Growing Pains

From the Story Arc: Two For The Show

Next Story in the Arc: Futures by Astra Kyne Murdock (Sunday, March 19, 2006)

(posted Saturday, March 18, 2006)

From the time that they were first old enough to understand, Astra Murdock and her brother Aedan knew that they were different from older brother JJ.

JJ was a Peacebringer like their father, John--in fact, somehow or other, a piece of John had become part of JJ. Sometimes that made Astra jealous. It wasn't fair. She wanted to be like that too!

Periodically, Dad and Mom would sit them both down and explain to them all over again what it was that made the twins different. Each time, the explanation got a bit more complicated. And scarier.

But it was when the two of them reached the age of exactly ten-and-a-half when they knew they were going to die. That was the day they both discovered they could make fire. It had happened by accident, and Aedan did it first.

It was hotter than usual in the little pocket reality the twins called home. That happened sometimes. Dad liked weather; the more inclement the better. So, even though things had been constructed so that each day would be clear with a slight breeze...occasionally things would go screwy. Today was one such day.

JJ was out with Mom and Dad doing patrols for the CCCP; it was going to be a longer excursion than usual, too. Their parents wanted JJ to become more acclimatized to being Topside; things like traffic and construction would certainly need getting used to. And they also wanted to get the twins used to being more self-sufficient. So even though they could come home fifteen minutes after they'd all left, the twins were getting the afternoon and early evening without supervision. Including getting their own lunch and dinner, and solving whatever problems came up on their own. Granted, "solving" a problem did include calling someone from Underhill or even Topside, like Aunt Bella or Aunt Vickie, to bail them out. But neither of them wanted to do that.

So, right now, it was too hot to do anything much other than swim. And so they did. The pond was out in-front of the cabin several dozen yards; an addition that John and Sera had decided upon when the Elven mages were creating it and all three children were old enough not to drown. The water was always clear and still, with the bottom being soft and sandy. The children all began swimming from a young age, and would hold contests and races when playing in the field or the woods got old. One thing never got old; finding some way to trip, shove, or finagle a fully-clothed family member into the pond unexpectedly.

Aedan had been doing laps around the pond, exercising while Astra tried out something she'd seen on the Olympic-disk Mom had brought home---water ballet. Since this always involved an elaborate "entry" sequence, and he kept smirking at her as she tried to do something gymnastic and pretty, she was getting irritated. And about the twentieth time he did it, she tripped him. Not expecting it, he went sprawling head first into the pond, coming up gasping.

"Hey! What was that for?" He shouted, wiping his hair from his eyes.

"Being a jerk." She struck a pose copied from the French team. Kind of twisty and a bit off-balance. Aedan saw his opportunity and leapt---he could move fast when he wanted to---wrapping a hand around Astra's wrist. He fell backwards into the pond, pulling her with him despite her squawks of protest. With a splash and a tangle of limbs, they both fell in, completely soaked. Not a problem for Astra, since she was already in her bathing suit, but Aedan was in running gear. However, this was an insult not to be borne. Shrieking, dignity and artistry "destroyed," she pushed up off the bottom of the pond, and came down with both her hands on his shoulders, shoving him under.

Aedan swam out from under her, heading for shore. "Don't worry, funny guy. I'll get you later," he said, splashing once to emphasize his displeasure. He didn't have a towel, and would have to slosh all the way back to the cabin in soaking wet running shoes, squishy soaking wet running shoes, to change. He was not pleased, and it was fairly palatable through their link.

He was in-between thoughts of how he would carry out his revenge and how unhappy he was with being sopping wet, when he felt his skin tingling. In a flash, his body was covered in flame. It sputtered out immediately, and then came back full force.

Now, Astra was not exactly unused to people bursting into flame. Mom did it all the time. In fact, nine times out of ten, she did it just to make tea. Uncle Djinni did it too. But---this was Aedan. She screamed, and looked frantically for a bucket or something to smother the flames, the burst of panic flooding over their twin-link.

Aedan whirled around, his eyes wide with bewilderment. "What...just happened?"

"You're on FIRE!" Astra shrieked. "Stop, Drop, and Roll!!!"

"But---!" He complied, falling to the ground and rolling from side to side. The fires persisted, scorching the grass underneath. "It isn't working, Astra! What's going---" At that moment, the flames died, leaving his body and clothing unscathed. The only difference was that he was dry as bone; even his shoes. It took a few frightened moments of him patting his body for injury and looking around for some outside force to blame for the incineration, but it clicked: powers.

"Ohmigosh," Astra gasped. "You're like Mom! Aedan, you're like Mom!"

A smile spread across his face, creasing the sides. "Lemme try something." He sidestepped over to the right several feet, and struck a pose straight out of Hero's Weekly, a magazine that Dad sometimes brought him from Topside, despite Mom's poking fun at him for reading it. Feet wide, back arched, and arm outstretched, Aedan gave out a shrill battle-cry. After a few pregnant moments, a thin stream of fire flew from his right hand, falling short of the tree he had been aiming at. "Well, that wasn't all that great," he said, staring down at his hand, disappointed.

"Well, you don't want to hurt the tree, do you?" Astra pointed out logically. She grabbed a cork float and tied a dead branch to it, swimming it a few feet out into the pond and anchoring it there with a rock. "Now try."

Aedan dropped down into a kneeling position, his left leg out front. He scrunched up his face, concentrating--- a small, coherent ball of flame shot from his hand, striking the water a yard past the new target. "Whoa! Now, how was that?"

Astra applauded.

"You try it! It's not that hard, I guess. Just...well, I dunno. Do it!" Aedan nodded enthusiastically, giving Astra a thumbs-up.

"I want to watch you first." This was how they often learned. One of them would work out the bugs, while the other one studied what was going on. Aedan spent the next quarter hour firing off blasts at the branch; his aim quickly improved, with him striking the branch more and more often.

The twin-link that bound the two of them was sometimes a nuisance, but at the moment, it was really, really handy. Astra closed her eyes and felt what it was like every time Aedan tossed a fireball. Each time he did that, she became a bit more certain that she could do it too.

Finally, she made herself very quiet inside, kind of gathered her concentration, and--

A ball of intense fire flew from her hand smack into the center of the makeshift target she had set up on the float in the middle of the pond. She raised her arms in a victory salute, full of elation. "Bull’s-eye!" she crowed.

"Ah, beginner's luck." Aedan scooted next to her, firing off a blast that clipped the side of the target, causing it to spin in the water.

They spent the rest of the afternoon practicing their new powers. Both of them, it seemed, could "flame on." Both could hurl fireballs. She could make a flame-sword just like her mother's. He could breathe fire like a dragon. She could set fire to the area around her. He could manifest fire away from himself, without having to hurl it; able to cause things to combust, if they were small enough. She could set fire to things by grasping them. Both of them could flame on and jump into the pond and the fire wouldn't go out. After experimenting for several hours, both of them were exhausted; creating their flames was tasking, both mentally and physically.

They finally stopped long enough to have some dinner. "Man, that was great! We'll have to be careful, though." He looked thoughtful as he spooned up some stew. "We'll also have to tell Mom and Dad, you know."

"Tell them? Heck, we have to show them as soon as they get--" The sound of voices on the path coming to the house made her jump up. "Come on! Let's show them now!"

She flamed on as soon as she was out of the house, running towards her parents like a living torch. Aedan was one step behind her, doing the same. "Mom! Dad!" she called happily. "Look what we can do!"

Then she stopped, dead in her tracks. Her mother was staring at them in horror. And John Murdock, afraid of nothing, was as white as a sheet.