The next night, Ingram returned, and she brought chess.

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Sylvia pondered what to do. How could she crack the mysterious woman’s facade?

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“So, you know Aylin well?”

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“You could say that.”

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“How long have you known her?”

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“A long time. A very long time.”

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Sylvia tried a different approach. “Are you two friends?”

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“I suppose it depends on your definition of ‘friend.’ Do you consider yourself to be ‘friends’ with Aylin?”

Sylvia wasn’t sure how to parry this attack. Of course, it was her dream to be friends with Aylin, no matter which definition one settled on, but she felt it was presumptuous to declare friendship with the woman who was so much more intelligent, skilled, talented, powerful, knowledgeable, and admirable than she was. In other words, Aylin was peerlessly cool.

“I aspire to be,” replied Sylvia.

Sylvia looked at the board. Her rook was hemmed in, her queen-side bishop was penned, and Ingram was about to capture another pawn.

“Check,” Ingram said.

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“Aylin and I are black and white,” Ingram continued, “just like the pieces on this chessboard.”

“Does that mean you are always fighting?”

“Quite on the contrary. Perhaps we are more like Go than chess. Have you played Go?”

“I have played Go,” Sylvia said. “My papa taught me.” She caught a quick memory of attic afternoons, scrunched over the go board, and hustled the memory on its way. Now was not the time to remember home.

In Go, white and black moved together, organically, interconnected, around the board, like pushing hands.

“You’re talking about balance,” she said, and, at once, Ingram no longer seemed so frightening. Formidable, yes, but not quite as scary.

“Well done,” said Ingram.

Then she was gone.


House 1.2: Upholstery

I’ve learned that it’s the little things that count.

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The smallest touch can transform something.

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Even Mack and I have been transformed by living and working in this house. We’re more loving, more affectionate. Every spare bit of time is Us Time.

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We’re working on the nightstands right now. Steaming off the chipped white paint, lacquering them into their original wooden glory with pride. We’re still looking for lamps.

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Everything we do, the house watches us. Does it approve? Does it feel joy as we upholster and varnish? Or does it wish to stay unchanged?

I don’t know.




That morning, Sylvia woke up bright and early on Aylin’s instructions. She went upstairs to find an elegant bar set up in the study.

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“Morning, Sylvia!”

“Good morning, Aylin. You said yesterday that we were going swimming?”

“Yep! Drink this.”

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“Powerful stuff, isn’t it? It’ll protect you from the sun for four hours, but we’ll want to start home before that just in case.”

“You had one of these too?”

Aylin winked. “Suffice it to say I have my own methods.”

“Okay, let’s go!”

As soon as she stepped out of the door, Sylvia was awestruck. Sun! Real sun, not burning her skin! The combination of the tangy drink and the warmth on her skin made her feel energized, alive even. With a spring in her step, she followed Aylin down the forest road to her house and through the tourist-filled square of Forgotten Hollow to the rail line.

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After a quick train ride, they found themselves at the steps of the Bathe de Rill, Windenburg’s famous public swimming pool. Aylin headed straight up the stairs to the changing rooms.

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Sylvia was a little nervous. She’d never really gotten the chance to go swimming before.

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Aylin sat calmly by the poolside. “Go on ahead! I’ll join you in a moment.”

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Sylvia screwed up her courage, climbed the stairs, and jumped!

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As she swam away from the diving stairs, Sylvia rejoiced. Sun! Water! New feelings flooded her mind. Could life really be this fun?

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Aylin bubbled up to the surface. Sylvia hadn’t even seen her get in.

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Suddenly, Sylvia got an idea.

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The ensuing splash fight was a battle to be remembered, but it had to be cut short by the timer running low on Sylvia’s sun protection. Aylin called things to a halt at two and a half hours, to make sure they had time to shower and get back home before Sylvia started sizzling.

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As she followed Aylin back to the train station, Sylvia promised that she’d find a way to go swimming again.


Free Day

Sylvia spent the fourth day in the study.

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She found old math workbooks and puzzled out the problems.

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She delved into tomes of vampire lore.

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She meditated, surrounded by books and the knowledge contained in them.

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She practiced the pipe organ.

When all of that was done, Sylvia went outside.

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She read the epitaphs on the gravestones in the memorial pavilion.

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She tried to figure out who the statue woman watching over the graves was.

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She harvested the plasma fruits in the fountain pavilion and put them in the icebox.

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She even got out of the garden and went for a jog.

When she exhausted her options outside, she explored her room.

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She opened the cosmetics in the bathroom.

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She experimented with the perfumes.

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She organized the closet and made the bed.

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She set the table and had another bowl of Aylin’s plasma fruit salad.

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She examined the labels on the strange jars in the cupboards.

When Aylin got home, she brought a gift.

“I got a science kit at the store. I thought it might help make up for what Ingram put you through.”

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Together they assembled the kit.

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“Wow! Aylin, you’re good at this!”

Aylin chuckled. “I’ve spent a long time fixing things. Little projects like this are a breeze!”

“So, how did you know about Ingram?”

Aylin turned serious. “I asked her to train you. I didn’t anticipate her reaction.”

“You asked her to do that?”

“Not to hurt you, certainly! It’s been so long since she trained anyone, I’d almost forgotten how she worked. She won’t be doing that again, I assure you.”

“Do I have to train with her some more?”

“Only if you feel comfortable doing so. I’m not going to force you to see her again.”

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Sylvia took a deep breath.

“I’ll go back, so long as nothing like that happens again. I want to learn.”

Aylin looked at her for a long moment. “You’re brave.”

“I want to learn. If you’re not going to teach me, I’ll have to learn from Ingram.”

“Very well. The day after tomorrow, you’ll see her again.”

“And tomorrow?”

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“Tomorrow we go swimming.”



On the third day, Sylvia met the other woman.

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She was standing outside of Sylvia’s door when Sylvia woke up.

“Attack me,” she said.

“What? No!” Sylvia exclaimed.

“Then I will attack you.”

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The woman didn’t lay a hand on her, but Sylvia doubled over in pain. It was like a thousand sharp needles were pricking at her body, sending waves of agony through her mind.

When the pain subsided, the woman looked at her approvingly. “You rode the pain out. I am impressed. You didn’t even try to fight back.”

Sylvia felt stunned. This woman had appeared out of nowhere and attacked her! Who was she?

“Now,” said the woman, “I will teach you how to fight. I am going to conjure an illusion. You will dispel the illusion. I will not give you instructions. Go.”

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Suddenly, Sylvia’s vision blurred. When her eyes cleared, Aylin was standing there and the woman was gone.

“Aylin!” Sylvia exclaimed. “Where were you? Did you chase that woman off? She attacked me? Why did she attack me?”

“She’s devious,” Aylin responded. “Trust nothing, especially not yourself.”

Sylvia shook her head and rubbed her face. A sort of feeling was squirming behind her eyes– a bizarre sensation, like something was wrong with her head… She tried to block out the feeling, to no avail. Focusing, she tried to find the source of the sensation, only to discover that it wasn’t coming from inside at all, but from Aylin herself.

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“Aylin? Is something wrong?”

“It’s possible. Stay on your guard.”

Sylvia closed her eyes and concentrated. Go away! she thought. Get out of my head! The feeling of wrongness only intensified. Angrily, she reached for the wellspring of power deep inside, thrusting her inner pool of darkness forward.

“Very well done!” said the woman. “Sloppy, but effective.”

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Sylvia opened her eyes to find the woman standing there again and Aylin gone.

“You tricked me!”

“That was the point of the exercise– to see if you could find that out on your own. You did. You have the power to fend off most ordinary assailants as it is, but your technique was unrefined. Focus.”

Sylvia focused. She dug down into the core of her body and reached again for that power, rising into the air.

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“Now pull it in. Use only the bare minimum of power to keep yourself there. A single thread, nothing more.”

Sylvia looked at the flow of power through her body, and saw it coursing through her like a river. Pull back, she told it. Slowly, she did, resisting the urge to let it burst free, until there was only a trickle of darkness in her veins.

“Better,” said the woman. “Much better.”

As she began to walk away, Sylvia called out to her.

“Who are you?”

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“Ingram,” said the woman.

Then she was gone.

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On the second day, Sylvia’s training began.

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Aylin took her to the pavilion out back, where two yoga mats were set up.

“Let’s begin,” she said.

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“The mind is not a prisoner of the body, nor is the body a slave of the mind.”

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“Body and mind are a single whole. Without transcendence in one, there can be no transcendence in the other.”

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“Limits are not meant to be broken. They are meant to be discovered. Every time we say a limit is broken, we have merely discovered that it was beyond where we thought it was.”

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The dawn found Sylvia exhausted, watching as Aylin bent her body into increasingly more difficult positions.

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As she scrubbed her aching body, she pondered Aylin’s words. What did any of this have to do with being a vampire? Count Straud had made her exercise her powers, but Aylin’s training so far had nothing to do with any of that.

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Her last thought as she drifted off to sleep was that it would be worth it.



Dear Meadow,

I’ll send the agency’s contact information. I don’t know if I can think of anyone better to take care of one of these toddlers!

How is Jena doing? Has she learned any more words for cat lately? How big is she? How long has it been since you last got one of my letters, in your time?

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I’m not directly involved with the project (apart from caring for Kedi, of course) but I’m sure you could volunteer to help with the little ones who haven’t been adopted yet! Someone caring and kind and knowledgeable like you is always helpful in a situation like this!

Kedi is doing so well! She’s really flourishing with us. She’s such a little darling.

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I will look around and see if any caregivers could use your help. We have a forum we use to communicate.

Sorry this letter is so short. I have a toddler running around trying to get into the cupboards.




A Temporary Home

Sylvia has been at Aylin’s house for several days now.

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Aylin found her on the road. No explanation was given as to how she knew Sylvia would be there, and none was demanded.

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They were at Aylin’s house before dawn. It’s an old-fashioned house, with many stories.

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Aylin has provided her with a room. It’s a big room, with a master bath and a fireplace. Despite the amenities, it’s clear that it hasn’t been slept in for quite some time. There are cobwebs, and a tapestry covers a large crack in the wall.

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Aylin left Sylvia much to her own devices the first day. Having told her that dinner would be served, the kindly but enigmatic woman virtually disappeared, leaving Sylvia to explore her new room.

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Sylvia quickly found that the closet was not, in fact, empty- it was full of simple, cozy, clothes. She picked out a sweater and braided her hair.

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As night fell, Aylin called her up to dinner. The top floor of Aylin’s house was a small kitchen/dining room, which was at the moment set for two.

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At Aylin’s urging, Sylvia helped herself to the purple dish. “Plasma fruit salad,” Aylin explained. “Vegetarian.” Sylvia helped herself to a bowl. It smelled just like the purple fruit from the tree in Count Straud’s garden.

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Aylin didn’t take any salad.

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“Soft Shadow Avorligano,” Aylin elaborated when Sylvia eyed her glass questioningly. “Nectar. You wouldn’t like it.”

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Sylvia sipped her drink cautiously. It had the same flavor as the salad. “Plasma Jane,” Aylin said. “Virgin Plasma Jane. You didn’t strike me as the alcohol type.” Sylvia felt a little grown-up: Aylin hadn’t commented on her age, merely on her tastes.

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After dinner, Sylvia insisted on doing the dishes. “It’s the least I can do,” she explained.

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As she drifted off to sleep with the warm light of the room’s candles washing over her, Sylvia felt at peace. Maybe, just maybe, she could be happy.

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Emma loves to work.

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She doesn’t love all work, but she loves her work and that’s what’s important.

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Restoring the old house took some effort.

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The carpet was worn down. The lighting had to be replaced. Half of the space on the upper floor was inexplicably sealed off.

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But she did it. Penny by penny, saved dollar by saved dollar, she worked up the money and fixed things. Where she could, she did the work herself. Peeling wallpaper, knocking down walls, painting the baseboard, and selling the artifacts of the inexplicable luxury Mrs. Bullard had hoarded. No wonder her door was always locked!

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She tightened screws, enlarged windows, bought new beds. She carefully chose new furniture so that children could pick whatever color they wanted, instead of being stuck with blue and pink.

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She wanted to make sure that even the children who would never be adopted would have a happy childhood.

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And she did it. The orphanage has children in it once more, and they do not live in fear.

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Sure, plastering the entire outside of the house was a pain, but now the house doesn’t look like something out of a Victorian novel. Removing all of the ivy didn’t hurt either.

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Emma found out who she is. She’s a caretaker, and if those she loves don’t need her anymore she’ll find some new people to take care of.

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That’s what she does.




Holly and Ivy used to worry that something would separate them.

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They used to think that if they changed too much, they wouldn’t be twins anymore.

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But after Ivy started hormone therapy, they realized that wasn’t true. Everything they share and everything they don’t brings them closer together.

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Holly is in college, studying to become an artist. She always loved art, so it was really natural. She wants to inspire children all over the world with her art.

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Ivy is training to become a police officer. He wants to help children who were just like them, and give people second chances. He’s hoping that by joining the force, he can show kids that wherever you come from, you can be someone.

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They may be going their separate ways, but they will be Holly-and-Ivy forever. Even if they’re no longer identical twins, they will always be two hearts beating as one.

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They will always have each other.