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Interlude V The Sister

  It was Friday, October 26th, around eleven o'clock at night, and Margaret Bensen couldn't sleep.

  She'd gotten into a fight with her best friend Kelly at lunch. It was such a stupid fight, and now twelve hours later, Meg was going back over every single sentence she'd said… or yelled. Wishing she could change them, so that she and Kelly could be best friends again. She had no idea how she was going to face her on Monday. They hadn't messaged each other even once since lunch.

  After the video of Hailey had gone up the night before, leaping out of a burning building with Jessica in her arms and landing in front of the crowd of people she'd rescued, everyone at school was buzzing about it. It happened so close to home that a dozen kids were claiming they'd actually been there and seen it. All liars, obviously, but they got their five minutes of fame anyway.

  Meg knew better. She'd never claim to have seen it, because Hailey wouldn't want the attention. Heroes didn't do stuff for the attention, and Hailey was supposed to be in hiding. Meg played the skeptic, agreeing with all the commentators that it was probably fake. No one could jump out of a building that tall without any equipment and land like that. It was special effects. Maybe viral marketing for a movie. It'd be totally Hollywood to already start pushing a movie of Rallsburg, some made up found-footage horror movie or something else lame like that.

  Hailey had better stuff to do than get a bunch of nosy whiners in her business over trying to save people. Meg would do her part, just like Hailey asked. She saved the video to her phone though, in case it got taken down or something. She'd watched it probably two dozen times that day.

  The window exploded outward in a burst of flames and smoke, then a tiny black shape followed. They descended so fast it looked like they were going to splat, but the smoke billowed away as they tumbled into the dirt. The girl let go of her passenger and rolled over, and her face caught the camera for just a second. Then they leapt into the sky in a burst of wind, overwhelming the poor cell microphone. There was a bit of murmuring from the onlookers, trying to figure out what they just saw, then the video cut to black.

  It was so cool. If Meg didn't know better, she'd totally see it as a hype movie trailer for next summer.

  But she did know better. She knew Hailey was out doing dangerous stuff—and sometimes, Meg's brother went with her. Like tonight.

  It was eleven-thirty, and they still weren't home. Meg tossed and turned in bed uncomfortably. She'd been warned about using her phone this late more than once, and even though her parents weren't likely to actually check on her, she still felt bad about breaking their trust.

  I gotta know.

  She grabbed it from her bedside table, wincing at the bright screen popping into view. Why does every single app have to be all white? Meg pulled up the news, starting with local. Nothing notable happened in Kent today, just the usual election stuff with November right around the corner. Their state wasn't really competitive, plus she wasn't old enough to vote anyway, so she skimmed right on past.

  Wait, I added that police scanner thing to my feed. Maybe something on there?

  North Tacoma. Active hostage situation. Men with guns.

  It was the right address.

  Meg sat straight up in her bed, tossing aside the covers and two of her pillows wildly. She leapt to her feet and rushed out the door.

  Three steps down the stairs she slowed to a halt.

  What am I supposed to do…?

  Meg couldn't do anything to help. She didn't have any special powers or cool skills. She didn't even know how to drive. What was she supposed to do to help her brother, who could die any minute in some no-name bar in Tacoma doing who-knew-what?

  I shoulda been the one who got awakened. You could have given me some better directions, Zack!

  Since she was up, and her heart was racing too fast to even think about laying down again, Meg finished walking down the stairs, though each dark step felt a bit more ominous. She decided to risk waking her parents and turned on the kitchen lights when she got down. It was too scary to be in the dark, not while she was frantically refreshing the police scanner feed with one hand while she walked. She nearly tripped over a stack of books next to the couch.

  Eat something. Maybe it'll make you feel better.

  Ten minutes later, she was sitting on the couch with a bowl of orange sherbert, wrapped in a blanket and streaming old comedies on the TV, but not hearing a single word. She was only half-watching, keeping an eye on her phone and the police feed. There were updates every few minutes. Apparently the big FBI agent guy from the Rallsburg case was on the scene and had taken over.

  That's bad, right? I think that's bad. They probably don't want him around.

  Meg wished she had someone to talk to about all of this. She had the coolest secret in the world, but she couldn't share it with anyone. Not even Kelly—and after today, Meg wasn't sure she'd ever want to share it with Kelly. That stuck-up fraud didn't deserve to know about magic. Not after what she'd said about Hailey.

  Hailey's out there saving peoples lives! Who's she to call it reckless and dangerous? And then to post stories about it online!

  Meg just wanted to rant about it, but she couldn't. She didn't have anyone who'd understand her point of view besides her brother, and Alden had disappeared within minutes of her getting home from school. He'd driven out to pick up Hailey for another mission that night, with just a few words to her about where he was going and when he expected to get home. The usual.

  And Meg would tell the usual lies, keep their parents busy if anything came up. Alden was out with friends tonight, obviously.

  What friends?

  How was Meg supposed to know? They weren't her friends.

  Last time it had been job hunting. The time before that, he'd been visiting a college campus. Meg was running out of stuff she knew nineteen year olds out of college might do with their time. She'd have to start getting new excuses online soon.

  It was all worth it though, every time Hailey dropped by. True to his word, Alden made sure Meg was invited to all their meetups at the house. Meg got to watch her fly in, late at night, and it never got old. Not even once.

  Tonight, sitting on the couch in her pajamas, staring at her phone while the TV quietly droned in the background and her ice cream slowly melted away, Meg wondered for the first time if they were going to make it home.

  
  


  
  

  Her phone buzzed and slipped out of her fingers, clattering to the floor. Meg woke up with a start, nearly rolling right off the couch herself. She scrambled for the phone, but suddenly a weight fell off her lap. She'd forgotten the bowl of ice cream.

  Meg twisted around in mid-dive and managed to catch it before it hit the floor, though it meant she landed awkwardly on her shoulders instead.

  Stupid… She groaned and got back to her feet, picking up her phone as she went.

  Hailey: We're here. Open your window please.

  Meg left the bowl on the floor as she hurried back upstairs to her bedroom. It was way past the original time Alden gave her. By her phone's clock, it was past two now. But if Hailey's texting me, that means they're probably okay, right? Even though they're flying back and not driving back, which Alden said shouldn't ever happen… what's going on?

  She drew back the curtains from her window and slid it open. Within seconds of her clearing the way, a shape illuminated by moonlight hurtled through the portal. The familiar burst of wind gusted the room, helping Hailey brake. They didn't usually do this in Meg's room, so her stuff wasn't held down like Alden habitually did these days.

  Homework on her desk went flying, and a few pictures on the corkboard above it fell off. She'd run out of thumbtacks and used tape for the last couple until she found more, and now they were paying the price. One of them, conveniently enough, was Kelly's. She took it as a sign.

  As soon as everything settled, Meg quickly closed the window and the curtains again. Hailey let Alden down, and to Meg's shock, he collapsed. Her brother curled up on the floor, shaking. Meg couldn't take her eyes off him. He'd never been this bad, not even the first few nights home from Rallsburg way back in May.

  She turned to Hailey. "Is it okay to talk yet?" she whispered.

  Hailey shook her head. "I can't do that spell," she whispered back. "We have to stay quiet."

  "You can't?"

  "I can't do Nature magic. Jess always does that one."

  Jess, Hailey's odd mute sidekick. Meg was never quite sure what to make of her. Hailey had explained what happened to her, but it was just too weird and awkward to think about. Whenever she came along, Meg always felt a bit uncomfortable talking to Hailey about things, like Jess were listening in and judging her. No matter how many times Hailey insisted otherwise, Meg was sure Jess understood a lot more than she let on.

  She might be more glad Jess wasn't there that night, if her brother didn't look like he'd just been through Hell and back. He clambered to his feet while they both looked on, waiting for him to say something. Anything to bring back the Alden they both knew—a little damaged, but always ready to help, always willing to listen.

  He didn't say a word. He just stumbled out of the room like a dead man walking. His bedroom door clicked once, then clicked again as it shut.

  "Something happ—" Hailey started, but Meg cut her off.

  "I saw it on the news. The stuff at that bar, right?"

  "How'd you know?"

  Meg hesitated. Alden hadn't told her not to tell Hailey, but it still kind of felt like a breach of trust. He seemed embarrassed by it a few times. "Zack told me where he was going. I think I wasn't supposed to tell you though." Hailey raised her eyebrows, looking confused… and maybe a little disappointed? Meg kept talking, as if she could somehow work her way back around into Hailey's approval. "It looked really scary. Guys with guns took over the place? How does something like that happen?"

  Hailey made a dropping gesture with her hand. Meg had gotten a little louder as she talked. "Yes," she whispered. She took a seat on the office chair in front of Meg's desk, and stretched out her legs like someone who'd just gone for a long run. As her head tilted back, Meg saw her eyes drift over the photos she'd pinned up, and felt a twinge of embarrassment. What if Hailey thought they looked silly or dumb? She had to keep talking.

  "Is this what you guys always do?"

  "No. Nothing like this has ever happened." For the first time, Hailey's voice actually sounded a little uncertain. The little breeze that wafted around the room whenever she was there tickled Meg's neck, reminding her again what Hailey could do. She leaned up and looked Meg in the eye, and her voice was strong and solid again. She looked suspicious. "What did he say to you?"

  "Oh, uhh…" Meg looked away, feeling a bit ashamed. No hiding it now, I guess. "Actually… Zack always tells me where you guys go." As Hailey's suspicion grew, Meg talked a bit faster. "Don't be mad at him, okay? He said it was important. Just in case… you know… something happened to him. So that I could tell Mom and Dad. He never told me what you were doing out there."

  Hailey sighed. The suspicion faded, to Meg's immense relief. "Trying to help people."

  "...Did you? You know, help people?"

  "I think so." She glanced at the wall that separated Meg and Alden's bedrooms. "He's gonna need your help for the next few days though."

  Meg followed her gaze, though the wall wasn't particularly interesting to look at. She had a poster of a boy band above her bed, which she was now regretting. Hailey probably thinks they're so lame… "Did he get hurt?"

  "Not exactly. Physically he's totally fine. But, sometimes when someone goes through something really scary, it stays with them. Like—"

  "Like PTSD, right?" Meg supplied. She wasn't a kid, she knew stuff.

  "Yeah."

  "What do I need to do?" she asked breathlessly, wanting to show she was ready to dive right in. Anything to help out her hero.

  Hailey smiled weakly. "Alden's really lucky to have a sister like you, you know?"

  "Psh. After all this is over, I get to rub it in his face. Totally worth it." She meant it too. She got along okay with Alden most of the time, but he had a tendency to play way too much into the big brother thing sometimes. Overprotective, over-restrictive. Having one up on him would do loads for her. "What do I do to help him?" she asked again.

  Hailey looked a bit wistful at her words. She shook it off. "Just be there for him. No complaints and no teasing, just help him out. You can joke around a bit, but never make it seem like he's a burden. He's gonna be in shock for a while, and maybe some pain too. Plus all that stuff from over the summer will probably come back. Maybe even worse."

  Meg sighed, a little more dramatically than she'd intended. She got up and walked over to her closet, pulling out her sleeping bag. She hadn't needed it since July, but she'd never bothered to put it back up in the attic. "I was hoping I'd never have to use this stupid thing again."

  "You sleep in his room?"

  She shrugged. "I had to if I was gonna be there fast enough to keep him from waking up Mom and Dad, right? It sucks, but someone's gotta do it." She picked up a few of her favorite pillows from her bed, as well as a blanket. The sleeping bag wasn't really warm enough on its own. "Hey, Hailey?"

  "Yes?"

  "I know I'm probably never gonna be able to myself, but… will you take me flying someday?" Even if it were just for a few minutes, as long as she could experience that same emotion she saw on Hailey's face as she blew into the room every time, Meg felt like she could die happy.

  Hailey smiled. "Yeah, I will. Someday."

  Meg grinned. "Okay. So all this is totally worth it." She slung the sleeping bag over her shoulder like a soldier, even giving a half-hearted salute before gathering up the pillows and blanket. Hailey got up to help, but Meg quickly opened the door handle with one of her feet before Hailey could get close. "Night," she whispered, ducking out into the hall and closing the door behind her.

  As the door closed, Meg paused, listening out for the sound of Hailey whooshing away from the room. It didn't happen. Instead, Hailey seemed to be pacing back and forth. Probably trying to think of what to go do next. Always trying to help people.

  She still didn't leave though, and after a minute Meg was starting to lose her grip on her blankets. Finally, just as she was about to step away, she heard Hailey's voice, just barely above a whisper.

  "I'm sorry."

  Who is she talking to? Meg strained her ears, trying to listen, but she didn't hear anyone else. Hailey didn't say another word, either. Less than a minute later, Meg heard the window slide open. A breeze flowed over her toes from the crack at the bottom of the door.

  Hailey was gone.

  Meg reluctantly walked away and into Alden's room, opening and closing the door as quietly as she could. Alden didn't react at all, tucked into his bed and looking away from the door. He hadn't bothered to change, just kicked off his shoes. She didn't say a word either. She laid out the sleeping bag across the floor, propping the pillows up against the bags he usually kept against the corner. It was the best spot she'd found after so many nights spent in his room over the summer.

  The first few times, she'd been in her own room when the screaming started. She'd woken up sharp, heart racing, not knowing if she'd imagined or dreamed the sound, until he screamed again and she practically felt it through their adjoining wall. Without a second thought, she'd rushed into his room and shaken him awake, terrified.

  After he'd managed to calm down, he'd told her bits and pieces of what happened in Rallsburg. She insisted, if he was going to wake her up like that in the middle of the night without warning, that she deserved an explanation. She knew something went down there, even if their parents didn't. She should be able to know, shouldn't she? So he'd told her, describing the monsters, the riots, the crazed mobs killing people in the streets.

  Just from his explanations, Meg was already horrified. Suddenly, screaming out in the middle of the night didn't just seem okay, it was tame.

  It was an unspoken agreement, Meg sleeping in his room every night. After the third night in a row of waking up to a blood-curdling shout, Meg simply dragged a sleeping bag into his room without a word and dropped right back to sleep. Their parents slept on the opposite side of the house from them, and they were teachers. They both left the house before Meg and Alden woke up most mornings. Meg was pretty sure neither of them ever found out. Neither had ever mentioned it, at the very least.

  But then, no one ever mentioned Alden's sudden disappearance back in May for a whole week, which only Meg knew the real story behind. No one ever mentioned the empty room and the mysterious objects in the house he'd set out to explain. No one brought up that Alden had dropped out of the college he was supposed to attend without going to a single class, or that he was living at home without a job or any real prospects.

  No one at the Bensen house ever really brought up anything at all, except what was for dinner that night.

  As Meg stared up at the dark ceiling, only barely lit by the cracks of moonlight that streamed in through Alden's blackout curtains, she could barely make out his uneven breathing. He wasn't asleep yet, and he probably wouldn't be for a while. She could fall asleep any time she wanted to, tired as she was, but she was keeping herself awake for some reason.

  She wanted to know what happened this time. It wasn't just a robbery or something, right? Hailey could totally handle a robbery. It had to be more than that.

  "Zack?" she whispered, the first time she'd ever spoken to him on a night like this, besides a couple times where she'd almost yelled at him to stop screaming. Usually, their arrangement just consisted of her shaking him awake, holding his hand until he calmed down, then dropping back into her sleeping bag again for the rest of the night. Talking just seemed weird—and besides, she needed sleep herself, if she didn't want to feel super dead at school the next day.

  But today was Friday, and more importantly, Alden hadn't been like this in months. The pattern was broken.

  "Yeah," he murmured, and it shattered completely.

  "You okay?"

  He took a long, long time to answer, so long that Meg actually did start to fall asleep. "...No," he said.

  Meg didn't know what to say back. After a few minutes though, his breathing got shallower and steadier. He soon fell asleep, and Meg was alone to wonder what happened, and how everything had suddenly slid back to being so much worse than summer ever had been.

  Why had Alden been the one to find magic? Just because he'd gone to Rallsburg? It could have been her. It wasn't like she hadn't noticed the weirdness around their house. Seeing how Alden was handling it so far, Meg felt like she would have been way better at being awakened than her big brother. It felt like when she'd turned eleven and waited all night in vain for an owl to tap at her window. She deserved it, and someone had obviously made a mistake.

  But then again, if she'd been the one to go there instead of Alden, would she have made it out alive? Even Hailey, so strong and powerful, sounded like she'd barely made it.

  Meg listened to the light, steady breathing from the bed and wondered.

  
  


  
  

  After waking up twice in the night, Alden managed to sleep in very late the next day.

  Meg was already up and feeling more than a little cranky, and slipped out of his room before their parents woke up. She packed away the sleeping bag, then hurried downstairs to eat some breakfast before she left for the day. She had a soccer game that morning, and getting out into the sun and kicking something really hard repeatedly for a while sounded like exactly what she needed.

  When she saw that Hailey had played soccer in high school, Meg had immediately tried out for the team over the summer. She hadn't made it, since their school only had one team, but she didn't let it discourage her. She hadn't played since fourth grade. So she joined a rec team, where she could play without all the pressure, and maybe she could make the team the next year.

  Of course, going to the game meant she'd probably run into Kelly. Kelly didn't play, but she always went to the games. Usually to see their mutual crush, who volunteered to referee for them.

  It was a friendly rivalry most of the time. They both liked him, and he was to-die-for handsome, but they'd both always insisted their friendship came first. Besides, he was a senior and they were both sophomores. He was never gonna look at them anyway.

  As Meg warmed up and saw Kelly sitting in the bleachers, and the referee talking to one of the coaches, she changed her mind. He's gonna notice me today.

  She played her heart out, but it didn't matter. The guy took no more notice of her than anyone else on the field. By half-time, she was exhausted from all the extra effort she'd been putting in, and she drained her water bottle in a second. She was about to go refill it from the big jugs behind the bench when she ran into Kelly, waiting next to them.

  "Hi," she started.

  Meg ignored her and walked past, filling up her bottle.

  "You're playing really well." Kelly joined her at the table. "Like, super well. I think you could really make the team next year."

  Meg gave her nothing but stony silence. She drank a bit more, turned and went back to the bench. Kelly looked annoyed and a little disappointed. Good. Serves her right.

  "Why are you being like this?" Kelly had followed her to the bench. A few other girls on the team glanced over curiously. Meg stared at the field without a word. Kelly wasn't there. She didn't understand what was really going on. Meg didn't need to talk to her.

  By the end of the second half, Kelly was gone. Meg's team won by a landslide, seven to one. That one goal slipped by while she'd been off the field, but Meg felt like she could have stopped it, so she called it a perfect game in her head anyway. She celebrated with her team a bit, but she was just eager to get home more than anything. She was still super tired from getting so little sleep the night before, and she wanted to take a nap for the rest of the afternoon.

  As she gathered up her stuff, she paused. Kelly's mom usually gave them a ride home from games, but Kelly was already gone. Meg pulled out her cell phone, meaning to call Alden… but he hadn't come home in his car the night before. It was still parked near the bar, miles and miles away.

  She thought about calling Kelly or her mom, but stubbornness won out. Meg pulled on her jacket, slung her water bottle and bag over her shoulder and walked all the way home, two miles and change.

  As she stumbled over the front step, Alden was just coming downstairs. He hadn't changed from the night before. His eyes looked glazed over, as if he was barely seeing anything in front of him.

  "Morning, sleepyhead." She dropped her stuff on the floor next to the front door, trying to decide if she wanted to take a shower or have a snack first before she claimed the couch for the rest of the afternoon.

  Alden glanced up, as if he'd just noticed she was there. "Hi. Where were you all morning?"

  Meg glanced down pointedly at her jersey. "Soccer."

  "Oh." He stood there uncomfortably, staring into space a thousand yards away.

  Despite how tired and grumpy she felt, Meg forced herself to smile. "Want something to eat?"

  "No thanks." He glanced around. "Where's Mom and Dad?"

  "No idea. They were here when I left."

  "Oh."

  "...I'm gonna go take a shower," Meg said finally, after Alden kept staring at the solid front door. She walked around him and up the stairs to her bathroom, giving him an odd glance as she passed.

  By the time she'd showered and changed, he wasn't on the stairs anymore. He'd made it to the couch in the living room… where he was staring at the blank TV instead.

  Be normal, but don't make him feel like a burden. That's what Hailey said to do, right? What's normal for us? Teasing, I guess. "Great show, huh?"

  "What?"

  "I think you forgot to pick something to watch, bro."

  The old Alden would have laughed and turned something on, accepting the jab. Post-Rallsburg Alden would have fired right back at her with something dry and sarcastic. This new Alden did… nothing. He glanced up at her words, heard them, then looked away again. As if he just wasn't there. Meg didn't know what to do with that.

  Be normal.

  She kept going as if he had answered, going into the kitchen and grabbing a bag of chips and a soda. "Scoot over," she added, since Alden had sat in the center of the couch. He slid over to the end, and she took the other side. Since their parents weren't home, she took the liberty of eating right on the couch. "Pass the remote?" she asked through a mouthful of chips.

  He leaned forward robotically and handed it over. She clicked through to a show she knew he liked, and wouldn't bother her too much. Not that it mattered. The couch was too soft and tempting, and only a few minutes passed before she was laying down, and her eyes were drooping shut.

  The sudden slam of a car door jerked her awake. A second one told her it was from the garage. Their parents were home. Alden's eyes were wide. He shook a little. For the first time since the night before, he actually seemed aware of his surroundings… and it didn't look good.

  "Go upstairs," she hissed. "I'll tell 'em you're sick. Stayed in bed all day."

  He glanced at her with surprise. A little hint of the old brother.

  "Don't worry Zack, I'm keeping track. You owe me super big time now."

  Alden nodded and hurried upstairs, just before the door to the garage opened.

  "Hey! Anyone in there to help with the groceries?"

  Meg groaned audibly and dragged herself off the couch with the TV still playing. Her dad strolled into the room with two bags in his arms. "Am I interrupting?"

  "Yeah, Dad. It was just getting good, too."

  He raised an eyebrow. "Didn't know you liked that show."

  Oh, right. It's still on Alden's stuff. "White noise. I was taking a nap."

  "Oh! How'd the game go, sweetie?"

  "Easy. We creamed 'em. Seven-one."

  "That's my girl." He set down the bags and ruffled her hair. "Go help your mom, okay?"

  As soon as they were done, Meg plopped right back on the couch and pulled out her phone, ignoring the TV. It was quiet enough that it didn't bother her, but loud enough that it still filled the room with a nice level of noise. Better than weird silence for sure.

  "Meg, where's your brother?" her mom asked.

  "In bed sick, I think. He said he was gonna sleep all day." She managed to say it casually and with just a hint of annoyance. Her mom didn't look suspicious, so she'd probably gotten away with it. It helped that she was already looking at her social feed and feeling annoyed for real.

  Kelly was at it again. Now that the FBI guy had called the Hailey video a fake, less people were reposting it all over, but there were still a few different threads going on about it. Kelly was in two of them, saying that even if it were fake, it was dangerous and that other people might try it. That she should have left it to the professionals.

  She talked like she was so intelligent and worldly, but Meg knew better. Kelly had never been in a dangerous situation in her life. She didn't know what it was actually like.

  ...Neither did Meg, for that matter, but she had a better idea than Kelly did.

  Hidden in a bunch of folders on her laptop, Meg had a couple video files stored away. She'd also put them on her phone, just in case, and made sure they got backed up. She never wanted to lose them, and she ended up watching one or both of them every single week, in a mixture of awe and horror. She felt addicted to them, a spectacle that had happened just a short train ride away to people she actually knew.

  The first video was the riot. A group of angry men and women, with torches, guns and other weapons, thrashing through a forest in the dead of night. The girl in the grey cloak with silver hair and hands on fire, lashing out. People with magical strength, fireballs and jets of water hurled left and right. Gunshots, and the terrible moment right at the end where a man seemed to evaporate into the air.

  The stream ended a couple minutes later, right after a tall girl walked out of the forest, next to a young girl in a dress and jacket riding a huge gray wolf. The name on the account was some Rallsburg University kid named Nathan. Meg had no idea why she'd been following him. She guessed it was a friend of a friend that she'd given a follow as a favor, just to help him out or something. Not that he had many anyway. When she logged in that night, she saw he was streaming and happened to tune in. She had nothing better to do.

  The next day, she'd watched his account avidly, even though it was a Tuesday and she nearly lost her phone twice at school for it. It was worth it though, because she caught the entire second stream, under her desk or stolen moments in the bathroom, right up until it cut out completely with a massive burst of noise that felt like it would shatter her headphones.

  She knew what had happened in Rallsburg. She'd watched Nathan wander the town, seen the mobs starting to gather—without guns this time, for some reason, but plenty of other weapons. Her brother, Hailey, Jessica, and a few others rushing across town for some unknown purpose. She'd watched the entire town lift up into the air, watched the grocery store explode. It was a much longer video, ending instantly as the town collapsed to the ground again, but she had it all saved too.

  A few days after Alden had come home, both the videos disappeared from Nathan's account, leaving only a pile of generic boring college stuff. Meg assumed Alden's friends had deleted them, all part of their big cover-up. She'd never told them that she still had the videos though. They were her prize, a fascinating, scary look into the world of magic she so desperately wanted to join.

  Now Kelly was criticizing Hailey, the most capable person Meg knew, and thought that was okay? She needed to be told better. But Meg wasn't speaking to Kelly right now, and calling her out would ruin that.

  She posted on the same comments that Kelly did, but never addressing her directly. It was always at the story itself. Meg was very specific about how sometimes you couldn't wait around for the police or the firefighters. How sometimes you had to rely on the people who were there, and that they could be just as competent and strong as any professional. Meg would back Hailey up online without her even knowing it.

  She got plenty of support too, and after a few minutes got the response she wanted. Kelly was posting again, saying the same things she'd started with, but still very deliberately never talking directly at Meg. Kelly specifically called out people who "didn't know better" and "hadn't had enough experience" commenting on actual real life danger.

  Meg was livid. Why is she being so stupid? And why do so many people seem to agree with her?

  Then, Meg had an idea. What if I posted it?

  She could. She had the original videos, and Nathan never really made enough noise to stand out. She was probably the only person online who had even watched it. If Meg posted it, she could claim they were hers. She could use them to back up her argument. Kelly wouldn't have anything on her after that.

  Meg started dreaming bigger. What if I posted it everywhere? Like the news and stuff?

  She had actual, video evidence of what happened in Rallsburg. People would be climbing over each other to get what she had. Even now, five months later, Rallsburg was still on everyone's mind, especially with the newest stuff in the case, the Hailey video, and the manhunt in Canada. And Meg Bensen, a fifteen year old kid in Kent, had the answers.

  She'd be famous. She'd catapult herself into having hundreds of thousands—no, millions of followers. Meg could tease out more, too. She knew she had the personality to handle a big following, she just never had a handle on how to start one. This was her ticket into the highest levels of social media.

  All it took was one quick upload, one button to move it from her cloud to the public.

  The face of the FBI agent glared at her from the very next story in her feed.

  Meg realized she was being crazy. Posting the video wouldn't do all that for her. It'd just put Hailey, and Alden and a whole lot of other people in danger. It'd expose their secret, and that was the last thing Meg wanted to do. She didn't want to disappoint Hailey. No matter how much it annoyed her that she had to stay quiet while Kelly got to look smart and make her look stupid.

  Being big wasn't what she really wanted though, and Meg knew it. She wanted what Alden had, what Hailey had, what the rest of them had. She wanted a taste of real magic, but she'd probably never get it. The closest she'd ever get was her brother.

  She wandered upstairs while her parents chatted about something bland and safe, usual parent talk. They were apparently going to head out again soon, something about a movie they wanted to see. Award-bait, nothing Meg was interested in. Alden's bedroom door was closed.

  She walked right in anyway.

  Alden was laid out on his bed, still in the same set of clothes, staring at the ceiling. Meg closed the door behind her and sat in Alden's desk chair. Very deliberately, she put her feet up on the desk, something she knew he hated.

  His head rotated over slightly. She glared at him, daring him to tell her to knock it off. To say anything.

  But he didn't. He turned back up to the ceiling again without a word.

  "Oh come on!" she cried. Sorry, Hailey, but this isn't my brother. I gotta do something.

  "Huh?"

  "Zack, what the fuck happened to you?" She was trying to annoy him again, swearing when she knew he hated it. Maybe if she annoyed him in a bunch of different ways at once, he'd finally snap and say something. "You've been a zombie since you got home last night."

  "Don't swear," he replied. It was mechanical, almost robotic, and without much feeling, but it was something.

  "Thank god, I thought you might be literally dead."

  He sat up, but he didn't look any better. If anything, he looked worse. "I should be," he murmured.

  "No, you shouldn't."

  "It's my fault."

  "What's your fault?"

  "Harold. All of it. I didn't… I couldn't—" He broke off, trembling again.

  Meg hurried over and sat down next to him. She held his hand, the same as she did whenever he woke up in the middle of the night. It helped. He started to calm down.

  "They had a gun pointed at my head, Meg," he whispered. "He could have pulled the trigger and I'd be dead, just like that."

  She hadn't realized that. She'd known they were armed, but that was way worse than what she'd been imagining. "Zack, it's okay. You're home now."

  "They're hunting us. It was a trap. I… I lead Hailey and Harold right into it. And Harold… oh god…" Alden looked like he might throw up. Meg leaned over and grabbed the trash can he kept by his desk, but thankfully all he did was gag a little. "I shouldn't be telling you this."

  "I'm good, Zack," she said, patting him on the back. "Nothing worse than what I've watched on TV." Except it is. It's happening to my big brother. Holy shit. This is crazy. "Hailey got you out, right? She saved you?"

  "Barely. She… we got lucky."

  "Nah, I'm sure she had it. That's what she does, she saves people."

  Alden shook his head. "If the FBI guy hadn't been there… she tried stalling and it didn't work. She just makes it up as she goes along. She didn't have a plan."

  "She probably didn't have a plan for that burning building either, but she saved all those people too, right?"

  "Not all of them." His head dropped even lower. "And if the guy hadn't said it was fake, we'd be in so much trouble right now. We just got lucky. Again." He quivered, and it transferred through to her hand and made her whole arm shake a little too. "We can't keep getting lucky like that forever."

  
  


  
  

  Alden managed to fall asleep again after an hour or so. Meg felt like leaving him alone was a bad idea, so she grabbed up her homework and brought it into his room. Lucky for her, he kept a pretty clean desk—and he'd taken some of her classes four years ago. She could use his notes, since the teachers never came up with new assignments (to her parents' vocal disappointment in their coworkers).

  But she couldn't focus. Her thoughts kept drifting back to what Alden had said, both about the bar and about Hailey. It was one thing for Kelly to call Hailey reckless and dangerous—she didn't know Hailey, or anything. She was just talking about stuff she didn't really understand.

  Alden knew Hailey, and Alden had been there. It was a lot harder for Meg to dismiss what he'd said.

  Reluctantly, Meg dug her phone out and pulled up the video of the building fire. She watched it again, but this time she focused on Hailey's face, not the action or the looks on the people surrounding her.

  Hailey looked excited, but there was something else too. She was surprised. Almost like she hadn't expected anyone to be watching. When she looked right at the camera, she was scared. Meg had mistaken it at first, but it was obvious now.

  Hailey hadn't had a clue what was going to happen when she leapt out of that window.

  Still, it didn't prove anything. It was just an expression on her face—and besides, she did save those people. That was good, no matter what someone might say.

  "Number four is wrong."

  Meg nearly dropped her phone as she spun around. Alden was leaning over the desk and looking at her math assignment.

  "Number three, too. You're doing these wrong."

  Meg snatched the paper out of his hand. "I would have found out when I checked the back."

  "Want help?"

  "No, I got it."

  Alden shrugged and sat back down on the bed. He seemed a lot more awake than he had before. Come to think of it, he hadn't woken up once in the few hours of napping he'd managed. That was progress. "Where are Mom and Dad?"

  "Went to a movie." She put away her phone and tried to start working on her homework again. It was due on Monday and she really wanted to have Sunday all to herself, if she could. Something still nagged at the back of her head though. She'd been with him basically every hour since he'd got home, except for the game. He hadn't eaten once. "You hungry?"

  "No."

  "Come on, you haven't eaten at all. You gotta be hungry."

  "I'm not."

  She frowned. "Maybe try eating something anyway? Like when you're sick, right?"

  Alden smiled weakly, which made her feel both a little better and a lot worse. "When'd you get to be my older sister?"

  Meg rolled her eyes. "Someone's gotta be the smart one in the family."

  "...I'll go eat something."

  "Do whatever you want." She leaned in and went back to her homework, while Alden headed downstairs. He returned with a plate of microwaved leftover pizza, which he chewed through slowly while watching the clouds drift by through the window.

  Meg turned on some music after a while, plugging her phone into the speakers on his desk. He didn't seem to mind, and it was better than the total silence. He occasionally glanced at his phone, but never turned it on. Like he was waiting for something. For Hailey? For one of his other friends, back in Rallsburg?

  But it never lit up. Eventually, he went back to sleep, while Meg kept working. She had a lot of homework, since she'd put it off all week. Then Friday had been so busy, so she hadn't gotten anything done, and now it was piled up high. On a normal Saturday, she'd be working through it with Kelly.

  For a brief moment, she considered calling Kelly, apologizing and getting together for the night. At Meg's house, of course, so she could keep an eye on Alden.

  She changed her mind almost instantly. Kelly couldn't be forgiven so easily. Not until she owned up to what she'd said.

  Even if it might be a little bit true.

  As she finished another class's stack of work and set it aside, she heard Alden getting up, so she wasn't surprised when he suddenly spoke up again. "You don't have to do all that in here."

  "You've got nicer speakers and a bigger desk," she pointed out.

  "But you have a nicer chair."

  "I dragged it in here." She pointed at his own chair, shoved into the corner. Somehow, he hadn't even noticed. "I'm just taking advantage of you, don't worry."

  "Okay."

  She grinned mischievously. "And you have to show me more magic later. Deal?"

  "Sure."

  Meg raised her eyebrows. "That easy?" Alden didn't usually agree to it so quickly.

  He hesitated. "...I think I'm going to need to start doing a lot more magic."

  "Why's that?"

  "To get stronger." He didn't elaborate, but Meg got the message.

  He wanted to be able to fight.

  
  


  
  

  Meg had expected Hailey to show up that night, or at least call or text, but neither of them got a single message from her. They watched the news just in case, but there wasn't anything new. Nothing new on the secret site for magic users either, which Alden still refused to let Meg see. She'd tried to get it out of his computer once while he wasn't home, but he was smart enough to lock everything before he left, every single time. He didn't want her snooping in on the people, apparently, but stuff about magic itself? He was more than willing to share.

  After their parents went to sleep, which was way earlier than either of them, they went out to the shed in the backyard. Meg pulled the chain for the single light bulb, and they pushed aside the lawn equipment to make a bit of space. She hopped up on the stack of patio chairs in the corner, excited as ever, though now it was tinted with a tingle of fear and trepidation.

  They had a bigger reason for Alden to get strong with magic now, besides just for the fun of it. People were really trying to hurt them now.

  Even though Meg couldn't do magic, she thought of herself as one of the group. She might not be awakened—to use their super-lame word for it—but she was still on the team. She covered for Alden and Hailey all the time, for one, and she also helped Alden train, helped him think of new spells on occasion. She'd come up with a few ideas he'd never thought of—and since he got a lot of his new stuff from the website, that meant no one had ever thought of it.

  Meg was pretty pleased with herself that day.

  Tonight, Alden was trying out one of her new ideas again. Having a specific topic like this, where he didn't have to think about anything that happened, seemed to snap him out of his fugue for a bit.

  "Go over it again?" he asked, staring at the candle sitting on a stack of plastic recycling crates.

  "Well, your affinity is Movement stuff, right?"

  "Yeah."

  "But you wanna be able to do elemental stuff better. Like being able to throw fire, since that's like everyone's go-to thing?"

  "It's the most well-known spell, so everyone knows how to make it without much energy. But I'm bad at manipulating it or creating a lot of it. And definitely not both."

  "Right, so just do one. Don't do both."

  "...That doesn't really help, Meg."

  She grinned. "You only make the fire with Elemental magic, but then you move it with Movement magic."

  "That's… not really how it works."

  "Why not?"

  Alden hesitated, and she could see his mind clicking through ideas. It seemed so obvious to her, but maybe she was missing something. She couldn't do magic, only he could. Still, he turned back to the candle and stared it down. She could see it flickering in his pupils.

  A bit of flame jumped off the candle and slid through mid-air to the side. Alden's eyes went wide.

  A second later, it flickered out as a tiny bit of ash fell to the concrete floor of the shed.

  "Bingo," Meg gloated. "I'm the best."

  "But it didn't last." Alden frowned.

  "Well you don't have to be mean about it."

  "It's because I moved the wick, not the fire. Maybe if I…" He tried again, and moved his hand a little at the same time. This time, there wasn't a tiny spot of black, and the candle was suddenly no longer burning. It was just an insubstantial flame, attached to nothing at all.

  Meg clapped, and Alden smiled. A few seconds later, it puffed out. He clutched the pile of crates to keep himself up.

  "Too much?" she asked, recognizing magic fatigue when she saw it. "We've been going all night. Maybe take a break?"

  "Nah, it was just too sudden. I had to switch from moving the fire to keeping it alive. Still easier than making it myself though. It's a good start. I can work with it."

  "Awesome."

  Alden sat down in the lone chair on his side, taking a drink from his water bottle. Meg decided it was as good a time as any to ask a few more questions, since he seemed to be in a pretty good mood. It was loads better than earlier.

  "Hey Zack."

  "Yeah?"

  She took a breath, building up to a question she'd been meaning to ask for months. "Did you ever find out… you know." He didn't seem to understand. "What you went there to find out. You know. To Rallsburg."

  "Oh." He glanced up at the small window in the shed, where they could just barely see the empty room that had puzzled them both for so long. Even now, it sat totally unused. They'd thought about practicing magic in it, but decided the shed was safer. Plus, something about it just made them both feel sad. None of the family liked going in that room. "No, I didn't. Not really."

  "What does that mean?"

  "Well. She and I—"

  "Who?"

  He glanced at her oddly. "I never told you about her?"

  "Who, your girlfriend?"

  He laughed. She felt indignant for a moment, but it was gone as soon as she'd realized he was laughing. This was miles better than she'd hoped for only the night before. "She's way out of my league. Out of anyone's league probably. She's in her own league of one and she'd never let anyone else into it if she could help it."

  "I know some girls like that."

  "She's the one who taught me how to cast a lot of my early stuff. I met her on the train ride there."

  "And what's she like?"

  "Kinda short, blue hair, and she'd be really attractive if she wasn't so scary."

  Meg rolled her eyes. "Her personality. You are such a guy."

  "What, scary isn't a personality?"

  "No."

  "...She's really intense, but you can tell she cares a lot. Too much, probably. And she's always on a mission. One specific mission, really, and she's never gonna let anything get in her way."

  "What's that?"

  "She's trying to find her father."

  "Well how hard could that be?"

  "Really hard, I guess. We never really got into specifics. I think he's in hiding though. He was super rich, then he sold off his company and all his stuff and disappeared one day."

  "Wow. I hope she finds him."

  Alden shook his head. "I don't."

  "Huh?"

  "I think she's actually gonna kill him."

  "...What?"

  "She said she was going to. I didn't really believe it at first, but I saw her in action. She'd do it." He sighed. "It's a long story. We got off topic."

  "It's cool."

  Alden glanced up at the empty room again. "I think we had an older sibling, and I think they were erased by magic somehow."

  Meg took a few seconds to process what he'd just said. "...That's supposed to be impossible, right? Mason's Law or whatever."

  "Yeah, but some things break that law. Like recoil from broken spells. Or…" he trailed off. "Or this, apparently."

  "How'd you figure it out?"

  "Well, it's the only thing that made sense with everything I had. The university envelope, the empty laptop, the empty room, so on. I didn't think it was magic though, until I got to Rallsburg and… yeah."

  "And you got awakened and now you can do cool magic tricks."

  "Pretty much. Grey-eyes told me that it couldn't be undone. Whoever they were, they're not coming back. Our memories are toast."

  "That's crazy." Meg felt weird. She didn't know what to think about it. Someone had messed with her head? She couldn't remember someone at all? And the goddess of magic herself said it couldn't be reversed. It was too much to consider. All she could do was try to take it with a dash of humor, or else she knew she'd start stewing about it for days. "You know what though?"

  "What?"

  "I bet we had an older sister."

  Alden's mouth twitched slightly. "Why d'you say that?"

  "'Cause an older brother wouldn't have cleaned everything on his way out. He would have left a mess." She jabbed him with her foot teasingly.

  "Hey, I clean up after myself."

  "Yeah you do, you freak." She picked up the candle lighter and lit it again. "Come on, let's keep trying. You should get this down."

  
  


  
  

  Sunday morning. Meg woke up staring at Alden's ceiling yet again. He'd still woken her up again last night, around two in the morning. She'd hoped they'd gotten past it, but apparently not. So when he came downstairs, looking miserable, she poured him a bowl of cereal without a word. They ate in silence, Meg browsing through an increasingly-irritating social feed and Alden staring at his bowl without lifting a finger.

  Hailey had never checked in, not even once. Meg wondered if she should text her, remind her that Alden could do with some company. Hailey should have known that though, right? She knew about taking care of people.

  Meg was starting to have nightmares now too, though hers thankfully didn't wake her up in cold sweats screaming her lungs out. She dreamt she was running through a mansion of totally empty rooms, searching desperately for something she didn't even know, and every time she left a room it faded into black, until the entire mansion seemed to be disappearing around her.

  She had it twice, both before and after Alden had woken her up, and though she wasn't one to read much into dreams, the meaning was painfully obvious.

  Their parents were out at church, but both Alden and Meg had stopped going a few years back. Meg because she hated singing in public, and Alden (though he'd never tell his parents) because he didn't actually believe it anymore. She didn't really get how that had happened, but she knew that telling anyone wouldn't really do him any good. Their parents never made a big deal out of it, so it didn't affect them much at the end of the day.

  So only a couple hours later, they found themselves right back in Alden's room, with Meg trying to finish the rest of her homework, and Alden reading an old favorite book. Meg probably could have gotten a lot more done, but her phone kept chirping at her with new posts to read, and she couldn't resist seeing what Kelly was up to.

  She is just not letting this go, is she? Now that rumors were flying around of Hailey being sighted all over both Seattle and Tacoma (which Meg was pretty sure were fake), and acting as some kind of vigilante hero, people were chiming in on both sides of the argument. As usual, Kelly was critical.

  Meg started typing a furious retort, careful to make sure it wasn't actually aimed at Kelly directly, but she hesitated. After what she'd heard from Alden, and rewatching both the building video and the clip of Hailey in Rallsburg, Meg wasn't so sure anymore. Hailey was still trying to do good, for sure, but Kelly wasn't totally wrong. She didn't need to be so harsh about it, but… she made some good points.

  Not that Meg could tell her that.

  Meg deleted the comment instead of posting it, and went back to her homework.

  "That was angry, whatever it was. I feel sorry for the other girl," said Alden.

  "Who says it was a girl?" Meg answered, almost automatically. She didn't bother to look up at him.

  "If it were a guy you'd be trying to stay on his good side so you could ask him out."

  "As if. I'd call out anyone on their bullshit, boy or girl."

  "Don't swear."

  "Like your bullshit," she snapped, spinning in the chair. To her surprise, Alden was on his feet, and had a backpack on. She kept going anyway, but she was already confused by his appearance. "When are you gonna see I'm not a little kid anymore? Who cares if I cuss a bit?"

  "I do. I'm your big brother."

  "Well thanks, bro, but I think I can handle my own vocabulary."

  Alden shrugged. "It's up to you."

  "Yeah it is." Meg set down her phone. "You seem better."

  "I made a decision."

  "Oh?"

  "I'm not sitting around at home anymore. I'm gonna get out there."

  "Mom and Dad'll be happy." Meg glanced at the window pointedly. "Where you gonna go?"

  "I'm gonna go find her."

  "Hailey?"

  "No, the girl I met in Rallsburg."

  Meg raised her eyebrows. "I thought she wasn't your girlfriend."

  "Not in a million years. But she said something to me back there. That we were fated to run into each other."

  "Oh please. That's a cheap pick-up line."

  "She meant it. There were three of us in Rallsburg who kept running into each other, who had missing family members. Her and her dad, Natalie and her dad, and me and my…"

  "Impossibly cool older sister," Meg supplied.

  "Yeah, that one." Alden smiled. "She and I made a pretty good team for a while there. I think so, anyway. I think I can help her out, wherever she is. It's better than sitting around here doing nothing, but it's also not… anywhere near what I've been doing. It'll be safe."

  "How are you gonna find her?"

  "I have her number."

  Meg laughed. "That's way too easy."

  "No one picks up on the other end when I call. So I'm gonna go out to where I know she was headed last, find anyone who might have spotted a helicopter landing in the area, and follow the clues from there." He paused. "I won't be coming back home until I find her."

  "Okay, that's a little harder." Meg glanced at her phone. "You want help? I'm pretty good at finding profiles online."

  "Go for it, but I wouldn't be surprised if you don't find anything. She's not the social media type."

  "Everyone's the social media type. Some people just hide it better." Meg grinned. "I'll find her, you'll see."

  "You don't even know her name."

  Oh. Duh. "Well, you gonna tell me?"

  He winced. "No."

  Meg grinned. "Uh-huh. Is Hailey gonna go with you?"

  Alden hesitated. "...No. And you shouldn't tell her where I went, either."

  "Why not?"

  "Hailey doesn't really have the… finesse for this kind of thing."

  "What?"

  "She doesn't think all her plans through. She just leaps in with both feet whenever she can. Sometimes that works out great, and sometimes…" He shook his head.

  Meg wanted to argue with him, shout that Hailey was perfect and they just didn't understand what she was doing, but between Kelly and Alden, and all the stuff she'd seen herself, she didn't feel quite so enamored anymore. She still thought Hailey meant well, but there was a gap. Hailey wasn't on top of a pedestal anymore.

  She was human just like the rest of them. Just like Meg, but with a little bit extra on the side. A little bit—well, a lot, really—of magic.

  It broke Meg's heart to realize it.

  "I won't tell her," she promised. "Breaking up the dream team of Zack and Hailey's gonna hurt though. You guys were working together, weren't you?"

  Alden shook his head. "After what happened, they're shutting everyone out. No more risks for a while. Not until we can deal with… what happened." He didn't want to say it, and Meg didn't make him. "I'll tell Hailey eventually, promise. But for now, we just won't say anything."

  "I'm never gonna get to fly with her at this rate," Meg grumbled.

  "I'll make sure you do."

  Meg shrugged. "I bet I'm a way better flyer than you are."

  "Probably. You're easier to carry."

  "Hey!"

  He smiled. "Cover for me with Mom and Dad?"

  "Duh. You owe me even more big time though."

  Alden grinned. "When I get back, I promise. I'll bring you a present better than you can imagine."

  "I can imagine a lot, Zack."

  "I'll beat it, trust me." He paused. "Also, don't call me Zack."

  "What, you changing your name again?"

  "No. Just Alden."

  "I thought you didn't want to be 'just another Alden'."

  He shrugged. "We already had part of our family disappear. I feel like I shouldn't be trying to take away more."

  "Way to make it weird, bro."

  "It's symbolic, all right?"

  "Whatever." Meg got up and walked across the room. She threw her arms around him and hugged him tight for a second, then broke away. "Stay safe."

  "You too."

  "From what, paper cuts?" Meg plopped back onto the chair in front of his desk. "I'm totally using your desk while you're gone."

  "Have at it."

  "How are you gonna survive without me?"

  "I dunno, I did pretty well for a while there. Eighteen years or so. It was touch and go for a bit but we made it."

  It was so much better to hear him joking and teasing like a normal brother, but there was still an uneven, hollow tone to everything he said. She was trying to tease him right back, but she could tell he was still hurting. Meg wasn't sure if she should let him go in the state he was in, but she couldn't think of a good reason to try to keep him home either. He felt like he had to do this, and who was she to tell him not to?

  "You still haven't slept more than a couple hours without waking up," she said quietly.

  "...Yeah, I know."

  "You aren't better yet."

  "I know."

  "You know this is all crazy right? That you're running out on an insane quest to find a girl you only knew for a week?"

  He shrugged. "She's the reason this all started for me, so maybe she's the only way to end it. I dunno. But I'm gonna find her."

  "You're crazy."

  "Me and every other Awakened." He grinned. "Rika called me a hopeless romantic once. Guess it stuck."

  "Well… good luck," Meg said awkwardly, not sure what else to say.

  "Thanks." He picked up a duffel bag she hadn't seen before. He'd been packing and she hadn't even noticed. "I'll let you know where I am. Just… you know."

  "Just in case," she finished. "I know."

  "See you later, Meg."

  Alden left. Meg watched him go from his bedroom window, as he walked down to the street and turned to the nearest bus stop. He'd catch it and ride the buses and trains all the way back to the bar in Tacoma, where he'd get his car. From there… who knew?

  How the hell am I supposed to get my homework done now?

  Meg sat back in the chair, thinking about everything. Her imaginary older sister, who was both the coolest and strongest person she knew, but also the nicest and funniest at the same time, and always made sure Meg never got overshadowed or overlooked. Someone she could actually talk to about her life and all the stuff she was going through. Someone who wouldn't judge her. That'd be nice to have. Alden was a great brother, but there were things she couldn't really talk to him about. He was a guy.

  She thought about Hailey, who she realized she'd started trying to turn into an adoptive sister in a way. Hailey couldn't really be her sister though. She had so much going on, and even if they got along okay, they weren't really that much alike. Besides, Meg hadn't really needed her to talk to or anything. If anything Meg was the one listening to Hailey, and to Alden, and everyone else that buzzed through their house. Even Jessica "talked" to Meg more than Meg tried to communicate back.

  Maybe Meg didn't really need a sister. Maybe she was the sister everyone else needed.

  Figures I get the lame part of this deal.

  If Alden had managed a revelation over the weekend, then apparently so had Meg. The argument with Kelly seemed so petty now, sniping at each other over the exploits of someone who wasn't even supposed to be alive. Her brother, and Hailey, and everyone else—they were all dealing with so many bigger things than that. People were trying to hunt down awakened and kill them. That was crazy. Not a girl jumping into a burning building and saving a few people. That was just typical reckless heroism.

  Meg got out her laptop, browsed through the drive and deleted the live streams, both of them. She did the same on her phone, and cleared them off her cloud account too. She scrubbed it all as clean as she knew how.

  A little burst of fame wasn't worth the damage those videos might cause, so Meg got rid of them. A bit of comfort wasn't worth Alden's pain, so she spent nights on his floor. A pat on the back from Hailey wasn't worth breaking Alden's trust and his recovery, so she'd lie to her idol about where he'd gone.

  Everything was a trade-off, just like her economics homework said.

  See, school really does teach you stuff!

  Meg rolled her eyes at herself, then sat down and got back to work. She still had to finish it before the next day, or her parents would chew her out.

  It was a bit too quiet though. A bit… uncomfortable. She turned on some music again, but it didn't help.

  Meg thought about it for a minute. Then she turned off the music, picked up her homework and her textbooks, and carried them down the hall to the last room. The empty room.

  She sat down in the corner, back up against the wall with a couple pillows from her room, and laid out her books on the floor. She leaned over and started working again, and suddenly it didn't seem so quiet anymore. Even though the room was silent besides her pencil scratching and the buttons on her calculator, and the only thing moving was the clouds in the sky through the window… it felt all right.

  It happened a couple times. She could have sworn she saw something move out of the corner of her eye, but when she looked up, the room was as empty as always. Her parents weren't home, and they had the loudest front door and garage known to man, so she knew they weren't suddenly back either.

  Meg shrugged and went back to her homework. She was just imagining things.

  Probably.

 

 

 

 

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About the author

Etzoli

  • Oregon
  • Amateur Technological Thaumaturge
  • https://etzo.li

Bio: Sysadmin, student, wordsmith, TV obsessive, pretzel addict.
Many keyboards have perished in my pursuit of wordcounts.

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Etzoli @Etzoli ago

back to regular schedule on Friday, as usual. hope you enjoyed this little segue into Meg’s perspective. I’m always fascinated by the family members surrounding ultra-powerful, ultra-important people. Alden, of course, is one major example, and I couldn’t go too long without delving into the youngest member of the house.

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Dragrath @Dragrath ago

Hmm she really would make a good mage huh? She indirectly seems better at coming up with suggestions than the actual mage in the room she would probably be the type of person biased towards informational magic as dangerous as that is. As for who was stealthily watching it seems pretty obvious not that they would know given B kinda erased all connection to her family more or less breaking them.... I wonder if/when B is going to snap she only really has Hailey as human contacts now.... Thanks for the interlude!