I couldn’t ask Aaliyah to kill someone, but I was so tired and so worried. After returning home from finding Alma, I spent the next couple hours finishing plans and preparations for tomorrow’s demon raids. I did my best to stay on task, but Jarod obviously noticed my mind wandering. At one point, he had leaned over my chair and asked if I was alright. I told him that there was a lot on my mind but that I’d be okay. I wanted everyone to go to bed, so I could have a chat with Ai and Mai. Everyone was working so hard at their preparations that they lingered longer and longer. Brenna was the first to start nodding off in her chair, but that wasn’t till nearly two in the morning. By the time Brandon and Jarod left, I was feeling exhausted but still too anxious to sleep. I gave up on outwaiting Emma, and told her and the twins that we needed to talk somewhere private. They all looked surprised, but I didn’t wait for responses. I walked out of the ballroom and headed toward the east wing. The twins were at my sides, taking my arms, in just a few steps. Ai asked in a whisper if this chat would be safe for Emma. I nodded affirmatively and a brief moment of hesitation. I really didn’t want Emma to come along, but I didn’t want to keep her in the dark. Emma caught up shortly thereafter.
After we all took seats in the twins’ war-room-like office, I took a moment to wrangle my tired thoughts together into something coherent. None of them spoke. They just stared at me expectantly. “I found Alma.” I told them, giving pause to let the words take hold. They looked to one another, seeming shocked and worried. I then continued, saying, “She appears to be staying in an abandoned building which she covered in wards that are far beyond me, so she’s definitely been trained in magic. We need to move quickly, so she doesn’t have time to relocate. If I was any less tired, I’d want to go now. As things are, I want to go tomorrow. We’ll rest, carry out the attacks in Ancient Tribes of Earth, and then try to catch Alma before she gets behind her wards.” Ai and Mai were staring at one another and both looked nervous. “Are there any plants in the area?” asked Emma. I reached over and gently touched her shoulder before saying, “Emma, I don’t want you there. She’s dangerous and obviously doesn’t mind killing people. If she was staying in the woods, that’d be one thing, but your talents are much more limited indoors.” Emma grabbed my hand from her shoulder and squeezed it tight in both of hers before glaring at me and saying, “I am going with you.”
“Take us there. We want to do some scouting tonight. Then we’ll plan tomorrow before our attack,” demanded Ai and Mai in unison. They looked too determined to brook argument, so I followed them to the garage with Emma in tow, still squeezing my hand. When I started walking to Mila, Ai grabbed me and pulled me over to her bike. “But Mila’s much quieter” I argued, eyeing the motorcycle dubiously. The seat looked too small for two, and I wasn’t certain the thing could support the weight. “You’ll be fine. Just put a helmet on, get on behind me, and hold on tight.” she demanded. She pointed where she wanted my feet and sat practically on my lap. This machine was not made for my long legs, and having her pressed so tight against me wasn’t making me anymore comfortable. I glanced over at Emma behind Mai and smiled. She seemed to be enjoying herself. Then Ai asked me which way to head, I replied, and all thought was lost as she took off. I held on for dear life as she whizzed through the streets. The speedometer was often reading over one hundred and fifty, and I took a while to realize that was in kilometers per hour. They never stopped for a sign or a light, merely driving around any obstacles they came across. I thought we were dead when a semi blocked the path, but we somehow ramped off nothing and flew over it.
Ai slowed down when we reached the area I had told her, and asked for directions from there. Then she pulled onto the sidewalk, told me to watch the bike, and took off with Mai. My hands were trembling as I sat there, still straddling the bike. “That was some crazy ride, man-slave!” exclaimed Emma, somewhat breathlessly. “Yeah. You could say that. Things like that look far more exciting in movies.” I told her. She laughed nervously and said, “I can’t argue that, but they can handle it. I’m pretty sure that cop we passed is flipping out though.” I looked at her, surprised, and responded “I didn’t even see him. Much of that was a blur. Did you see the speedometer on these things?” She giggled and said, “Yeah. Goes over two-eighty. My poor bug would never keep up.” I wasn’t completely sure on the conversions, but I was certain Mila would leave them in the dust on a long enough straightaway. Her speedometer went up to three hundred and eighty in miles per hour. I wouldn’t have had a chance at keeping up through the city though, not with how the twins disregarded all traffic laws. After a while, our conversation died, leaving Emma and I looking around nervously at the eerily empty streets.
When the twins returned, they didn’t say a word before hopping on the bikes and taking off in the same crazy fashion they drove us here. I tried to enjoy the ride as I would a rollercoaster, but I was far too aware of how helpless I was if Ai made one slip. In the garage, they told us that they had some work to do if they were going to get past the wards, and then they darted off before I could hope to follow. I needed sleep, but I was far too wound up. “Care to join me for a swim before bed?” I asked. Emma smiled and said, “Sure. The pond? I’ll meet you out back after I change.” I hurried to my room and found my trunks neatly folded away, even though I had no clue where I put them after last time. I really needed to figure out who did laundry and thank them. Emma was in yet another swimsuit, this one a ruffley, black bandeau covered in little, pink hearts with a matching bottom. I never really understood why girls wanted so many swimsuits, but I couldn’t complain when I saw them worn. My tiredness was already starting to take hold when we reached the pond. Looking at the statue of Regina, I told Emma “Promise me that you won’t die. If things go bad, run.” She touched my arm and said, “James…” I turned to her, and interrupted her by saying, “Promise me that you’ll run. I…”
I couldn’t finish. Tears were running down my cheek. Emma hugged me and told me “I understand. I truly do. Trust me in this: we won’t die. The twins will be at our sides this time, and they’re very gifted. Remember what they did to my trees or Brandon’s leg? Can you imagine getting hit like that? Neither of them will be holding back this fight, and neither will I. I’m so sorry I was underprepared against the werelions. That won’t happen again. Alma will have to face this.” She backed away from me, and plants wrapped up around her. Dead twigs were lifted against her, came to life, and became large, wooden panels until at last Emma wore what was obviously armor. Held in one hand was a smooth staff that seemed to glow slightly. “I’ll have countless seeds tucked away in this to create countless plants.” she told me. I took some residual energy from the air and made a fire on her staff. When the staff appeared unharmed, I intensified the flame more and more. Emma’s magic was able to heal it as fast as it was damaged. “If you or the twins put spells over me to help protect against fire, I’ll be able to handle far more. Alma will have to protect herself against all of us, so she won’t be able to focus on any single person for too long.”
Underestimating Emma’s magic was a bad idea, and I shouldn’t have doubted her. I still couldn’t help worrying. The plants receded, revealing the spunky girl with her lively hair, and I hugged her. I truly couldn’t handle losing someone again, at least not so soon. We swam for a while, and then just floated in the water and talked. My eyes were closed, and I felt a gentle kiss which I enjoyed. Then I realized the sun was shining and opened them to find a pale girl with overly large, slanted eyes over me. As I stared in shock, she gave me a shy smile. Then Emma murmured something, and the girl sprinted away into the labyrinth. “Emma! Wake up! There’s a girl running in the labyrinth. Find her.” I implored as I shook her shoulder. I didn’t care to explain that the strange girl wasn’t wearing even a stitch on her. Emma looked up at me, bleary eyed, and said, “I don’t feel anything except animals, man-slave.” With a big yawn, she then continued “I can’t believe we fell asleep out here though.” I felt surprisingly good and looked back to where I was sleeping. A thick layer of moss bore my imprint. “I think that girl did this,” I said. Emma shook her head and told me “That sort of thing always happens when I sleep outside. Can’t help it. Surprised you haven’t noticed before.”
I couldn’t recall ever seeing Emma nod off in the grass, but I didn’t doubt her word. I let the matter of the girl drop and jogged with Emma to the house. She split off to freshen up, but I was obeying my stomach and heading to the kitchen. Today would be busy enough without worrying over some mystery nudist. We could always pursue her a day when there weren’t three demons and a fire witch to be slain. Part of me still rebelled against the idea of killing. I just couldn’t think of any other choice. Average prisoners and guards wouldn’t stand a chance if I went psychotic in prison. Someone far more knowledgeable about magic could easily escape. There just wasn’t any place in the world for someone so dangerous. First things first, there were three demons we were scheduled to fight today, and my guild needed me. I tripped over Jarod and barely caught myself. “Ow! Dude!” he yelled. “Why are you sleeping in the hallway?” I asked. “I blame your house. I never have this problem at home. What time is it?” he asked with a yawn. “No clue. I fell asleep by the pond and my phone’s dead.” I told him. Around another yawn, he then said, “Oh. Thought you were walking around in your boxers at first. Guess those are trunks. Breakfast?” I nodded, helped him up, and walked with him to the kitchen. This was going to be quite the day.