We managed to finish the house completely by the end of two more months. After a couple of disastrous attempts, we decided to rely on magic and not on electricity in the house. The smell of fried vampire is particularly insulting to keen noses. Unfortunately, I now resembled a beached whale. Vrael had started to get together various medical supplies, pinching what he needed from a nearby city as we had done to help up build the house. What we couldn't make ourselves, we had to steal, doing so at night, teleporting into the shops so as not to set off any alarms. Most of my teleportation training was done on such outings. It also came to general consensus that once the twins were born, (yes, twins. Demons come in pairs, remember?), I would go into the city and try to find a job. After all, I was the only one with any kind of qualification that might be recognised in this dimension.
I spent more and more time with Merlas, talking to her and occasionally flying. Vrael's constant checks on me were starting to get on my nerves. Although he had studied medicine, (turns out even demons get ill, which is a little odd), he had never really had to apply it. Somehow, I think he was more nervous about the whole thing than I was. At least until I went into labour. I was leaning against Merlas' side when the contractions started. I hissed in pain, doubling over. Merlas nickered in concern before letting loose with an ear shattering neigh. Amarath popped her head out of a window to tell her to shut up when she noticed that I was curled up in the grass, sheltered under Merlas' protective wing. All three of my siblings rushed out to help me back into the house.
I don't remember much of the birth. Vrael had me on a series of painkillers and carefully applied silver to help me get through. Merlas still grumbles that when she stuck her head through the window of the ground-floor room we had designated as a medical centre, I had grabbed onto her mane and refused to let go. I suppose it would explain why I had a handful of coarse black hair in my hand. Either way, the birth went without a hitch. I had birthed two healthy part demon girls. I held one of the carefully, feeding her with a formulae Vrael had put together. For the moment, they were identical, black haired and blue eyed.
"Have you thought up names for them?" Amarath asked, sitting next to me.
"Yeah, Archangel Holly and Onyx Natalie," I said softly.
"You miss them don't you?"
Miss them? An understatement. I had lost my two best friends to Karthragan just as I had lost my mother. Not only that, but that bastard and disgrace to part demons Jamie Carton had walked off scot free. Every day without them was like living without a part of me. I couldn't tell Amarath that. She didn't understand friendship. She had never been taught what friends were. "Yeah, I miss them."
To her credit, she didn't say anything else. We sat in silence for a moment before Amarath left me alone.
As agreed, a week after Archangel and Onyx's birth, I was in the city, looking for a job. I managed to find something pretty quickly, thank the goddess. A small, struggling florist shop. They dismissed my lack of qualification in the face of being able to communicate with people and arrange flowers into something pretty. I could do that. I even had the nose to be able to put together smells that complimented each other. I worked alongside a teenager, a girl who looked to be the same age as I appeared to be. She smelled a little strange though. Not quite human. She hid it well though, with a passion for flora so strong that the owner of the shop often deferred to her when it came to ordering the flowers. After a few days, I managed to feel enough at ease in the shop to ask her name. She smiled at me, and said her name was Alba Manticora.
Archangel and Onyx were growing quickly and had thirst for knowledge that superseded my own and taking very much after their namesakes. Onyx had a passion for reading the dictionary and any other informative book she could find. Amarath often grumbled, as she dismantled prank after prank, what had possessed me to name a certain child 'Archangel'. Thankfully, I escaped each day to go work, leaving them in Vrael's care. This bewildered the part vampire and he often found that he had to call in backup from Amarath in order to control them. Each night, I came home to find Vrael in his soul animal form of a panther, submitting to having his ears and tail pulled by the over inquisitive twins. His tail now has a permanent kink in it, but he considers it to be minor compared to having no tail what so ever. Strangely enough, they behaved around Merlas. They never put a toe out of line. Soon, she became their primary babysitter, much to her dismay, to the point where she disappeared for the best part of three months. I wasn't worried about her though. Merlas could fend for herself. Three years later, when the girls' magic manifested as dark green, I started to see myself also mirrored in them, in Archangel's appearance, which mimicked mine almost perfectly, and Onyx's joking despair on her sister's part, not unlike the expression I used to wear with Holly. The only way to train them was to play, and I found myself playing games of tag in the forest to train them to teleport, always ending up breathless from laughter. It was as if I had found my best friends again.
I often escaped from my family in the forest, to reminisce. I often thought about Holly and Natalie, the shenanigans we had managed to get up to at the Academy and its grounds. Somewhere in the forest of the Academy, there was a tree with the letters HB, NP, SR. Holly Bristol, Natalie Patterson and Shadow Roth. The trio that sparked fear in the hearts of the most seasoned of teachers. It was difficult letting them go. I wandered further into the forest than I usually did, lost in thought. Something rustled on the edge of the path. I stopped, looking around, trying to see what had moved. A twig snapped. I put a hand on the hilt of the sword Amarath had taught me to use. Crouching, half hidden by a tree, I watched as a creature of fantasy crept along the path. A manticore, if I remembered my mythological creatures class properly. I sniffed the air. The scent of the manticore was familiar. I nearly whacked my head off the tree. I must be stupid. AlbaManticora.
"Alba?" I asked softly, stepping towards the creature. It jumped, morphing back into a rather bewildered looking teenage girl. I smiled slightly. "I thought you smelled a little odd."
"Shadow? Wha're you doin' out here?" She asked warily. I could sense her kicking herself mentally. I made a guess that it was because I'd spotted her.
"I live around here," I said vaguely, holding out a hand to help her get to her feet. She coughed nervously, brushing herself off.
"I guess you, uh, saw ma transformation there, huh..."
"Yeah, no worries though. I'm not going to rat on you." I felt relief coming off her in waves before she tensed, looking back the way she had come. Grabbing my hand, she started to sprint through the undergrowth, pulling me along behind her with surprising ease and strength. She didn't answer when I asked her what the matter was until we had gone another mile into the forest where she stopped, breathing hard.
"There are... people after me," she started to explain. I raised an eyebrow prompting her to go on. "I sensed someone following me out of the city, but they didn't reveal themselves until after I changed. I don't know who they are."
Frowning, I scanned the forest around us, looking for any traces of these people. I couldn't see anything, but that didn't mean they weren't there. I turned back to Alba, pointing east.
"Look, if you go far enough that way, you'll come across a house. Tell Amarath I sent you. Get out of the forest. I'll follow behind masking our tracks."
Alba nodded, looking nervous, but followed my orders. I glanced over my shoulder one last time, looking for any movement. Nothing. I started to walk after Alba, taking care to hide any signs of our passing. I stopped as I heard something. Something thudded against my skull, and I was out for the count.