According to the nurses, the room dropped a full twenty degrees the day the twins were born. The boy, Jace, came first. The newborn, for all their prodding, barely made a fuss. All involved feared something must be terribly wrong with his lungs, but every test came back negative. It would seem the newborn Jace already possessed an astounding amount of patience.
Two minutes later, it became apparent this patience would be instrumental in dealing with his twin sister. Baby Jaya was screaming at the top of her lungs almost the moment she came out, and she didn't stop. For hours. The new parents were at their wits' end when Jace was finally carried back from all of the negative tests performed on him. Only once she was nestled next to her brother did Jaya calm down. Jace, too, seemed more at peace when in his sister's presence.
The children's hair turned white far before their parents' did. In fact, the first tufts of hair to sprout from each tiny head were already a ghostly white. Their baby blue irises quickly faded to a deep onyx, barely discernible from their pupils. Aside from gender, the babies were near identical. that difference and the fact that Jace was slightly larger than Jaya allowed them to be told apart.
Their intolerance for separation continued as they grew. Whenever they were separated, Jaya would wail at the top of her lungs. Jace would look around, searching, almost seeming frantic. Neither would calm until their twin was in their sights again. When they both learned to crawl, their first movements were towards each other. Jaya's first broken bone was the result of a daring escape from their crib when Jace had awoken early and been brought to their living room playpen. It would be a long time before their parents attempted any sort of separation again.
True to the day of their birth, Jaya was a chatterbox. She would babble at anything or anyone that moved. Sometimes, it seemed she would babble to nothing. More often than anything else, Jaya would babble to Jace. Responding to her was the only time Jace felt inclined to attempt any approximation of speech. They would babble at each other for hours, seemingly having conversations in a language all their own.
Likely due to Jace's unwillingness to converse with anyone but his twin, Jaya began learning conventional English slightly before her brother. However, he quickly picked up words from his sister. He gained more interest in others once he understood what they were saying, but Jaya was still his favorite companion. The feeling was clearly mutual. Jaya would gladly converse with anyone around her, but she always came back to Jace.
Even when no one else was around, Jaya seemed to have plenty of conversational partners. It unnerved their parents slightly, but multiple online searched led them to believe Jaya just had a slew of imaginary friends. Jace never spoke to any of his sister's imaginary friends, but he seemed to acknowledge them openly. That was attributed to the fact that they were twins. Everyone wrote it off.
That all changed when the twins turned five. Within the past year, Jaya had become more withdrawn. She had always stayed close to Jace, but now she was practically clinging to him all the time. He didn't mind in the slightest. As usual, Jace seemed deeply attuned to what was going on. However, even he couldn't stave off Jaya's increasing anxiety. The previously talkative, giggly child was now quiet and frowning more often than not. Their parents were becoming almost as worried as Jace already was.
Jaya woke up in the middle of the night. She was surrounded. She was always surrounded. She looked for Jace through the bluish-white haze of bodies. He was peacefully asleep. Usually, Jaya found Jace's natural peace calming. That was not the case this night. It stood in stark contrast to the chaos Jaya was always feeling. Jaya knew by now that the impressions of people she saw had no substance. She leapt through the wall surrounding her bed and sprinted down the hallway and down the stairs. Jaya collapsed in the middle of the living room with her hands on her head, sobbing. They were closing in on her.
Jace woke up not minutes after Jaya left. He sensed his twin's lack of presence. And he knew something was wrong. None of the extra presences that always seemed to be around were there, either. Not wasting a moment, Jace jumped out of his own bed and followed his intuition to the living room. At the bottom of the stairs, he froze.
Never in their five years had Jace doubted what Jaya said she saw. He had always been able to sense a presence around them. Sometimes more than one. The air just felt... different... in some places. Shimmery, almost. But never before had Jace seen anything himself. Hundreds of glowing, translucent people were floating in their living room. And they were converging on his sister.
Action transcended thought. Jace charged through the cloud of people and threw himself over his twin. Jaya didn't open her eyes, but she felt him on top of her. Her hysterics increased. She was sure she was going to die, and now Jace was going to die with her. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair.
Jaya looked up at the figures surrounding them. She chocked on her words. "Stop. Stop!"
"ENOUGH!" A green blast moved through the room, taking the translucent figures with it. A man was left standing near their door. He was tall and lithe. He wore a faded brown jacket that appeared to be leather, a black t-shirt, faded jeans, boots, and a fedora. Wavy light-brown hair grazed the tops of his shoulders. His eyes were an eerie glowing green.
Slowly, the man approached the children. They were sitting next to each other now. Jaya had yet to stop shaking. The man crouched down in front of them with a gentle smile tugging at his face. He tried to look as non-threatening as possible. "Hey. You kids okay?"
"Who are you?" Jace questioned hesitantly. Was he going to try to hurt them too? Jace wasn't letting him anywhere near Jaya.
"I'm not going to hurt you kids," the man promised. He was careful to keep his hands where they could see them. "I want to help. I want to be your friend. My name is Zander."
"I'm Jaya." She smiled timidly up at him. "This is my brother Jace. Thank you for saving us."
Zander tipped his hat to her and winked. "It was my pleasure, Jaya."
Their parents came then, finally responding to Jaya's yells. Zander disappeared as soon as they entered. They knelt on the floor with their children, gathering them into their arms. "Are you two okay? Tell Mommy and Daddy what happened."
When Jaya explained, their parents were horrified. They weren't horrified by the terrible event that plagued their children while they themselves slept on. They were horrified because they were convinced their daughter was insane. "Is that what you saw, too, Jace?"
Quietly, Jace nodded. He was still somewhat shaken by the fact he was able to see anything at all. If that was what Jaya say all the time, he could understand why she always seemed so scared. It had scared him, too. Their parents sent them back to their room to sleep. The twins did nothing of the sort. They sat together on Jaya's bed, very much awake. No words were exchanged. No words needed to be. They understood each other just as well as they always had.
Immediately the next morning, the twins were herded out to the car. They exchanged slighted glances with each other. Their parents wouldn't tell them where they where going or what was happening. Jace got the feeling this would not be a fun surprise. He conveyed this conviction to Jaya with his eyes. Her short, bouncy pigtails visibly drooped. She knew her brother's intuition was almost never wrong.
Sure enough, it was anything but. The child psychologists was non-threatening enough at first. She said they could call her Annie. Adults never let them call them by their first names. Jaya relaxed slightly, but the inconsistency was setting Jace's suspicion on edge. This was easily conveyed through their own language of furtive glances and subtle nudges. Most of the time, Jaya was more open than Jace. In this situation, however, she decided to follow his lead.
The twins were each given a piece of paper and told to color whatever they wished. Jace and Jaya immediately reached the tacit agreement to share the paper and create two masterpieces. The first was mostly of Jaya's creation. It was seemingly wild and unpredictable, but Jace's quiet additions easily pointed out what his sister's focus was supposed to be. The second was mainly of Jace's design. It was purposefully structured, but Jaya's occasional addition gave it a little spark.
Despite their collective suspicion, the twins enjoyed themselves. Coloring together was one of their favorite pastimes. It was only once they finished their pictures that their true distress began. Annie wanted to talk to them. Separately. She wanted Jaya first. A very reluctant Jace was led out of the room by their parents.
Jaya fidgeted nervously on the too-big, too-fluffy couch, staring up at Annie. The woman smiled kindly at the little girl. Jaya wasn't buying it. “Your parents told me what you saw last night. That must’ve been really scary, honey.”
Silently, Jaya nodded.
“What if I told you you could stop it?” Her voice dripped with sincerity.
Hopeful young eyes looked up from the fascinating spot they had located on the carpet. “Really?”
Satisfied, Annie nodded. “Really.”
“How?” Jaya was all ears. She would do anything to make the shadow people leave her alone.
Annie leaned in conspiratorially, gesturing for Jaya to do the same. Eagerly, she did so. “You don’t think about them attacking you anymore. They’ll do whatever you want them to. They’re your imaginary friends, hon.”
Affronted, Jaya backed off. Tears stung behind her eyes. It didn't take long for them to spill over. “They’re not imaginary! And they’re not my friends!”
Hoping to placate the girl, Annie smiled warmly. “I know they seem real to you, but-"
“They are real,” Jaya insisted. “They ARE!”
Not long after that, Annie let Jaya out of her office. The younger twin was still shaking with silent tears. Their parents tried to be of comfort, but they were completely ignored. They were the ones who brought them here. She went straight to Jace, who hugged her as tightly as his small arms could, glaring over her shoulder at Annie. Needless to say, she got nothing out of Jace.
As soon as they got home, the twins headed straight to their room. They iced their parents out completely. Jaya had stopped crying, but she still looked completely miserable. Jace hugged her again. “You’re not crazy, Jay. I saw ‘em too.”
A rather irate figure materialized, sitting criss-cross in the middle of the floor. “You most certainly are not crazy.”
Both twins jumped at the sudden voice, and Jace instinctively pushed his sister slightly behind him. Jaya glared halfheartedly at him and pushed forward. Her face lit up. She had begun to doubt herself, but between Jace’s reassurance and the proof now sitting in front of her, she knew her doubts were unfounded. “Zander!”
Zander chuckled at the enthusiastic response. “The one and only.”
Jaya ran forward to hug him. And promptly fell on her face. Jace tensed immediately. “He’s one a those things.”
“But he doesn't look right,” Jaya informed, brow furrowed in consternation. “’Sides, they’re not all mean. And Zander’s saved us before.”
Smiling gently, Zander gestured for them to come in front of him. Jaya did readily. Jace joined her, only slightly more hesitant. They both sat down, mimicking Zander’s position. “The word you’re looking for, young ones, is ghosts. And I can assure you that I am one, though I don't associate with those that attacked you.”
Jace looked skeptical. Jaya looked thoughtful. “That… Kinda makes sense. How come I can see ‘em when no one else can?”
“Why could I see ‘em last night?” Jace added. “Why can I see you now?”
“You, Jaya,” Zander began, “have an incredible amount of energy. This allows you to pick up on things others simply can’t, because it makes you more attuned to the energy signatures of other beings. Those of ghosts are more pronounced, because they’re made purely of energy, making them easier for the untrained eye to spot. You’ll find many people who claim this particular gift, but most will be lying. The true ability is exceptionally rare. It’s unlikely you will ever truly encounter another who possesses the ability. You too, Jace, posses heightened energy, though not to the same degree as your sister. You were able to see the large concentration of energy last night. I am more powerful than most other ghosts the pair of you have encountered. I have enough energy to make my presence known to you should I so desire.”
“Is that why you look different?” Jaya had connected the dots.
Pleased with her inference, Zander nodded. “It is. It’s likely you've seen a few others like me without realizing it.”
“Why did those other ghosts come after me?” Jaya asked this softly. The experience still frightened her.
“You’re a bright spot of energy,” Zander explained carefully. He didn't want to add to their fear, but he also found honesty important in the moment. “Many of those spirits were, are, very confused. They don’t understand that they’re dead. Most of them feel very weak. They were drawing off of Jaya’s energy, trying to feel strong again. Trying to understand.”
“They were hurting her?” At Zander’s hesitant nod, Jace pressed forward. “Will they come back?”
“Fear not, young ones.” Zander’s calm, deep voice soothed them. “Now that I know, I can protect you.”
“Really?” Jaya asked.
“How?” Jace added.
“I’m much stronger than they are.” Zander smirked. “I was a wizard in my lifetime.”
Jaya grinned. “Cool!”
Jace’s head was swirling with too many questions to form any coherent word. Zander had to be really old to be a wizard. How long did wizards live, anyway? Did wizards wear old beat up leather jackets?
“I’m not that old,” Zander told him, amused. “And it’s not leather. It’s dragon skin.”
“How do you do that?” Jace demanded.
Despite knowing exactly what the boy was talking about, Zander quirked an inquisitive eyebrow. “Whatever are you referring to?”
“Know what we’re thinkin’,” Jaya clarified unnecessarily.
“If you’re not shielding, expect someone else to be reading,” Zander told them seriously. The twins shared uncomfortable looks. “I can teach you how. And I should be able to keep others out of your heads until you've learned.”
Both twins brightened. “Thanks!”
Zander smiled ruefully. “Not a problem. I never took an apprentice during my life. Perhaps that’s part of the reason I’m still here.”
Their training didn't start right away. The twins were very young, and their parents were on high alert. They had to wait until their parents calmed down. Not long after, the twins were forced into separate rooms. This did not sit well with either of them, but Zander helped them cope. He put a portal between their rooms in their closets so they could access each other at a moment’s notice. It was something they both took frequent advantage of.
In addition, Zander cautioned both children not to tell their parents about any more ghostly happenings. Given their original responses, he didn't believe they needed or deserved to know. This seemed to work. The twins were no longer deemed crazy. The unproductive sessions with Annie ceased. Still, they remained in their separate rooms. According to their parents, this eventuality had been inevitable due to the twins being different genders. With Zander’s portal, they didn't mind as much as they might have.
Soon, Zander was confident their parents were inattentive enough for the twins to start learning. They began with meditation. Clearing one’s mind was an important step towards protecting it. Jace picked up on this art almost immediately due to his calm nature. For Jaya, who always seemed to be excited and moving, it took longer. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Jace’s mental shield was more complex. It needed to leave Jace sensitive enough to detect presences without leaving him vulnerable. When she caught up, Jaya’s shield was far simpler. She just had to shove up the strongest defenses she could imagine. Nothing would be enough to block Jaya’s sights.
Jace picking up on magic faster than Jaya was a continuing theme. When Jace was learning basic spells, Jaya was still learning basic meditation and energy control techniques. Still, Zander never held their lessons separately. Hew recognized what many others were oblivious to: Jace and Jaya would always be better together. Eventually, that wasn't enough to keep Jaya from being clawed down by her perceived inadequacies.
One day, when the twins were seven, Jace and Zander found Jaya sitting on her bed crying her eyes out. Zander sat down next to her and gestured for Jace to leave. Jace nodded his compliance. Zander had earned the position of the only person either twin truly trusted with the other.
Once they were alone, Zander got Jaya’s attention. She looked up at him with tear-filled eyes that broke his hear. Zander was reminded of why he never took an apprentice while he was alive. Kids turned him into a giant softy, damn it. “What’s wrong, young one?”
Jaya wiped fiercely at her eyes. She desperately wished she could hug Zander, but she knew that feat to be impossible. “I can’t do it. I keep trying and trying but I can’t do it!”
“That doesn't sound like you,” Zander said, feigning perplexity. “What is it that you can’t do, exactly?”
“Magic!” Jaya exclaimed, flopping back on her bed. “I can’t even meditate! I’ll never catch up!”
Zander sighed quietly. He had been half expecting this, but the more optimistic part of him hoped Jaya’s sunny disposition would keep it from happening. Of course, he could never be that lucky. “Oh, Jaya. What am I going to do with you?”
“How am I supposed to know?” Jaya mumbled grumpily.
In spite of himself and the situation, Zander chuckled. At the dark look Jaya gave him, he quickly sobered. “Listen up, Little Jaya. I don’t want to have to say this more than once. I never expected you to progress as fast as Jace has. The same thing that makes you so unique makes this harder for you. You have an incredible amount of energy coursing through you. It’s difficult to control. Focus on that. Your personality isn't exactly made for sitting still, either. And that’s not a bad thing. You and Jace have different strengths. The two of you compliment each other. Don’t fight that.”
Jaya rubbed at her eyes. No new tears replaced the old. She smiled up at Zander. “Thanks.”
He returned it in kind, focusing a little too much energy to be able to ruffle her hair. “No problem, young one.”
After that, Jaya was no longer discouraged. On the rare occasion she did have doubts, all it took was a hug from Jace and a smile from Zander to erase them. She took joy from the small victories, like her increasing meditation record. Jace, for his part, was energized by his sister’s difficulties. He felt the need to get better to protect both of them. He enjoyed dabbling in wind magic, but they focused mostly on plasma based spells. Those would be most effective against ghosts. They were happier and stronger working with Zander.
Zander found his fondness for the twins only grew. Whether or not he had intended it, they had become his children in his eyes. He wouldn't change it. They were good kids. Zander became someone they could come to for guidance in life as well as their magical studies; he became a second father. Their parents loved them, sure, but they didn't understand. They never would. Zander did.
Their lives only looked up from there.