“What’s the time?” I asked when Aaliyah dropped us off in my office, having given our farewells at Alma’s home.
“Two minutes after you left, boss-man, sir.” replied Aaliyah, grinning up at me.
“What? How can I possibly explain doing work from there and here at the same time?” inquired Alma.
“Celebrate your day off!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she raised her hands in the air as if she was cheering. “James, on the other hand, has a job soon.”
“Oh. I figured that would be cancelled.” I admitted.
Alma looked shocked as she said, “Day off? I can’t possibly afford a full day off. There is still so very much to do.”
“Master, should I place your rings in the vault for now?” asked Mila.
“Oh, sure! Thank you.” I told her as one of her bodies walked into the room.
She took each of our rings, placing them into a container she carried, and then left without another word.
“James, help me here.” demanded Alma.
“What? You have a day off. You can’t possibly complain about gaining time. Read, play some games, or anything else that entertains you. I’ll join you when I return home.” I assured her.
“If this happens too often, we’re going to look ancient far before our time.” she complained.
“Well, perhaps I will. Going off Hyun-Woo, I’m sure you’ll still look young for many years.” I argued.
“You don’t really expect to grow old, do you?” asked Aaliyah.
“Pardon?” I replied.
At the same time, Alma stepped backward as she said, “I should hope we have long lives.”
“Oh, you will, but aging… that’s funny. How old do you think the fey in the forest are? Any of them seem old to you?” inquired Aaliyah.
“I am not a fey.” stated Alma.
“Your fey blood is far stronger than you realize. Emma will age very slowly compared with most everyone here, but your connection is even stronger.” argued Aaliyah.
“I don’t have any fey blood.” I stated, finding myself imagining what it’d be like to watch Alma stay young as I grew older and older.
“Aww… don’t worry, boss-man, sir. You’d have to drain yourself of energy to pull off aging even a second.” she assured me.
“This can’t be true.” argued Alma. “Yes, some of my family have lived into their hundreds, but they do die in time.”
“Not you.” stated Aaliyah.
“How can you be certain?” demanded Alma.
“Because Death really does know when everyone will die.” I told her. “You should accept it.”
She sighed, frowning at me.
“I can’t tell you why I’m certain, but I have good reason.” Turning to Aaliyah and patting her head, I asked “Am I right?”
“Of course, boss-man, sir. I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I didn’t know simple things like when someone will die. Imagine how late I’d be running all the time!” she exclaimed, smiling up at me.
“You are aware that Aaliyah has no qualms about lying, are you not?” asked Alma. “She could simply sense when someone dies. You’re quite well aware of how quick she is.”
Aaliyah grinned at Alma as she said, “Admitting that there’s a reason for me to visit the dead?”
Alma looked uncomfortable for a moment.
“I’m also aware of when she lies, just as I’m aware when anyone else lies.” I admitted. “I thought you had figured that out.”
“I admit that you do seem rather good at determining who’s lying these days. You weren’t always.” she insisted.
“When I… changed, the ability was vastly heightened.” I told her.
“She has ways of avoiding magic.” argued Alma.
“Yes, and I’m sure she can avoid mine as well. Still, I believe her. How will we even go in public ten years from now?” I marveled. My parents would certainly be shocked by this.
“Illusions?” suggested Alma. “There are spells my family members have used for such purposes.”
“They do work for that necromancer.” I admitted, frowning as I thought of him.
“Yes. His were exceptional.” she agreed.
“Well, you two have time to get even better!” exclaimed Aaliyah.
I nodded, still wrapping my head around the idea of an exceptionally long life. Would I grow as old as Ariadne? What of Zachary and his brothers?
“Zachary’s actually the youngest.” pointed out Aaliyah. “You have to admit that they’ve seen some marvelous things throughout their years.”
“Oh? Did they show you anything of interest?” asked Alma.
“Nothing that you can report to Adelmar.” I replied.
She frowned. “James, we are to be married. Do you really trust me so little?” she asked.
“I’ve learned that you are very loyal to your family, and don’t always wish to burden you with more secrets.” I replied.
“I’d rather know than not, but I can appreciate your warnings on what cannot be shared.” she told me, not fully being earnest.
“See, you weren’t entirely honest there.” I teased.
“I’ll have to be more careful around you, won’t I.” she stated, but she smiled beautifully as she did. “Perhaps I should have said that I can grow to appreciate the warnings.”
“Much better.” I acknowledged, smiling back.
Aaliyah sighed and said, “You two love birds need to confirm plans for Alma’s birthday, although I should point out that Portentia’s birthday is on the same day.”
“What!? Really?” asked Alma.
“Yes. She was born four years before you.” replied Aaliyah. She then looked up at me and said, “While we’re on the topic of birthdays, Adelmar sent a card, thanking you for the gift we sent. His birthday was on the seventeenth.”
I was very glad she had taken care of sending him something, but I didn’t want to admit that I had missed not only the day but sending the gift in front of Alma. “I’m glad he was pleased with it.” I told her.
“You should save it, James.” suggested Alma. “Mail from the head of my family is exceedingly rare, especially these days.”
I did my best not to frown as I wondered what I was going to get Alma. I had forgotten her birthday was coming up. I needed to get something for Portentia as well.
“Will you mind spending part of the day with Portentia?” I asked.
“Of course not. We do get along.” insisted Alma. “Any idea what to get her? Mila normally gives me more notice.”
I would admit that Alma seemed less judgemental of Portentia’s role as a superhero these days.
“Sorry, Lady Pendreigh.” apologized Mila.
“No need to be sorry. I am just surprised is all.” replied Alma.
“Like a birthday surprise type of surprised?” asked asked Aaliyah.
“Ha ha.” stated Alma, rolling her eyes.
“We could go with more tickets to sidekick for her.” I suggested with a shrug.
Alma sighed and said, “Though I have no doubt she would be perfectly happy with such a gift, I cannot approve of it. Surely we can come up with something she’d enjoy which would not have us frolicking about the town in a costume.”
“Are you planning on us always sending gifts as a couple from here on out?” I inquired, enjoying the idea.
“Oh. I suppose I am getting ahead of myself.” replied Alma, actually blushing.
“No. You really aren’t.” I assured her, taking her hand as I bent down to kiss it. “I love the thought of having you tormented with me over what to buy.”
“I see. My fiancée is already plotting to have me tormented.” teased Alma.
“Just a bit when you’re in the mood.” I replied, attempting to sound sincere.
Arching her eyebrow, she asked “A mood to be tormented? What a strange person you think me.”
“Strange enough to marry me for sure.” I told her. “Any suggestions, Aaliyah?”
Mila quickly spoke up, saying, “Master, mother felt you two weren’t in need of a fourth wheel while flirting and took off. Luckily for you both, she didn’t deny me the opportunity to join you if you’re fine with a third wheel.”
“Do you have any suggestions, Mila?” asked Alma.
“Of course, though I’m disinclined to reveal them until I’ve settled on what I’m getting her.” she replied.
“I see.” replied Alma, twisting her lips in thought. She then pulled me down to her and kissed my cheek before saying, “You best be off, or you’ll be late. I can use my… day off… to consider our options.”
I nodded, saying, “Yes, dear.”
She must have noticed my put-upon tone, because she hit my arm just after I said it.
I took off Caladfwlch and handed it over to her. “Mind holding onto this while I’m working? I don’t believe it wants left alone again.” I told her.
She nodded, staring at the sword in surprise as she held it.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“James, Caladfwlch still shines!” she exclaimed, staring up at me. “Not as brightly by any means, but the sword shines!”
“Why wouldn’t Caladfwlch accept Arthur’s descendent, especially one as splendid as you?” I inquired. “Besides, you shouldn’t feel bad. That’s about how the sword looked when Arthur held it.” I assured her with a wink.
Her mouth actually dropped open, and I ran out before she could say anything more. I was certain now that Aaliyah wouldn’t mind me saying that much. Something had changed between the two of them, or Aaliyah wouldn’t have allowed Alma to skip signing a contract. Things were looking magnificent.