“We should all relax about life because you don't have a clue as to what's really going on.”
- The Journey to the Afterlife
***Kingdom Newerth, Capital City***
I knock on the door while pressing the alarm button with the fierce determination to cause havoc if I am not let in immediately. Nobody answers. Either my mother isn't in her laboratory, or she is so caught up in something that she is ignoring everything else. Normally I would simply leave, but I want to know what she found out about that piece of cloth. Giving up, I reach for the handle and try to turn it.
It doesn't move.
“I told you many times that locking me out only results in damaged security systems...” I mumble to myself and punch a fist through the metal, slightly above and to the left of the handle. Then I fumble for the handle on the other side of the door and turn it. The door opens with a click and I step inside, closing the door behind me. It wasn't meant to keep out unauthorized people, but to shoo away everyone who doesn't have the determination to break it.
If my parents really want something secured, then there is at least one death trap involved.
A long hallway is stretching out behind the door, so I waste no time and walk my merry way. Strolling the corridor, I peek into the various rooms on my path. Most of them are just storage areas for various materials. There are also a lot of machines which aren't in use. My parents tend to store everything they invent, which results in a lot of junk lying around. Calling out my mother's name, I open yet another door. It's sturdier than the others and I find myself looking at a room which can be called a greenhouse. A single, large, potted plant is in the middle of the room. Three green leaves of the size of a human enclose a large flower.
Though something is disturbing about the picture. Clean, white bones are arranged all around the plant. They look like something gnawed on them. The flower's beauty quickly turns horrifying as the flower petals part and reveal the head of some kind of spirit which is attached to the flower. The head looks at me with its beady eyes. It swivels left and right in a snake-like manner. Then its lips draw back in a snarl and reveal a set of sharp, bloody teeth.
I slam the door shut and one moment later something bumps against it from the other side. What a creepy pet.
“Okay. That looked like one of Mom's failed experiments.” I turn away and head further down the corridor, trying to forget what I've just seen. There is no point in getting worked up about it. Actually I think it's one of the cuter experiments. At least much better than the improved zombie-slimes which she created to clean the city's sewer system. Those things give me the creeps. When she showed them to me I vowed to keep a distance of at least ten metres to every manhole on the street.
In the end I find Mom camping in the last corner of her part of my parents' shared lab-complex. I enter the room which is painted in a clinical white. Compared to the plant's lair this looks comfortably normal. Not witchy or alchemic... just a normal, medical lab. “Mom? Are you feeling alright?”
She looks up from her microscope. “Quite fine. Why do you ask?”
“Ahem. No special reason. I was just thinking that this looks almost normal compared to your other labs. Are you on some kind of no-magic trip?” I survey the room, trying to find the reason why she is here. There is a large working desk with various instruments in the centre. The left wall is taken up by a large locker and the other walls house all kinds of large devices.
She laughs. “Not at all, Dear. I just felt like doing it by the book. That's all. Where's Marcus? I thought you and your hun are inseparable? I've hardly seen you without him since you returned.”
“Mh... okay. I just wanted to know if you already had time to take a look at that piece of cloth. And Marcus has some things to do. We've both neglected our other responsibilities since all this havoc came down on us. I had this job as a teacher and there is also the coffee shop.” I wave my hand to show that I've taken on more responsibilities than I can handle.
“Ah, that shop. Shade takes me there every morning to eat chocolate and support you. I would have never thought that you would indulge in such a hobby.” She smiles and plays with a strand of her hair.
Yeah. I know. The two of you are showing up in demon form daily, chasing away all my customers. I gain two people and lose twenty others. Somehow I get the feeling that the two of you are doing it on purpose to take revenge on me for all the times I blackmailed you! Admittedly, Dad is eating chocolate cake for ten people, but that doesn't compare to having more customers.
I decide not to dwell on my issues with Mom and Dad hanging out at my shop. I can't throw out my parents just because they refuse to change their looks. “Returning to my question about the piece of cloth-”
“Ah, yes! Sorry. No real results there.”
I slump. “Really? I had my suspicions about our opponent's identity. Without a solid clue it's nothing more than a hunch.”
Mom squints her eyes and waits for a few moments before she decides to talk. “It wasn't conclusive, but I found a black hair in the fabric. To be precise, the tip of a black hair, so there was not enough DNA to be sure. All I can say about it is that it is in good condition. No split end or something like that. Just a black hair.”
I furrow my forehead. “Did you compare it to Dad's hair?”
She snorts. “There is no need. Shade's hair looks as if he washes it with gas. If it wasn't for me and magic, he would be bald by now. I really should hide his regeneration charms to show him what he is doing to his body. The man would be a wreck if it wasn't for magical healing!”
“So if the hair belongs to another version of him, then the other him is taking better care of himself?” I fiddle with my fingers. The whole situation is becoming worse and worse.
Mom sighs. “I know that something is troubling you. Spit it out.”
If you have to know. “It was just that the robed figure moved awkward. It took me a while to realize what was bothering me.”
I scratch my head. “Yeah, you know. Like men have a certain way of running and women move slightly different...”
Mom's expression darkens as she gets my meaning. “You know that you are entering dangerous territory? If that's true, then we've to be extra careful. If Shade learns that his other version could be... that... I don't want to think about it.”
My shoulders droop in silent resignation. “I know.” It may be the end of a realm or two.
Then she flicks her fingers. “Did you get a good reading on that person's aura? Maybe it was another version of you or me? Why shouldn't there be versions of us out there? It seems unfair that only Shade has a clone.”
Another version of me!? Gods forbid! “No? If we had sensed that, we wouldn't be guessing now.” I raise a hand. “And before you ask, we were in the middle of a battle and the whole area was so charged with energy that I could hardly sense anything. Shade was doing his shadow-lord-thing and Moonray was doing his best to set the pyramid aflame.”
After a few moments of awkward silence I decide to steer the conversation back to safe territory. “By the way, why aren't you complaining about Dad's new habit of eating so many chocolate cakes? Recently you aren't even mentioning his excessive consumption of desserts.”
She shrugs. “I decided that there is no reasoning with him, so I am trying to have him learn by experience. The multiverse is my witness, I tried to make him see reason regarding his body. So if there is no other solution, he has to learn the hard way.”
“You decided to allow him to become fat!?” I ask baffled.
“No! By the gods! I still want to have my fun in bed. A little belly wouldn’t put me down, but at the rate he is going, he would look like a barrel in no time. I am slipping laxatives into his chocolate cakes, and emetics into his hot chocolate. I can hardly believe that he will keep up his behaviour once it sprays out from both ends of his body for a few days in a row. Once he comes to me for help, I’ll tell him that he is allergic and that he has to limit himself. Do you want to take a look at the hair?” She gestures at the microscope.
Poor Dad. But it’s his own fault in a way...
I smile and step closer to take a look for myself. What greets me is a highly magnified picture of a black hair. No way in hell that a normal microscope of that size could achieve this magnification! So she is using magic and all this equipment is just styled to look normal! “I see what you were talking about. And no luck with dandruffs either?”
She sighs. “I found a few, but they were yours. So unless you are our enemy, there is no definitive solution to our question. Though I wonder what an evil sister of yours would be like.”
I shudder and step away from the microscope. “Let's not go there. One last thing. What happened to Moonray after we left?”
Mom tilts her head, looking at me.
Raising both hands, I hurry to clarify, “It's not like I care for what's happening to him. I am just curious. He is still a relative after all.”
It takes an uncomfortable moment, but then Mom shrugs. “Doreen took him, or rather what was left of him. You'll have to ask her if you are really that interested in his fate. I didn't inquire.”
“Grandmother had a lot of time to harness her hatred for him. He got her with child, promising everlasting love, and then he dumped her in the most despicable manner, almost destroying everything she cares about. Doreen is living for the clan and her family. Moonray didn't just leave her, he almost killed my Mom and me with his machinations. It always astonishes me that the woman can love her child that much while harbouring so much hatred for the man who got her pregnant in the first place.”
I see. “Maybe it's better that I don't know.”