“Are you really letting her have such a dangerous weapon?” asked Alma as she stared down at Aaliyah. Aaliyah grinned back at her, nodding excitedly and saying, “Yep! This is for Portentia!” Alma’s right eyebrow raised in a questioning look. “May I know the reason?” she asked. Aaliyah nodded again. “Well…?” inquired Alma. I felt incredibly hot standing next to her. She might as well have converted into a powerful heater with how I had started to sweat. “A superhero needs to be able to fight villains, and this will help!” exclaimed Aaliyah. I tried jerking my hand free of Alma’s grip as I yelled “OW!” Suddenly, the heat was gone. Alma looked stricken as she said, “I’m so, so sorry, James. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Her incredibly violet eyes caught mine for a second before she kissed my hand. “You don’t appear burnt. Please get my attention sooner in the future.” requested Alma as she looked toward the floor. She seemed… bashful to me. Whatever she was feeling, she looked incredibly cute. I felt an impulse to hug her but resisted, not wanting to upset her. If Alma would be half this caring during our nightly training sessions, I’d make sure to arrive early every day. I marveled at how the most dangerous girls I knew could also be the cutest.
I saw Alma’s gaze raise and followed it to where Aaliyah was handing the staff to Portentia. Most of the staff was black, though light seemed to reflect off countless, tiny points along its length, reminding me of a night sky. Both ends were capped in what I believed to be silver. Though that’d seem weird for a weapon, they were elaborately designed to appear as suns with rays moving several inches down the shaft from the round ends. The grip reminded me of comets with their tails intertwining together around the center of the shaft. “The writing along the shaft is in xiǎozhuàn, also known as ‘lesser seal script’. The Chinese poem describes the time between one day and the next and relates it to a time between life and death, as if time freezes in those moments. To my family, the staff is known as ‘Midnight’. One of my ancestors was toying with the wielder of that staff when he died. He meant to block the end with his palm, but a blade came up through his hand and into his skull. The wielder fought her way out of his camp and disappeared.” explained Alma, with her gaze still fixed on the weapon. I couldn’t even see the writing she mentioned from where I stood, but I didn’t doubt she was reading it. She was beyond me in so many ways.
As I watched, Aaliyah seemed to be giving some sort of explanation in sign language. Portentia twisted the staff’s grip, and one end of the staff split into segments. Then she slid the grip down the solid shaft, pulling the segments over it to reveal a thin blade where they had been. “After you master Midnight, you’ll be able to beat down armored villains!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she continued to sign. Portentia nodded and maneuvered the weapon back into its staff form. “Stop!” exclaimed Aaliyah, waving her arms and then grimacing a second later. A blade had emerged from the other end of the staff and stabbed Portentia through her abdomen. Aaliyah poked the blade and said, “You twisted too far.” Portentia jerked the blade out and yelled “I just bought this shirt!” I had been fighting down panic and reminding myself that Portentia healed quickly. “That’s completely unfair.” stated Mai as she stared at Portentia’s stomach. “I know, right? I’ve only worn this shirt once. I really need to learn how to sew sometime.” agreed Portentia. Exasperation was clear in Ai’s voice as she said, “Not that. My sister was referring to your healing. Your wound closed the instant the blade was out.” Portentia shrugged and then twisted the grip of the staff to retract the blade. “You probably should at least clean the blade off.” I commented. “Our floor as well.” stated the twins in unison.
Portentia sighed and said, “Yeah. You’re right. Got a mop and bucket?” The twins rolled their eyes. A moment later, a stream of water rushed through the doorway, sucked up the blood from the floor, and fell to the ground as it touched the blade. “Well, that was somewhat unexpected.” declared Alma. The twins were gaping and staring, and I couldn’t hold in my laugh at seeing them. The water quickly returned to the air and left the room, but the twins still looked perplexed. “Look at the blade.” stated Alma. I did as she said and watched as the last of the blood disappeared. “Portentia’s blood is magical?” asked Ai. “A fair assessment.” agreed Alma. “Are you sure the weapon isn’t just self-cleaning?” asked Portentia. Alma gazed at her flatly and said, “You’ve surely noticed that your blood will simply disappear given time.” Portentia shrugged and said, “Well, yeah, but… okay. I’ve got magic blood.” Out of curiosity, I focused on some nearby residual energy and touched it to the staff. The energy disappeared on contact. “That’s really neat!” I exclaimed. “Quite. I wonder what Midnight does with it.” stated Alma, as she gazed up at me. Then she looked at Portentia and said, “I doubt we’ll ever know, considering your employee will probably eat with the bloody thing now.”
“Aaliyah gave the staff to me, so I’m keeping it. You’d probably end up breaking it in a fit.” claimed Portentia as she hugged the staff and stared defiantly at Alma. Aaliyah giggled and Alma sighed. I nearly pointed out that the blade was no longer bloody but thought better of it. I couldn’t blame Portentia for not wanting to relinquish the staff to Alma, since her family didn’t have the greatest reputation. I wished they did. Learning to trust Alma would be much easier if she didn’t come from such a dubious bunch, though I was surprised at how freely she admitted to her family’s dark dealings. “Just don’t spar with anyone using Midnight. You could seriously injure them.” declared Alma. “But I need to practice with it to get better!” complained Portentia. Alma then replied “Whatever you’ve been doing on your own seems to be working well enough. The staff isn’t Mai’s best weapon, but holding your own against her is impressive considering your limited experience. You’ve improved immensely, so keep practicing on your own if you insist on using Midnight.” Portentia didn’t seem to know how to take what Alma said, staring at her in surprise. “Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would like some lunch.” stated Alma before turning and walking away.
Aaliyah raised her arms, and I lifted her up without a thought. Only after I was caught up to Alma did I start thinking about how funny carrying someone faster and stronger than me was, but Aaliyah looked so happy as she rambled about how awesome Portentia was doing. I didn’t understand why Aaliyah would give up such an extraordinary weapon, but there were countless things I didn’t understand about Aaliyah still. She was as powerful as she was adorable and her planning was on an unparalleled level from what I knew. Ancient Tribes of Earth alone was such an incredible feat of software design that most teams never came close to it with years of work. For Aaliyah, that incredible game seemed to be a moment’s inspiration carried to fruition for fun. She created many other games as well as more serious software, such as Mila. Mila was so life-like that I was half-convinced her emotions were as true as my own. I couldn’t begin to understand how a little girl created a fully functional mind on whim, even with Aaliyah’s cybernetic advantages. Stranger yet, this tiny girl with unparalleled gifts decided to be my secretary and seemed to treat the job with reverence, even when looking adorable in her secretary glasses. I’d never really understand what she saw in the job, but I felt incredibly lucky to have her. Trusting Aaliyah improved my life, so I trusted that Portentia wielding Midnight was part of another grand plan. The little princess always had a plan.