’t great company. And I had no normal friends, not the way most kids my age had friends, from what David said. I didn’t go to school. A cousin who lived in the cliff-top house with us home schooled Wren and me. We didn’t really see anyone besides cousins, aunts and uncles. Some of the cousins were close to our age, but none of them were twins. That set us apart, in our family.
Among the Queen witches twins were precious and saved for the family’s immortal patron. Twins like us were raised to serve the Lady, as her Hands. In some ways, my twin was the only person I was taught to rely on. Our duality shaped our world and our obligations. I was only a kid and already I’d noticed that. The rest of the family held us apart, somewhat reverently, but that didn’t help children who just wanted to get in on their cousins’ games.
I continued along the small winding road toward home, a chill running through me when I considered what had almost happened on the beach. Wren had almost hurt someone. Would she ever learn caution? Would I always have to remind her to control her emotions, and her power? Would I always be there when she needed reminding?
These thoughts woke a fear that had long lived under my skin. What would the Lady do if she knew how Wren sometimes lost control and struck out with her power? The Queen witches hid their powers from the world. We lived outside of everything, having only as much contact with the mainstream as necessary. We didn’t mix, it was just too dangerous.
The Lady made her family from distinguished magical bloodlines, adopting and even rescuing witches as they were persecuted across the centuries and around the world. Regular people didn’t understand witches; especially witches bred to their powers like thoroughbred horses to the race.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept seeing the little dog flying through the air, kept wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t been there, if Wren had been alone on that beach with the dog and the stranger. Would my sister have unleashed her power on the man as well?
I went outside. The rain lashed down, nearly horizontal with the driving wind. It wasn’t uncommon for winds at Cape Foulweather to reach a hundred miles per hour. The current storm had nothing on the scary storms.
The weather suited my mood. My hair whipped around my face as I sat in one of my favorite spots, under an awning wrapped around with trellises and vines. The bower, we called it. The large swing always made me feel like I was getting a hug when I sat back on its deep bench.
Alone in the storm, I cried for my sister. The fear welled up, and for a while I let it swallow me whole. I was a ragged mess when Aunt Hope found me. I had no idea how she’d known I was outside, but I was grateful.
“Sage.” Her tone was filled with regret. Had she expected this outburst? As she sat next to me I realized she’d brought a thick blanket.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“No wonder. It sounds as if your heart is ripping out, all alone out here. Sweetie, do you want to talk about it?”
“I don’t know if I can. You might not want to know what I’m thinking.”
She scooted closer, until she could wrap her arms around me. I sighed, but it came out a choked gasp. She just held me close and rested her head against mine. She smelled good, like cedar and lavender, but subtle, as though the smell came from her skin. She always smelled good. Cedar and lavender were my comfort smells for a reason.
She didn’t press, just sat with me in silence. The storm abated somewhat, and the wind no longer whipped at our hair. We watched the weather for a time, measuring the night in raindrops and the occasional glimpse of a half moon.
Finally I spoke, my voice muffled where I’d turned into her embrace.
“Wren is dangerous.” I stopped there, and was relieved to feel an answering squeeze. She’d heard me, but she didn’t voice an opinion on my observation. The chill crept further into my bones. “Today on the beach she flipped out and sent a dog flying through the air. A man was running toward us, and I don’t know what he saw.”
She still didn’t respond. I told her my heart’s truth. “Aunt Hope, is this going to be my life? Trying to protect my sister, and protect everyone else from her? It’s bad enough to be a twin, to have to serve when all I want is–”
She touched my lips with a finger, a clear signal to hush. I complied, seething silently, my stomach all churned up like a nest of angry snakes. The aunts would never allow the words to escape my lips, but I couldn’t help these thoughts. I didn’t want to serve.
“It won’t do to resent it, Sage. The family needs you. You are a proud Queen witch, and one who will meet her potential. Don’t resent that. So many Queen witches have only their self-control. Twins practice. We train, we learn. Along the way we explore and we find ourselves more truly than the other Queens can know. Serve the Lady with joy. She does not have to make this possible for you. It is a gift.
“As to Wren’s misuse of her power on the beach, I will speak with her. You are right to fear, but I have not given up hope of teaching your sister some measure of control, enough that she can serve and not be too much of a burden to you.
“Sage, do not speak of this to the Lady or to Aunt Ivy. My twin serves the Lady without question, and I don’t want either of them to have reason to question Wren’s…suitability.”
The chill lodged firmly in my bones. What would happen if they did question her suitability?
“And another thing. You’re smarter than this. Don’t abuse your power. Don’t stretch your limits. Remember only about half of twin sets survive to start twin school. Do you think you’re so much better? You have another two years to live through without killing yourselves. Don’t be a casualty of ignorance, my girl. You’re the only one who can prevent that.” After a lingering hug, the woman who had always been like a mother to me slid out from under the blanket and returned to the house, leaving me to my dark thoughts.
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