1991. It has been two days since the battle with Talagbusao, and Alexandra still has her father on strict bed rest. She and Hank have so far resisted the urge to poison the two Warchildren, but they’re not making any promises.
As soon as Alexandra hauled the twins into the bedroom, glaring venomously at them as they struggled and cursed at her, Anton Trese knew that this wasn’t going to be easy.
“Let them go, and come over here, Alexandra,” he said. She grudgingly released her grip on the twins’ arms and went to stand beside the head of the bed, crossing her arms and keeping her glare fixed on the boys.
“Come closer,” Anton said, beckoning to them. They shuffled reluctantly closer, huddling shoulder-to-shoulder with each other.
“What are your names, hijos?”
They remained silent, glaring suspiciously at Anton and Alexandra.
“What are your names?” he asked again. “We’re going to take care of you from now on, so we have to know your names.”
“...Basilio," muttered the long-haired one after a moment.
“So, what, the other one is Crispin?” asked Alexandra, rolling her eyes. Both boys blinked at her, startled.
“No! Everyone always asks Mama that,” the short-haired one said.
“And? What’s the answer?”
“She always says—said—‘No. His name is Elias. Because I am not Sisa.’”
Anton could almost hear the feminine snarl that the child’s voice was imitating. He remembered the hard-eyed glare of the woman in the image Alexandra had poured onto the handkerchief. He shook his head to dispel the memory and smiled reassuringly at the boys.
“Do you have nicknames?”
They both shook their heads.
“Let’s call you...Eli,”—he cautiously touched the shoulder of one boy—“and Lio,”—he touched the shoulder of the other. “Eli and Lio. Is that okay?”
The two boys looked at each other for a moment, then nodded solemnly at Anton.
“I’m Anton Trese, and this is my daughter, your Ate Alexandra.”
“I’m not their Ate!” Alexandra burst out, her hands fisting at her sides. “They killed Puti and Bantay and Blackie and Dogbert!” She pushed past the boys and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Anton sighed. This was not going to be easy at all.
1992. The twins have started school, which at least gets them out of Hank’s way for most of the day. Alexandra doesn’t know and doesn’t care whether they’re doing well or not. She pities the teacher who has to deal with the little terrors.
Muffled shouts and crashes from the living room brought Alexandra running, wondering what the twins had done now. She skidded to a stop when she saw the disaster area that the room had become. Chairs knocked over, the coffee table on its side, the sofa pushed askew, the two boys wrestling—playfully?—on the floor.
“Hey you two! Hey! Hey!” she yelled. They reluctantly stopped tussling and got to their feet, glaring defiantly at her. She snatched up one of the notebooks scattered across the floor and brandished it at them.
“Aren’t you supposed to be doing your science homework?”
“Who cares about science homework? Who cares about drawing the parts of a stupid tree?” said the long-haired one resentfully.
“You are supposed to care, unless you want to drop out of grade one and be a stupid failure.”
“Hey! Don’t talk to my brother like that!” the short-haired one said, stepping forward into a fighting stance.
“Just do your homework. Now.”
“Or what? You’re gonna make us do it with the masks?”
“No, they don’t work that way. Unfortunately. But I can tell Papa you’re being bad. And he’s going to be really mad at you.”
With this threat, Alexandra stormed off to find her father.
Half an hour later, sprawled on her bed with her own homework, Alexandra heard the screen door to the backyard squeak open and slam shut. The faint sound of her father’s voice drifted up through her window. After a moment she went over to the window to look down into the yard.
Her father was out there, along with the two boys. He was holding one of their notebooks and leading them to the mango tree tucked in the corner of the yard. Now he was squatting down, with the twins beside him, digging his fingers into the ground where Alexandra and he had so carefully poured sugar months ago.
Alexandra slid on her slippers and hurried down the stairs and into the backyard.
"What are you doing, papa? You might mess up the circle we made!"
"Ah, I'm just showing them a few things about trees that they wouldn't learn in school," Anton said, smiling up at her. He turned back to the boys. "To make the tree's fruit sweeter, we dug a shallow circle around the tree--here--" he traced part of the circle with his finger,"--poured some sugar in the furrow, and covered it up again with dirt. That, along with a small ritual or two, is why we have such delicious mangoes all year round." He stood and reached up, plucking two mangoes from a low-hanging branch and handing them to the boys. "But don't tell your teacher about this; she wouldn't believe you." He winked at them.
The twins immediately set to work on the mangoes, first peeling off strips of the golden-yellow skin with their fingernails and then eating the juicy flesh as it dripped all over their fingers. Anton smiled and plucked two more mangoes from another branch, handing one to Alexandra and starting to peel the other one with his own nails.
"I'll go cut this up in the kitchen," Alexandra said, turning away.
"Come, Alexandra, be messy for once. Have some fun."
She turned back reluctantly and started picking at the skin. Anton headed for the bench on one side of the yard, gesturing for the other three to follow him. He ended up sitting with Alexandra on one side and the twins on the other, all of them eating in--for once--a peaceful silence. The only sound was the occasional slurp or lick of people dealing with mango juice and sticky fingers.
It was getting easier, a day at a time.
1993. Alexandra has just entered college—Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management, so she can help with the Diabolical Cafe. The boys are in grade two, and her father says that they’re doing fine. She finds to her surprise that she’s actually pleased to hear that.
"Brown-ouuuuuuut!" the twins chorused loudly when the house was plunged into darkness.
After a moment, a yellow glow appeared from downstairs as Hank began lighting candles in the kitchen. Anton led Alexandra and the boys down to get some candles to set up in the living room. They brought up one each and set them in the middle of the coffee table, where the boys' textbooks and Alexandra's new college books were spread out. Anton cast a quick spell to make sure that this was only an ordinary brown-out and not something more sinister, then settled down to watch his children continue their work.
After about an hour, the boys had finished their homework and were now flopped on the floor, bored with nothing to do. Sensing that boredom was likely to turn into destructiveness /very/ soon, Anton went down and got a bowl from the kitchen, filled it with water and brought it back upstairs.
"Here," he said, calling the twins' attention. "Since we're using candles right now, I'll teach you a divination technique that uses them. First, there's a chant--" he said the incantation slowly, the boys looking attentively at him as they tried to memorize it, "and then you hold a candle over the bowl until the hot wax drips. Then you have to see what image forms out of the wax drippings." The boys crowded around the bowl, their heads pressing together to vie for the best view. They fidgeted impatiently as the wax slowly dripped into the bowl.
"Oooh, I think it's a lion!"
"No, it looks more like a duwende!"
"No, it doesn't! Move over, you're blocking my view!"
"Ow! Stop that! You're in the way now!"
"Hey! No pushing!"
Finally Lio elbowed Eli too hard and he nearly knocked the bowl over.
"Boys, stop fighting!" Alexandra said sharply, looking up from her books. "Lio, stop shoving your brother and sit down over there."
Lio obeyed with a pout as Alexandra went downstairs. She returned with another bowl full of water, and Lio broke into a huge grin as Alexandra beckoned him over to sit by her.
"I'll say the chant, because things can really go bad if you say it wrong. Be careful. You can say it once you've really memorized it. For now, you can hold the candle. Okay?"
"Okay!" Lio said, nearly bouncing in place.
"Let's do it, then." Alexandra began the chant as Lio sat across the bowl from her, carefully holding the candle over the water. Anton looked up at them and smiled softly at the sight, before turning back to Eli and their own bowl of water.
1994. The boys seem to be in a perpetual growth spurt, and they’re almost a foot taller than all their classmates. Alexandra is turning eighteen in a few months, and feels very grown-up, especially when her father asks her to do things for him.
Miss Diaz fiddled nervously with the papers on her desk, waiting for Mr. Anton Trese. As the guardian of those strange twins, he was scheduled for a parent-teacher conference today, but he was fifteen minutes late.
The door creaked open and a teenage girl in a long black coat strode in.
"Miss Diaz?" the girl asked.
"Yes, what can I do for you?"
"I'm Alexandra Trese, I'm here for the parent-teacher conference. I'm very sorry, but my father can't make it today."
She boldly seated herself across the table from Miss Diaz, sitting ramrod straight and assuming an attentive expression.
"Well...ah...I'm not sure...your father really can't come today? Well...the matter is fairly urgent; I suppose I could talk to you and you could transmit the message to your father for me."
"Of course, Miss Diaz."
"It's about a homework assignment that I gave the class last week. I'm not sure whether the boys were simply making some kind of joke, or whether it's indicative of some kind of problem, but their answers to the exercise were...very strange."
She handed a pair of worksheets to the girl. At the top were the instructions: What chores do you help with around the house? Draw a picture. Below them were some of the most disturbing drawings Miss Diaz had ever seen.
One of the worksheets--the older boy's, Eli's--showed a stick figure that appeared to be stabbing a pig with a knife. Blood, lovingly colored with a bright red ballpen, was dripping from the pig into a bowl full of more bright red blood. Beside this first bowl were other bowls, this time with sinister black patterns scribbled onto the pools of red. She shuddered at the sight of those weird patterns, wondering what kind of child would draw such a thing.
The other worksheet--Lio's--showed another stick figure, but with a short ponytail, holding a large curved object in one hand. Beside the figure was what appeared to be a crocodile, its eyes little dead "X" marks and its mouth gaping wide open. The mouth was filled with sharp curved teeth, but a gap in the row of teeth showed that what the person was holding must be a crocodile tooth extracted from that gap. Both the gap and the base of the tooth were colored with bright red ballpen blood.
"As you can see, Miss Trese, the boys' drawings have nothing to do with chores at home. First, I think we need to address the clear lack of respect for authority and instructions that this shows. Secondly, I'm...somewhat concerned that these drawings may indicate a tendency toward violent or morbid fantasies in these boys. I hope you haven't been letting them watch horror movies or any such thing?"
The girl looked over the worksheets with an odd little smile on her face, almost as though she were suppressing laughter. She looked up at Miss Diaz and her smile deepened for a moment, her eyes flashing mischievously.
"Actually, Miss Diaz, these drawings do show the chores that the boys do at home. This one"--she pointed to the pig's blood drawing--"shows Eli helping my father with a divination ritual we did last week. The patterns in the blood--he drew those quite well, actually--are the omens that appear. This one, for instance, means victory, but this one is bad luck. And this one"--the crocodile drawing--"shows Lio getting a crocodile's tooth for my father. He was really very helpful; without the tooth we couldn't have invoked the three demons and made the cursed oil we needed this summer."
"Miss Trese!" Miss Diaz was gaping. "What are you talking about? I...you're just as bad as those boys! No respect for authority; lying to my face--"
"Of course. I'm sorry, Miss Diaz. I was just trying to make a little joke. The truth is, we have a family restaurant--I'm studying to take over it, actually--and the boys help out around the kitchen. Sometimes we let them slice the meat--they must just be exaggerating, pretending that they kill pigs and crocodiles instead of just slicing up frozen ham and sausages."
The girl smiled brightly at Miss Diaz.
"Well, I'm glad that we were able to work out that little problem. Thank you for your time, I'll just go get the boys now." She stood, nodded politely to Miss Diaz, and strode out of the room before the stunned teacher could react.
When Alexandra got to the playground, Eli and Lio appeared to be running away from a mob of angry girls who were trying to hit them with textbooks or kick them in the shins. The kicks didn't hurt the twin Warchildren at all, of course, and they were simply laughing and pulling faces to infuriate the girls further.
Lio snatched the textbook from one of the girls and held it over his head, laughing as she tried to get it back. He and his brother were so tall that the girl didn't have a chance of reaching it, but she kept trying anyway, alternately hopping up and down to grab at the textbook and punching his shoulder while demanding that he give it back.
"Eli! Lio!" Alexandra shouted. "Stop teasing the girls, it's time to go home!"
Lio dropped the textbook and Eli made a last face at the girls, then they ran over to Alexandra and took her hands, one on either side of her.
"Let's go, boys," she said, smiling down at them.
1997. Alexandra has been grim and preoccupied since she came back from her trials. She stalks the city's supernatural underbelly, determined to know every inch of her territory. The Kambal are taller than ever, and look more like first-year college students than first-year high school.
The Diabolical Cafe was empty when Alexandra walked in, and she frowned unhappily to herself. According to Hank, business had gotten pretty bad over the last few years. She tried to suppress a yawn as she made her way up to the second floor. She had been out since midnight visiting one of her father's kapre allies in Makati, and it was already...what time was it again?
Voices from the living room meant that the boys were already home from school, so it must be about four in the afternoon. Alexandra peeked through the door and saw them sitting at the coffee table, absorbed in some books with more stacked beside them. Looking closer, Alexandra thought she recognized some of the older and more valuable books from the family library. What could the twins be doing?
“What are you up to, boys?” she asked, noting the guilty flinches as she strode into the room. “Doing a little reading?” She looked down at the papers scattered across the table, then her eyes widened and she knelt for a better look.
“Summoning spells? Binding spells?” Another book caught her eye—“Dragons? Please, please, please tell me you aren’t trying to do what it looks like you’re trying to do!”
The boys blinked at her in unison, trying and failing to look innocent. “We’re just trying to see if there are any real Flame Dragons, and whether we can summon them like Recca does in Flame of Recca.”
“You want to summon dragons for fun? No. Don’t even think about it. Put those books back right now.”
Under Alexandra’s watchful eye, the twins reluctantly gathered up the heavy books and took them back to the library. Coming back to the living room, they flopped on the sofa with heavy sighs, clearly feeling very oppressed.
“What’s Flame of Recca, anyway?” Alexandra said, trying to draw them out of their sulk. They immediately perked up.
"It's this awesome show, a really cool anime!"
"Here! We asked Hank to buy a blank tape so we could tape some of the episodes! You have to watch it."
"Yeah! Then you'll see the flame dragons!"
Eli hopped off the sofa and picked up a tape that had been sitting on top of the VHS player. He popped it in and settled back on the sofa on Alexandra's other side. She smiled slightly, seeing that the boys now had her trapped as a captive audience to whatever this anime was.
Over the next hour the twins introduced her to Recca Hanabishi, Max Domon, Aira Kirisawa, Dylan Mikagami and Lorcan Koganei--and, more importantly, their "totally awesome attacks; I wish we had flame powers like Recca instead of just flying and healing and stuff," "yeah, and weapons like the Kogan Anki and the Ensui--don't we have any cool weapons like that hidden anywhere, Alexandra?"
Alexandra laughed, for what felt like the first time in a very long time. "No, we don't. But..."--she looked conspiratorially at the boys--"that doesn't mean that we can't try to make some."
She smiled at them. "If I'm going to keep the supernatural in line, I'm going to need some fairly awesome weapons myself. So...what do you say? Shall we try and find out how to make flame dragons? Fake flame dragons, that don't involve trying to capture and enslave any ancient and powerful Japanese beasts without adult supervision?"
The twins nodded enthusiastically, too excited to even look sheepish at her reminder.
"Well then. Let's get to it."
When Hank gave up, closed the empty cafe, and went upstairs to call Alexandra and the boys for dinner, he was surprised to hear laughter from the living room. He walked silently over and peeked in, and a slow smile spread over his face. The two boys were sitting cross-legged on the floor, but the surprise was the petite figure in between them, her head barely reaching above their shoulders. Alexandra had taken off her coat and shoes, and in her t-shirt and bare feet she looked more like the little Alex that he had helped raise.
There was also a Santelmo hovering above a candle, and Hank's smile widened, remembering that Alex had always been so friendly with the flame beings. There was another candle on the table, and Alexandra and the twins appeared to be trying to bend the candle-flame into shapes following some instructions by the Santelmo. They weren't having much success. The Santelmo was laughing uproariously, and the three of them were laughing with him. It was so good to see such a carefree look on Alexandra's face, and to see her spending time with the boys again.
Hank quietly withdrew and went back down to the kitchen. Dinner could wait. Family was more important.
2000. The Kambal have taken to wearing black suits whenever they're out of their school uniforms, citing the need to be cool and badass at all possible times. Alexandra is finally finishing the requirements for her college degree, after having been AWOL for three years. The last requirement: a practicum at the Barangay Festival restaurant.
Things had been absolutely crazy all morning as the restaurant staff prepared for the huge corporate lunch event. The food was ready, the banquet tables had been set up, the tribal-themed decor was finally all arranged, and the cultural dance troupe was waiting in the side room. Just in time, since the guests now began to arrive.
Alexandra and several of the other staff peeked discreetly into the hall through a cracked-open door, smiling in satisfaction at how smoothly everything was going so far. The last guest seated himself and, on cue, the dancers came streaming in from the side room with a clamor of gongs and chanting. The guests clapped politely as the entertainment started, and Alexandra turned away to go back to the kitchen before she registered what she was hearing.
'That's--that's a real harvest ritual! That chant should really invoke--oh no--'
She burst into the hall just in time to see the lead dancer go into convulsions. She ran forward and tackled the woman to the ground. The possessed woman struggled with an unnatural strength, then let out an unearthly shriek. A shudder ran through the rest of the troupe, and they began dancing in a wild frenzy. Their flailing knocked food off the tables and the guests began shouting.
The woman under Alexandra shrieked an incantation and there was a deep rumble, followed by a series of earth-shaking booms. It sounded almost like...giant footsteps?
A huge fist burst through the door of the hall. Another punch from the fist and the door toppled inward. In strode a ten-foot muscular figure in a loincloth. With a sinking heart, Alexandra recognized one of the huge concrete statues that stood outside the restaurant. Who had decided that giant statues of deities were a good idea?
The guests were screaming and running in a panic, and the giant statue was heading for Alexandra. She cursed and let go of the possessed woman with one hand, fumbling for her cellphone. Thank goodness it was a Saturday. She hauled the woman upright one-handed and dragged her struggling form toward a door, listening to the ringing on the cellphone. "Come on, answer the phone," she hissed under her breath.
"Bossing? What's the matter?"
"Big trouble here at Barangay Festival! Get here NOW!"
"Right away, Bossing!"
The statue's fist swung at Alexandra, and she was forced to let go of the woman and dive out of the way. She drew her dagger from its hidden sheath and sprang at the giant, but the dagger glanced off its concrete arm. She slashed and dodged for another minute before a black blur slammed into the giant and knocked it into the ground. Another black blur followed and resolved into Eli, with his pistol out and ready.
"We've got this, Bossing!"
"Good work, boys." Alexandra took off after the lead dancer, who was chanting in the middle of the room. She tackled the woman to the ground again, placed her hand firmly on the tossing head, and began chanting an exorcism.
Fifteen minutes later, the statue was dust and the dancers had all been exorcised. The lead dancer stared dazedly at Alexandra, swaying on her feet.
"Who are you?"
"Alexandra Trese. BS Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management, 4th year standing. Next time, please leave this kind of thing to the professionals."
The Kambal hopped up on a table. Exchanging a smirk, they simultaneously drew a pair of sunglasses out of their jackets and settled them on their faces. "May we please have everyone's attention?"
Dazed heads turned slowly to look at them. They each whipped out a small black pen-like object and held it up. Alexandra closed her eyes, but she could see the blue-white flash even through her eyelids.
"You all just experienced a miniature localized earthquake. The restaurant is unfortunately closing for repair. Please proceed back to your cars." They tucked the sunglasses back in their jackets and strolled over to Alexandra as the guests began filing out of the room.
"You two," she said with a raised eyebrow, "are having way too much fun with those new anting-anting."
Eli smirked at her. "The good guys dress in black, remember that--"
"--just in case we ever face to face and make contact," finished Lio.
"My God. That movie was old even before you started wearing those damned suits. Can you please get over it already?"
"But Bossing! We are the men in black! The galaxy defenders!"
"We are the men in black; we won't let you--OWWWW!"
Alexandra dragged them both toward the wrecked door by their ears, pinching them with a merciless grip.
"I am so glad I'm graduating already," she muttered to herself. "I just hope I pass my practicum. The fact that I'm going to have to clean this place up has got to be worth at least a 1.25."
2001. The Kambal are about to graduate from high school, and looking forward to helping Alexandra full-time. She's been working more and more with Captain Guerrero, helping the police whenever crime takes a turn for the weird.
Alexandra made her way up the stairs, shedding her coat and kicking off her boots at the top of the stairs. The boys' room was dark--they must be asleep by now. She pushed the door open a crack to check on them, then frowned and pushed it open further. There was no one in the beds--they were flat and undisturbed.
"Damn it. On a school night?"
She grabbed her coat and boots and headed down to the kitchen. Getting a map out of a drawer, she put a coin on top of it and touched her finger to the coin. "I call upon the spirit of the coin. Where are Elias and Basilio, the Warchildren?"
The coin slowly began to move, heading towards Malate and circling the area before settling in one place. It was only a few blocks away from the Diabolical, and Alexandra sighed with mingled relief and exasperation before pulling on her boots.
The club was dark, lit only by a dim blue light. Alexandra scanned the crowd with sharp eyes and spotted a pair of tall figures at a corner table. Striding over, she slammed a hand down, making the glasses rattle.
She smiled a razor-edged smile, and both boys cringed. The two pretty girls they'd been flirting with hastily got up and hurried away, shooting nervous smiles over their shoulders. Alexandra slid into one of the seats they'd vacated and folded her hands neatly on the table, still with a deceptively bright smile.
"So! Fancy seeing you here. On a school night. Before you're even legal to drink."
The Kambal hung their heads. "Sorry, Bossing."
Alexandra sighed. "Come on. We're heading home."
Lio looked up at her, head still bowed, turning all the force of his best puppy-eyed stare on her. "Come on, Bossing, can't we all stay here a bit longer? You'd like the the coffee here; they have reeeeeeally good coffee..."
"Really good!" agreed Eli. "Come on, Bossing, our treat!"
"You two are impossible. Are you seriously trying to use coffee to bribe me to let you to stay in a club?"
"Yes!" they chorused, grinning hopefully at her.
"I do not even believe that I'm doing this. Fine. We can stay, for just a little longer. But this coffee had better be really good."
It was quite good, in fact. Lio and Eli watched happily as she closed her eyes and sipped contemplatively, savoring the dark brew.
"Not bad," she finally said. "Not as good as the Diabolical's barako, but not bad at all."
The twins beamed at her and sipped their own coffee (they had been smart enough not to get beer in front of Alexandra).
After about twenty more minutes, Alexandra put her foot down and declared that it really was bedtime for all good little Warchildren who needed to be up for school in the morning. Despite her words, she set a leisurely pace as the three of them walked home through the neon-lit streets, Eli and Lio flanking her as usual.
“You know what would be really great, Bossing?” Lio mused. “If the Diabolical were a club.”
They walked on in silence for a few moments.
Suddenly Alexandra stopped dead. The twins turned to her, concerned. She was staring wide-eyed at Lio.
“That’s...that’s actually not such a bad idea.”
“What? Really?” Lio asked, startled.
“Business at the cafe has been so bad,” Alexandra continued in a thoughtful tone, “and this area is pretty well known for its clubs...we might actually get more customers that way!”
She laughed and reached up to ruffle Lio’s hair. “Yes, really.”
“Woohoo! BOSSING!! YOU ARE THE BEST!!” He picked her up and swung her around exuberantly, then he and his brother swept her into a crushing double hug.
“All right, all right, all right already!” She struggled free of the hug and fixed them both with a stern look. “We still have to have a little talk about this underage drinking thing, though.”
Sheepish looks spread across the twins’ faces. “Yes, Bossing.”
As Alexandra Trese walked back to the Diabolical, Eli and Lio trailing after her like scolded puppies, she could see Hank standing in the doorway waiting for them to get home.
It wasn’t easy looking after her boys, but she wouldn’t trade her family for anything.