I woke up and looked around blearily, still not accustomed to my surroundings in Uncle M's stately home. My room was about the size of our old cottage and had more furniture, including the huge four poster bed I was currently laying in. The gilt ceiling was exquisite and I had spent many an evening staring up at it, trying to make sense of the intricate patterns, and the walls were covered in ornate tapestries which I was almost entirely sure were worth more than the entire stock in most museums. The sun was streaming in through the beautiful stained glass windows and dappling the floor with a whole spectrum of colours and I couldn't help thinking how much Adina would love it. I pulled open the hangings and stepped onto the lush green carpet, burying my toes in the luxurious fabric. I danced my way across the room to the huge oak wardrobe and opened it with a flourish, still awed by the sight of the rainbow of clothes available for me to wear.
“Wear the pretty green dress!” said a voice behind me. I turned around to see my six-year-old sister Adina smiling sleepily at me, still in her white pyjamas. I picked her up and spun her around, laughing as she squealed delightedly.
“I wore the green one yesterday,” I told her, setting her down on the floor again. “Things aren't like they used to be any more. We could have a different dress for every day of the year if we wanted to.”
“That's a lot of dresses,” said Adina doubtfully.
“I know, but we don't need that many, and we don't want to be greedy, now do we?” I said, tapping her on the nose. She shook her head, giggling. As always, my eyes were drawn to her deep blue eyes, and I sighed.
“What's wrong? Don't you like having dresses?” asked Adina, looking up at me anxiously.
“No, sweetie, it's nothing like that,” I promised her.
“Can I wear the green one?”
“It's much too big for you,” I told her. “Why don't you wear that lovely blue one, it really brings out your-” I paused. “Your eyes.”
“Okay,” she said, smiling.
As I helped her into the beautiful little blue dress I tried to keep up a smile, but whenever Adina's back was turned I couldn't help letting my real emotions play out on my face. I knew that it was wrong for me to resent her, but she had it so easy, not needing to worry about Declaring herself. That decision had already been made for her.
“When will we see Mummy again?”
“Soon,” I lied.
“Where did she go?”
“To see her family.” Another lie.
“Aislinn? Adina?” called a voice from down the corridor.
“Just a minute!” I replied, picking a random top and some jeans from my wardrobe and quickly getting changed, not even bothering to brush my hair before stepping into the corridor with Adina by my side. As always she looked perfectly groomed, her blonde ringlets framing her angelic little face and her eyes big and blue and innocent.
Our older brother Malachi was stood waiting for us, his blonde hair cropped close to his head and his blue eyes sparkling.
“Adina, looking lovely as usual,” he said, taking her hand and bowing low. Then he turned to me and nodded. “Aislinn.”
“Do you want me to do a Freshening Cast on you, Ash?” asked Adina. I shook my head, but she closed her eyes for a second and I felt my hair untangle and could taste mint on my breath. I sighed.
“Uncle M wants us all to have breakfast together in the dining room,” said Malachi. Adina smiled, took his hand and skipped alongside him as we made our way through the huge house and into the grand dining hall. The doors opened themselves as we approached and we stepped tentatively inside, nervous about our first proper encounter with Uncle M since we had arrived: even though we'd been living in the house for over a week now we'd barely seen Uncle M at all, as he preferred to spend his time tucked away in his office and have his manservant Jones keep an eye on us. We glanced at each other nervously.
I couldn't help staring at my opulent surroundings and wondering exactly how much all of the ancient vases, marble busts and bronze statuettes dotted around the room were worth. It was my old 'try to stay alive' side trying to pop in and make an appearance. We don't need to worry about money any more, I thought. But I still carefully catalogued every object in the room by value, use and potential as a weapon. Call me crazy.
“Come here, children, I can barely see you all the way over there,” called Uncle M. We shuffled slightly further into the room. “I don't bite.” We all took a deep breath and walked over to where Uncle M was sat at the head of the table, all the way on the other side of the room. He wasn't actually our uncle, he was our grandfather, Magnus Greenfeld II, but when we arrived he told us to call him Uncle M and then pretty much disappeared.
“Would you like me to fetch the breakfast, sir?” asked Jones, who was stood unobtrusively by the door.
“Yes, Jones, thank you,” said Uncle M. Then he turned to face us and smiled. I was startled to see that his irises were such a dark grey that they were almost black, but I covered my shock with a cough and averted my eyes. “Please take a seat. How are you all today?” asked Uncle M.
“We're fine,” replied Malachi stiffly.
“You two recognise what I am,” surmised Uncle M, gesturing to me and Malachi. We nodded cautiously, both glancing at Adina, who was obliviously staring at one of the tapestries on one of the walls.
“I didn't know we came from an incubus bloodline,” said Malachi.
“You don't know much about your history. Don't worry, I'm not surprised your mother didn't tell you anything. Lillian was ashamed of her parentage.”
“Why isn't she a succubus?” I asked bluntly.
“Because her mother was a Caster,” replied Uncle M. “And a particularly strong Caster at that, so Lillian turned out like her. Your uncle Dale, on the other hand, is an incubus like myself, and his daughter is a succubus.”
“We have an uncle? And a cousin?”
“Yes. Your cousin is almost twenty now, her name is Rayann.”
“Can we go visit her?” asked Adina excitedly. “What does she look like? Does she look more like Mummy and Ash or like me and Mal? What does Uncle Dale look like? Who's our auntie?”
“Dale looks a lot like Lillian did, the same flaming hair, but Rayann looks like her mother,” replied Uncle M carefully. “She has short brown hair and very dark eyes, but they are more brown than grey.”
“Who was her mother?” I asked.
“I never met her,” replied Uncle M, avoiding the question. “Anyway, as much as I would love to spend the whole day talking about your extended family, there are more pressing matters for me to address.”
“Your education. I understand that you were educated at home by your mother, but I want you to go to school.”
“School?” I choked.
“Yes, Aislinn, school.”
“Oh yay!” said Adina.
“You can't be serious?” asked Malachi. “Sending them to a Mortal school?”
“I am deadly serious, Malachi. They need to be able to blend in with Mortals, and so do you, which is why I have secured a position for you at a law firm.” Malachi's response was to inhale the coffee he was drinking and spend the next two minutes spluttering whilst still trying to look dignified.
“What could we possibly need to learn at a Mortal school?” I asked, trying to be reasonable and hide the fear that was gnawing at my insides.
“Everything that will equip you for life outside of these walls,” replied Uncle M, gesturing to the opulent dining hall. “Without qualifications how do you expect to get a job?” I shrugged. “Exactly. You need to be there by half eight, so hurry up and eat.”
“Huh?” But Uncle M had already swept out of the room, leaving the three of us slightly shell shocked and Malachi still coughing.
“I would suggest that you eat your breakfast and then get ready for your first day of education,” said Jones, making me jump. He placed a rack of toast and three glasses of orange juice on the table. “I will be driving you to school today. Meet me outside in ten minutes.”
“Come on, Adi, lets go get ready,” I muttered, grabbing a slice of toast and hurrying upstairs, Adina close behind me.
“What do I need for school?” she asked, looking around our room.
“Most things will be provided for you. Just take a bag to put your pencil case in.”
“Christ, Jones, you scared the hell out of me!” I exclaimed, turning to see him stood in our doorway. “Stop creeping up on us like that!”
“I apologise. I just thought you might be confused about what to bring. Aislinn, you will need these.” He handed me a pile of textbooks, notebooks and stationary, which I unceremoniously dumped on the floor.
“I need to find a bag,” I explained, opening my wardrobe and rifling through the contents until I found a plain white backpack, into which I shoved the pile of school supplies.
“Are you both ready?” We nodded. “Follow me please.”
Jones led us through the house and out of one of the side entrances to where a small red car was waiting. I raised my eyebrows.
“Mr Greenfeld thought it best not to attract attention by using one of the more noticeable cars,” said Jones, noticing my face.
“Where's Mal?” asked Adina.
“Mr Greenfeld has arranged alternative transportation for him, in a way which is more fitting for his new occupation.”