The Sister Effect
After telling Kirielle to pack her things for the trip (a task she immediately set off to accomplish), he filled his room with multicolored orbs of light and went down to the kitchen to face mother. The lightshow was something he did in every restart, since he wasn’t sure Ilsa would agree to arrange additional tutoring for him unless she stumbled on it. Not that it did him much good, since these short loops he was stuck in ceased too soon for him to gain anything from it, but he kept doing it regardless. Just in case. Who knew, maybe this particular restart would be the one where Zach stopped dying so soon.
Mother studied him like a hawk as he descended down the stairs, looking for any flaw in his appearance she could criticize. He knew from experience that she would find something to complain about, but he didn’t really care. He was dressed well enough to avoid a protracted lecture about family honor, and that was all that mattered. For a while he had tried to use his time loop given foreknowledge to appear ‘perfect’, but that hadn’t worked on her. Talk about high standards. Maybe she really was deliberately trying to annoy him to make sure he’d refuse to take Kirielle with him?
Sitting at the table, he pushed the cold porridge to the side and started eating apples instead, ignoring mother’s annoyance at spurning her food. After she had realized he wasn’t going to say anything she released a dramatic sigh and launched into one of her long-winded monologues, dancing around the real issue she wanted to talk to him about – the possibility of him taking Kirielle with him to Cyoria.
“Now that I think about it,” mother said, finally deciding to get to the point, “I never told you I’m going to Koth with your father to visit Daimen, did I?”
“You want me to take Kiri with me to Cyoria,” Zorian ‘guessed’.
“I… what?” she blinked, surprised for a second. Then she shook her head slightly and sighed. “She told you,” she concluded.
“Yup,” Zorian confirmed.
“So much for picking the right moment like we agreed upon,” mother said. “I guess I should go and comfort her.”
“Why would she need comforting?” Zorian asked. “I said yes. She was ecstatic. She’s in her room right now, packing her things.”
She looked at him like he had suddenly started reciting classical poetry. Zorian didn’t know whether to feel guilty or annoyed. Was it really that weird for him to agree to this? Before he had enrolled into the academy he had spent more time with the little imp than anyone else in the family, mother included. He was more of a parent to Kirielle than she and father ever were! Really, if Kirielle had just told him she wanted to go herself instead of having mother speak for her, he probably would have agreed to it after some arguing, even before the time loop.
Annoyed. He was definitely feeling annoyed with her. He leveled a challenging glare at mother, daring her to say something.
“What?” he snapped after a few seconds of mutual staring.
“Nothing,” she said, schooling her expression into something unreadable. “I’m just surprised, that’s all. I’m glad you’re finally starting to think about someone other than yourself. Have you thought about housing?”
“I have,” confirmed Zorian. “It depends on whether I’ll have to pay for the arrangements from my own pocket or if you’ll give me extra money for rent.”
“Now you’re just being insulting,” his mother snapped. “Of course we’ll give you rent money. When did we ever make you pay for essential living expenses by yourself? How much do you need?”
As if her own remark about him finally thinking about someone other than himself wasn’t just as insulting. He was just responding in kind. But yes, Zorian grudgingly admitted she was right – his parents had many flaws, but they would never let him go hungry or homeless unless they were completely bankrupt themselves. He was the disfavored son, but a son nonetheless. They spent the next several minutes discussing living expenses in Cyoria, arguing back and forth about how much money he would need to rent some place and feed Kirielle. He, of course, favored larger sums, and he knew enough about Cyoria’s economy to give weight to his arguments. Mother made no secret about her surprise at his knowledge of rent prices in various districts of Cyoria – apparently she was under the impression such ‘down to earth’ knowledge didn’t interest him. Zorian decided not to explain he was keeping track of rent prices so he could move away from home at a moment’s notice, instead trying to change the subject. He was not very effective in that regard – mother was stubbornly fixated on that little factoid – but Ilsa’s arrival saved him from her interrogation. Mother quickly excused herself, saying she was going to help Kirielle pack, but Zorian still led Ilsa back to his room when she asked him where they could have some privacy. He had to show her all those lights he ‘accidentally’ forgot to dispel, after all.
At first the talk proceeded in a fairly standard fashion, but the usual routine he was used to was quickly shattered when they reached the topic of habitation.
“According to this,” began Ilsa, momentarily shaking a piece of paper she was holding, “you lived in academy housing for the past two years. I assume you intend to do the same this year, too?”
“Err, actually, no,” answered Zorian. “I’m taking my younger sister with me this year, so I can’t do that. Unless the academy makes allowances for such things?”
“It doesn’t,” Ilsa said.
“I figured,” Zorian said, not really surprised by that. “We’ll just stay in a hotel for a few days until I find a place to rent.”
Ilsa gave him a strange look that Zorian had trouble deciphering.
“You don’t have a place reserved already?” she asked.
“No,” Zorian said. “The decision was a bit abrupt so I didn’t have any time to make proper preparations. Why?”
“I may have a solution for you in regards to that,” Ilsa said, straightening her posture into a slightly more serious stance.
“You mean you know a place I could rent?” Zorian asked. Ilsa nodded. “That’s… fortunate, I guess. What do you have in mind?”
“First of all, I want to emphasize that what I’m about to offer you has nothing to do with the Cyoria Royal Academy of Magical Arts,” Ilsa cautioned. “This is something strictly between the two of us, understand?”
“Okay,” said Zorian cautiously. He was getting slightly concerned now, but he sensed no deception or ill intent from Ilsa. He waited to hear what she was offering.
“A friend of mine is renting rooms at very reasonable rates…” Ilsa began.
After several minutes of questioning and reading between the lines, Zorian decided he would give Ilsa’s friend a chance. Her ‘reasonable rates’ were a tad expensive, but it was manageable. Ilsa also suggested her friend loved children and would be all too happy to take care of Kirielle while he was at class, which would be worth every piece he paid for the place if actually true.
After that, the topic shifted to his choice of mentor (or rather, the fact that he wasn’t allowed to choose one), and his choice of electives. Since he had pretty much tried out every elective he was even remotely interested in by now, his choices were pretty constant at this point: botany, astronomy, and human anatomy. He chose them solely because he knew for a fact that teachers of those particular subjects didn’t care in the slightest if he chose not to come to class, and because Akoja didn’t choose any of them as her electives (and thus wasn’t aware he was skipping them).
The moment Ilsa went back to the academy, Kirielle came barreling down the stairs like a herd of elephants, ignoring mother’s admonishments about running inside the house. No doubt she had finished packing a while ago and had been simply waiting for Ilsa to leave so she could come out.
“I’m ready!” she grinned happily.
“So you have everything packed?” asked Zorian.
“Yup!” she nodded.
“What about my books?” asked Zorian.
“Why would I pack your books?” she scowled. “You can do that yourself, lazy ass!”
“Well, you did take them from my room and hide them under your bed,” Zorian remarked.
“Oh!” Her eyes widened in understanding. “Those books! Umm… I guess I kind of forgot to give those back to you. I’ll put them back in your room, okay?”
“What are you two talking about?” mother asked as she approached.
“Nothing!” Kirielle said in a slightly panicky voice, whirring quickly to face mother. “I just forgot something, that’s all! I’ll be right back!”
She quickly bolted up the stairs, ignoring mother’s repeated admonishment about not running in the house. Zorian looked at her retreating form with narrowed eyes. Why was Kirielle so frightened about mother finding out she had been taking books out of his room? It was hardly the first time she helped herself to his things, and mother never cared before. There was something of significance hidden in that seemingly innocuous reaction, he just knew it.
He was starting to think he didn’t know Kirielle half as well as he thought he did.
* * *
Zorian opened his eyes and glared at his little sister. He couldn’t close his eyes for more than a minute without her saying something or ‘accidentally’ kicking him in the knees with her pointy little shoes. And he had thought the station announcer was annoying.
“I can tell,” he said, rolling his eyes. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“Play a game with me?” she said hopefully.
“Haven’t we done enough of that already?” he sighed. “There are only so many times I can beat you at hangman before it gets boring.”
“You were cheating!” she protested. “’Asphyxiation’ isn’t even a real word!”
“What!? Of course it is!” he shot back. “You’re just-“
“Liar!” she interrupted.
“Whatever,” Zorian scoffed. “It’s not like that was the only game where I won.”
“So you admit you cheated in that one!” she concluded triumphantly.
Zorian opened his mouth to retort before he closed it again.
“Why am I arguing about this?” he asked out loud, though it was directed more towards himself than Kiri.
A sharp crackling sound that always heralded the voice of the station announcer stopped any further argument they may have had.
“Now stopping in Korsa,” a disembodied voice echoed. A crackling sound again. “I repeat, now stopping in Korsa. Thank you.”
“Oh thank the gods,” Zorian mumbled. Not only did arriving in Korsa mean three quarters of the journey was over, it also meant someone was going to join them in their compartment, thus giving Kirielle someone else to annoy.
Someone other than Ibery, though – he purposely avoided his usual compartment to ensure she and Kiri would never meet, since he had a suspicion a conversation between them wouldn’t end well. Kiri didn’t like Fortov any more than Zorian did, and she was a lot less tactful about it.
“So many people,” Kiri remarked, watching the throng at the train station through the window. “Are those all students like you?”
“Most of them, yeah,” Zorian said. “Though not all of them go to the same school as I do. There is more than one academy in Cyoria.”
“I thought mages were rarer than this,” she said. “Mom says you need to be really smart to be one. Do you think I could be a mage too one day?”
“Sure,” he shrugged.
“Really?” she asked, a mixture of excitement and suspicion radiating from her voice and posture. Zorian supposed she half-expected him to use his agreement as a set up for a mean-spirited joke or something along those lines.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “I don’t see why you couldn’t. You seem to be doing well enough in school from what I heard, so I don’t see why your intelligence would be a problem. And it’s not like our parents can’t afford to send you somewhere, even if it isn’t Cyoria.”
Kirielle didn’t answer, choosing instead to look through the window in silence and pointedly refusing to look him in the eye. He was just about to ask her what’s wrong when the door to the compartment slid open, distracting him.
“Byrn Ivarin,” the boy introduced himself. “Can I sit here?”
Zorian waved him in without a word. This was the guy who inspired him to seek employment in the library the last time they had spoken with each other. The boy had been quite talkative back then, so he should be perfect! Even if he was disinclined to talk to someone so young, he doubted Kirielle would let him ignore her, and he seemed too polite to just plain snub her to her face. Hopefully he would keep Kirielle busy till the rest of the journey.
“I’m Kirielle Kazinski,” his sister promptly introduced herself, “and that’s my brother Zorian. Are you a student like Zorian? Can you do magic?”
“Err, well… yes,” Byrn said, torn between desire to ask about the surname and a desire to be polite and answer Kirielle’s question. Politeness won in the end. “I’m only a first year, though, so it’s not like I have anything to brag with.”
Sadly for Byrn, he would have to wait for a while before he could ask about the surname – Kirielle was on a roll, and promptly assaulted the poor kid with every question imaginable. Zorian soon found out that Byrn was an only child of two first generation mages from Korsa, and that his family had pretty high expectations of him. Byrn was as excited to be away from his overbearing parents as he was about learning magic. That, at least, was something Zorian could empathize with.
“3 older brothers, huh?” Byrn laughed. “Poor you. Though… I kind of wish I had a few older brothers myself. My parents could have someone else to focus on every once in a while.”
“I know what you mean,” Kirielle said. “Ever since Zorian started going to the academy, mother has no one but me to pay attention to. It sucks.”
Zorian flinched in sympathy. He hadn’t thought of that, but it shed a great deal of light on Kirielle’s behavior for the past two years. Without Zorian there to act like a figurative lightning rod for mother’s criticism, Kirielle’s time at home probably took a sharp turn for the worse in his absence. A part of him was pleased that the little imp was forced to experience some of what he went through in his daily interactions with their family, but he mostly thought she didn’t deserve something like that.
“So, I’ve been meaning to ask,” said Byrn. “Your last name is pretty distinctive. Not that many Kazinskis walking around. Are you related to Daimen Kazinski by any chance?”
“He’s our brother,” Kirielle said.
“Really?” asked Byrn excitedly. “You know, I haven’t heard anything about him in a while. What is he up to currently?”
“He’s in Koth,” Kirielle said. “I think he found something in the jungle but… I don’t know. I don’t really talk to him all that often. He’s always traveling. You’re more likely to find out about him in the newspapers than by talking to me. Zorian knows him better than I do.”
Zorian shot Kirielle a quick glare for putting him on the spot like that, and on the topic of Daimen no less! The little imp just stuck her tongue at him. Hmph.
“Daimen and I don’t get along,” Zorian said bluntly. “There is not much I can tell you about him that Kiri hasn’t already.”
“Oh,” Byrn said, obviously disappointed. He let out a slightly strained laugh, trying to dispel the somewhat awkward atmosphere that descended on the compartment. “And here I thought I would get some inside stories about one of my heroes. Though I suppose in a way I did, didn’t I? It’s a bit sad that he doesn’t have time for his family.”
“Hmm,” hummed Zorian noncommittally.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, except that Byrn decided to tag along with them for a while after they disembarked. Both Byrn and Kirielle were awed (and more than a little intimidated) by the sheer size and activity of Cyoria’s train station, and Zorian decided to be nice and give them a brief tour around the place. The tour turned out to be not as brief as he had intended, however, because Kirielle insisted on browsing the stores. He tried to tell her that every shop in and around the train station sold massively overpriced merchandise (because they could, thanks to their favorable location) and that he wouldn’t be buying her anything, but that didn’t deter her in the slightest. She was ‘just looking’. Byrn, for some unfathomable reason, sided with Kiri. He liked browsing stores too, apparently. Madness.
Since they had wasted so much time, however, the rain had already started falling by the time they were ready to depart. Byrn had no umbrella, of course, and even if he had, the amount of luggage he carried would make a trek through the rain a problematic endeavor. Zorian reluctantly offered to help – the boy looked so miserable at this sudden turn of events that Zorian didn’t have the heart to just walk away.
Besides, Kirielle wouldn’t let him do that, and he didn’t want to make a scene by dragging her away so they could be on their way.
“I really appreciate this, you know?” Byrn said, curiously brushing his fingers against the dome of the rain barrier spell surrounding them. “I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for you. It doesn’t seem like the rain is going to stop any time soon.”
“For the last time, it’s alright,” Zorian sighed. “Really, I live to help.”
Byrn ‘covertly’ mouthed ‘thank you’ to Kirielle, who was unabashedly playing with the rain barrier by sticking her arms and legs outside the protective dome and then drawing them back in, causing her to give him a thumbs up. Apparently the boy knew whom to thank for his good fortune. Hmph. If he ran out of mana halfway to their new home after getting Byrn to the academy, it would be on her head. Rain barrier was quite draining, and he had to enlarge it so it would cover all three of them plus the floating disk that carried their combined luggage.
“This spell is awesome,” Kirielle declared. “How hard is it? Do you think you could teach me how to cast this one? I won’t tell anyone!”
“Oh please,” Zorian snorted. “You can’t even feel your mana, much less shape it. It’s not a question of legality, it’s a question of skill. It would take months if you’re some kind of genius, a year or two otherwise. Just wait until you enroll into a magic school yourself, okay?”
Kirielle immediately deflated.
In the end they managed to deposit Byrn to the safety of the academy’s own rain wards without issues before going their own way. In fact, they nearly made it to their destination before Zorian ran out of mana, causing the rain barrier to wink out of existence.
Emphasis on ‘nearly’. He hoped Ilsa’s friend wasn’t sensitive about people bringing water into the house.
* * *
“You should have waited! Honestly, what possessed you to walk around in this horrid weather? Kids these days think they’re invincible…”
Zorian rolled his eyes at his host’s scolding, not hiding his reaction in the slightest since she was busy rummaging through a set of drawers and wasn’t really facing him. The rain would have continued throughout the entire night – though he couldn’t exactly tell her how he knew that – so waiting it out hadn’t been an option. Besides, they would have made it just fine if Kirielle hadn’t been so stubborn about getting Byrn to the academy grounds first. And also, it’s not like their brief run through the rain was all that traumatic. So really, why was she getting so worked up about it?
His thoughts were interrupted by a towel hitting him in the face.
“There. You can use that to dry your hair,” she said. “I’ll go see if your sister needs any help. You just hope she doesn’t get sick from this or you’ll be hearing from me about this, you hear?”
“She’s not a sugar cube,” Zorian mumbled. “She’s not going to fall apart just because she got a little wet.”
Either that was spoken too softly for her to hear or she decided to ignore him, but either way she just walked past him and left the room. Unconcerned, Zorian sat down on a nearby chair, studying the place they were in.
Their landlord, one Imaya Kuroshka, was a lively middle-aged woman that quickly ushered them in when she found them, soaking-wet, on her doorstep. She hadn’t even asked for their identities before she had done that – it took an introduction by Zorian until she realized they actually had a reason beyond getting out of the rain when they knocked on her door. Zorian was tempted to deliver his own scolding to the woman about naiveté and letting strangers into the house, but unlike some people, he chose not to be difficult. She seemed nice enough, all things considered. At the very least she didn’t appear to be one of those landlords that tried to bleed their tenants of everything they could part with, though it was hard to be sure this soon.
The part that irked him a little was that Imaya seemed to consider them living at her place a done deal already. He only agreed to check the place out, nothing more!
Once Imaya returned with Kirielle (who had changed her clothes and mostly dried her hair at this point, and seemed completely unaffected by the fact she had been running through the pouring rain less than an hour ago) they started talking. Zorian had to steer the conversation back to the topic of their stay every once in a while, since both Imaya and Kirielle were content to let the conversation wander around if he let them. He also had to kick Kirielle a few times under the table to get her to shut up – Ilsa had told him never to broach the topic of marriage and husbands in front of Imaya for… some unspecified reason. Zorian liked it when people respected his privacy, so he was content to do the same of Imaya, and had warned Kirielle to abide by the rule as well. Something she evidently had problems with, due to her tendency to babble.
Their arrangement was not exactly to his liking, in all honesty. Imaya’s house clearly hadn’t been designed for rent – it was a normal, if large, family home that had a bunch of empty sleeping rooms on the second floor. Zorian and Kirielle would be getting one of them, and they would be sharing the rest of the house facilities with Imaya and 2 other tenants that were scheduled to arrive in the next few days. That was a lot less privacy than he was comfortable with. Not to mention that their room only had one bed, meaning he would have to sleep together with Kirielle. Zorian had actually spent a few nights with Kirielle when she had been younger, and knew for a fact that Kirielle was a restless sleeper and a cover hog, so he had big issues with that. Thankfully, they were the only tenants at the moment, so Imaya allowed him to claim an additional room for himself at no extra charge, with the stipulation that he move back in with Kirielle when she found a proper tenant for it.
Zorian decided to quietly look into other places to rent tomorrow. Just in case.
* * *
Despite his novel living arrangements and Kirielle’s presence, the next few days were fairly standard. He applied for the job at the library. He went to talk to Ilsa about advanced instruction and chose divination as a discipline he was interested in. He practiced various shaping exercises whenever he had some free time, concentrating mostly on the north finding one since that exercise was supposed to help with divinations. Taiven tracked him down, despite his change of residence, and Zorian notified her about the ‘rumors’ about mind magic using giant spiders running around the sewers to make sure she’d survive the encounter. Despite his misgivings, he decided not to leave Imaya’s place, since Imaya did a masterful job of keeping Kirielle happy and off his back. For her part, Kirielle was remarkably well behaved. She spent a lot of her time drawing things. He didn’t even know she liked to draw. She never did it at home as far as he knew. Maybe the trip had inspired her to take up a hobby?
In any case, once those first couple of days had passed, everything just… went off the rails. For one thing, the restart hadn’t ended at that point and instead just kept going, which was noteworthy by itself. More importantly, however, he was once again asked by Ilsa to greet Kael and his daughter at Cyoria’s main train station… only to find out that Kael had also rented a room at Imaya’s place. For pretty much the same reason that he had, too – Ilsa had recommended the place.
So now he was living in the same house with his little sister, a teenage morlock and his daughter, and a landlord that didn’t really act like a landlord. He was finally going to meet his divination instructor, Xvim would be throwing marbles at him again come next Friday, Ilsa apparently visited her friend’s house on a regular basis, and Imaya invited Taiven to eat with them next Sunday while she was trying to talk Zorian into following her into the sewers. Clearly this was not going to be your average restart.
“I still feel like I’m taking advantage of you,” Kael said, pouring a fist-full of blue powder into a transparent glass container.
“And I still can’t imagine why,” Zorian said, not taking his eyes off the tiny blue mushrooms he was currently grinding into more powder. “I stock your lab with ingredients, and you let me be your assistant while you do your work. You get to save a little money on reagents and I get some practical alchemical experience. What on earth is predatorial about that? Here.”
He thrust the powdered mushrooms to the white-haired boy, who sighed in defeat and went back to work. Zorian took the time to look around the workshop without being too blatant about it.
Kael’s workshop was pretty amazing considering it was really just a basement that Imaya donated to the boy so he could convert it to his purposes. Setting it up was the first thing Kael did after moving into the place, with Imaya being surprisingly unconcerned about a mere academy student working with dangerous magical concoctions right under her home. ‘Ilsa assured me Kael knows what he’s doing,’ she said. Well, he probably did, but still. As for equipment, it was loaned to Kael by the academy authorities. According to Kael, it was rather outdated, but the morlock couldn’t afford to be picky and was lucky to get anything at all.
“I just don’t think the price of restocking my workshop is worth whatever experience you’re going to get,” Kael said, pouring boiling water into the powder-filled container and adding some weird little black balls that Zorian didn’t recognize. “In fact, considering how good you are at this I should probably be paying you for the help.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Zorian repeated, hoping this time it would stick. He couldn’t exactly tell the boy that his savings account would spontaneously refill when the loop restarted, so it was hard to explain why money wasn’t too important for him.
Overall, his interaction with Kael was a lot friendlier this time around. Grudgingly, he had to admit Kirielle had a lot to do with it – she hit it off with Kana pretty quickly, despite the other girl being practically a baby, which seemed to put Kael at ease with both of them. After that, the two of them discovered they got along pretty well and Zorian decided to help the morlock with his alchemy and learn something at the same time. Which led to their current situation.
“This whole situation is terribly strange,” Kael said after a minute of silence. “Not in a bad way, though. Kana is the happiest I have seen her in a while. I really am grateful to your sister for everything she has done for her, by the way.”
“To be honest, I’m not sure how long it’s going to last,” Zorian admitted. “For now she finds Kana cute, and probably finds it pleasing to have someone pay attention to her with such rapt attention. She tends to get bored really quickly, though. And in any case, she’s only in Cyoria temporarily while my family is off visiting my brother in Koth.”
“Well that’s too bad,” Kael sighed. Then he smirked at Zorian. “Though I supposed you’ll be relieved when she finally leaves.”
“Well, who knows,” Zorian said. “We’ll see how things go. She’s not so bad right now, so maybe she won’t be a total pest like she usually is. I’m hoping some of your daughter’s attitude will rub off on her in time.”
“Oh, that would be such a pity,” Kael said. “It would be a shame for such a lively girl to lose her spark of life. I myself wish Kana had some of that boundless enthusiasm.”
“Shall we trade, then?” offered Zorian.
“No,” Kael snorted. “Fetch me the water celery and be quiet for a while. I need to concentrate on this part.”
And so Zorian stood in silence and watched Kael work, and thought about what the rest of the month would bring.