Okay, this is a weird chapter. Don't read unless you're good at grasping conclusions from abstract bits of text. But the gist of it is that Julia's trying to convince herself that everything's normal.
"Hey, Jay? Can I talk to you?"
Julia's younger sister looked up. "Yeah?" Jay frowned at Julia's expression. "Are you all right?"
Julia bit her lip and shook her head. "Jay... you know I love you, right?"
"And if something was going on, you'd tell me?"
Hmm. Jay looked suddenly shifty. "Yeah...?"
"Well... I heard you'd fallen in with some bad people."
"I haven't. Who told you that?"
"Oh, just someone I know. So you're all right?"
"Yes, Julia. I'm fine." A look of worry crossed Jay's face. "Who is this someone?"
"Oh, just this guy I know named Tim."
"Yeah, I don't think it's his real name." She paused. "So... you haven't joined a street gang or anything?"
"No!" spat Jay, "And if I had, it wouldn't be any of your business, nor that of some random guy called Tim!" She stood there, fuming, as Julia backed away slowly. "Who is he, your boyfriend?"
"No!" Julia retorted, repulsed. "He's this creepy guy in a black cloak who stalked me!"
The tension froze. Jay had paled like snow. "A creepy guy in a black cloak?"
"Yes!" There was a pause. "Do you know him?"
"No, of course not, don't be silly."
And Julia got the feeling that Jay was telling the truth, although maybe she wasn't being completely forthcoming. And so that was that.
Breakfast the next morning was a subdued affair. Jay was ignoring Julia. Jasmine had sprained her ankle at a martial arts competition the night before, and spent the entire meal with her foot on the table with an ice pack over it. Their father, who was a linguist studying southern African dialects, was somewhere in Angola. There mother was a naturally quiet person.
Julia stared moodily at her plate, carved an eyepatch on her pancake, and reflected on what seemed to be an entire new world slowly encroaching on her life. First Jay's involvement with some mysterious group, and then a weird guy following her around the city.
Jay and Jasmine had always wanted adventure. Julia hadn't. She'd read soppy romantic pulp fiction, made progress in her her jazz class, and studied hard for History/Geo class. That was her. Not one of those girls who found out that magic actually existed or the entire world was being run by a computer or a race of giant orangutans were plotting an invasion from outer space.
And so, as a proof to karma that she would lead a normal life, goddammit, she decide that she would text Chloe and ask her if she wanted to go to get a bagel.
This didn't work out.
The cafe was closed, there was construction on the road that led to the second nearest one, and on the way back Chloe tripped, fell into a puddle, and ruined her new shirt.
Julia reacted in the way any teenage girl like her would, by holing herself in her room and watching five episodes straight of Glee. She had a crush on whoever it was who played Finn, although she'd heard rumors that his character died.
As one might deduce, this was not the best start to the day.
At two in the afternoon she decided that maybe it would be a good idea to get some exercise, so she pulled out her iPod and started off on her usual run to the football stadium and back.
About halfway there she realized that Tim had fallen into step beside her. She glared at him, but decided she was probably hallucinating the entire thing anyway, so kept jogging.
"Jay's in trouble," he said after a while.
She didn't answer, just commented on how stupid he looked jogging through Seattle in a heavy black cloak.
A little while later, probably realizing that she wasn't going to say anything else, he jogged into a side street and disappeared. Julia thought she smelled the vague scent of oranges, although not very good ones. Whatever it was, it smelled bitter.
And it might have been her imagination, and she seriously hoped it was, but there might, just possibly, have been a ten-foot high spaniel following her from a few streets back.
Probably not, she decided. Things like that wouldn't dare happen to her. Would they.
It turned out that the ten-foot high spaniel did exist, and moreover it was following Julia. This didn't please her greatly, but up close it was actually rather cute, and didn't even attack her like she would have assumed a giant dog would. It just sniffed at her a bit and then trotted off towards the alley down which Tim had disappeared, occasionally lowering its head to the ground and nuzzled the cement.
It was at this moment that Julia came out of shock, recognized that this was all really happening, and sprinted back home in a record time of two and a half minutes.
"GOD HELP ME, JAY, IF YOU DON'T EXPLAIN TO ME THIS INSTANT WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON, I WILL TRY TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH MYSELF!"
It was a good thing neither their mother nor Jasmine was home, as Julia's shout echoed for several seconds around the apartment building. The dog whined.
There a moment of silence, then:
"All right, I'm in the kitchen..."
Julia marched in, ready to interrogate her younger sister. But Jay was standing meekly at the counter looking at her feet.
Jay was smart, but she also was not very experienced at hiding long pointy bits of weaponry from her sister, so Julia yanked the sword out of the trash can (the hilt had been showing) and waved it disbelievingly.
"What on earth are you doing with a sword, Jay?" she demanded, wiping some jam off the blade.
"I was... practicing fencing! For school! We're doing it in sports class."
"Jay, this is a longsword. Not a rapier or an epee or whatever it is you use for fencing."
"I wanted to get the authentic experience of fighting with a medieval weapon, and this was the only one I could find!"
Julia leant the sword carefully against the fridge and leaned back, closing her eyes. "Fine," she said flatly. "Just fine." She opened one eye and peered at her sister. "So... I suppose you have a logical explanation for the giant dog that followed my today?" Jay's face went blank. "I thought not."
Jay suddenly looked close to tears, and Julia sighed. "What's the matter now?"
"They said no one would get hurt, and you guys wouldn't be involved! They said- they said-" she dissolved into uncontrollable sobs, but as Julia moved closer to comfort her, she looked up and glared. "Don't come near me!" she spat. "This is all your fault! If only you hadn't poked your nose into my life-"
The unfairness of this accusation hit Julia like a hammer, and she moved to defend herself.
"How is this my fault? You're the one who got jealous of Jasmine and started messing with these people!"
Jay froze. "I am not jealous of Jasmine!"
She grabbed the sword from where it stood and stormed out of the house.
In a flash, Julia realized that if it meant she could protect those she loved, than she would be the kind of girl who discovered other worlds.
She snuck out after Jay.
Following Jay was easy.
In the same way that black cloaks are not commonplace in Seattle, neither are three foot long swords wielded by angry teenagers, and so Jay left a trail of very confused civilians in her wake. Not once did Jay look back to check that Julia hadn't followed her. Julia supposed that Jay must think she knew her older sister- in the same way that she had thought that she knew Jay.
My, my, what things we're discovering about each-other this weekend. Isn't it such a fantastic family bonding experience?
Jay turned left a few blocks down and Julia, peering from around the corner, watched as she let herself into an old apartment building.
Letting a few minutes go by, Julia crept after her and examined the door. What was she going to do now? It looked there was an old key code pad, with some of the keys rusted over.
Well, wouldn't the pass code be made up of the keys that weren't? The countless fingers would rub what rust formed off...
So. 1, 5, 6 and 9. She had no way of knowing what order the'd be in.
She decided just to grit her teeth, try a random code, and hope for the best.
Typing in '1695', she was just about to lean closer to the door to see if it had worked when she heard a noise from the mouth of the alley. She spun around, and this was why when the blade whipped out from the door it caught her on her right arm and not her throat. Most people would have deemed this to be a lucky save, but Julia was not in a situation to be contemplating such things, so she doubled over and let out a string of curses. The door remained close.
It was, however, at this point that the noise recurred, and this time she did see something, a ten foot high spaniel something in fact. And this time, it was growling.