Upon returning home, I found most everyone in the ballroom, playing Ancient Tribes of Earth on the amazing setup in the octagonal room. “James, did you and Lady Pendreigh have an argument before you left?” asked Duncan, having only glanced away from his screen for a moment. “What? No. Not at all. Is something wrong with Alma?” I asked. “She’s just jealous.” claimed Ai. “Nothing to worry yourself over.” added Mai. “She left to cool off, since she was feeling a bit hot earlier.” continued Ai. Then Mai said, “Guess she didn’t approve of your date with Maxine.” The two were being completely nonchalant, but Alma being upset wasn’t safe for anyone. I barely heard Duncan’s surprise over Portentia exclaiming “James! How could you go on a date with that vile girl?” She was out of her seat and standing in front of me in a second. How did she hear the twins? I looked at her screen and saw that Mila was providing captioning which was overlaying her game. She turned my face back to her and said, “Why, after our lengthy discussion, would you be interested in her?” She looked so serious, but I couldn’t help laughing. Through my laughter I managed to tell her “If you knew what I just went through, I doubt you’d truly believe I’m interested in Maxine.”
Portentia stared at me in such a way that I wondered if she felt I was joking. “Honest. The ‘date’ was an anonymous request for my time today for which I was paid handsomely. I have no idea how the twins knew, but Maxine spent the entire time trying to legitimize her illicit activities as some grand scheme to save the world. I didn’t mention what we know about her, so she just carried on as if she was referring to someone else.” I explained. Duncan had glanced at me again by the end, and I wondered what he knew of her. “Oh. Well, you might not want to take anonymous clients. You could get hurt.” stated Portentia before turning her back on me and walking back to her chair. I felt she wasn’t really appeased, but I was still more concerned about whether or not there’d be smoke rising from my home soon. “I’m going to check on Alma.” I announced, though several people didn’t seem to approve of that course. I only was a few steps out of the ballroom when Mila’s avatar appeared on a nearby mirror and said, “Alma is currently out back, not in her wing, master.” A map of my property appeared next to her, and she pointed at a location, leaving a chibi version of Alma where she touched. “Thank you, Mila.” I told her. Feeling anxious, I started to jog. I rarely saw Alma go outside for any reason other than business.
I saw a bright glow in the distance the moment I stepped out back. I ran toward her, finding myself sprinting into a strong breeze before I realized what I was doing. Then I stopped, involuntarily. I was caught in some sort of spell that lifted me from the ground and spun me around before pulling me toward Alma. The wind had stopped. I passed through something, and everything grew even brighter, as if some magic had been dimming the light. “I apologize for catching you in a spell, James, but I am not currently fit to be seen. Please don’t turn this way.” stated Alma as I was set on the ground. Her voice sounded so controlled. “I was worried when I returned home and heard that you were upset.” I told her. “I’m fine. I just wanted to let loose for a bit.” she claimed, but she was obviously lying about being fine. Her voice seemed distant and seemed to be coming from above and behind me. Since the twins had said Alma was jealous, I said, “Would you believe that Maxine spent the whole day trying to convince me of how just her actions were? I had a rather horrible day. Figure I might join the others at gaming for a bit to unwind. Care to join us?” Alma didn’t reply, so I almost began speaking again when she finally said, “In a bit. Do you ever let something minor get under your skin and have it grow and grow until you can’t think of anything else?”
“I’m sure everyone experiences that from time to time.” I assured her. There was an edge to her voice as she said, “Watching my temper is far more important for me than for most. Only my cousin seems to really understand, having to fight with his constantly as well. Our tempers are volatile and so, so fierce. My magic responds to mine, raising the temperature of my body. If I fail to counter it, I can set things on fire with a touch or incinerate someone who’s annoying me. Magic like mine doesn’t care about reason. I feel, and the magic acts. Sometimes, I need a moment to myself, so I can just let things burn. Don’t worry. I’ll pay Emma to fix this part of the yard tomorrow.” I hadn’t even considered her damaging my grass. Emma could fix plants in the blink of an eye and was already being paid for her work. The glow was fading in the area, and I felt that was a good sign. “Oh, no. I’m so, so sorry, James. You can’t be around anyone for a while, especially not me. Find somewhere isolated to run.” she commanded out of the blue, her voice sounding strained and very close. “What? Why?” I asked, spinning around. Alma was biting her lip and reaching out to me with one hand while her other was a clenched fist against her chest. She seemed… vulnerable. Then I realized she seemed to be wearing a cloud, as if a tiny cloud wrapped itself around her into an elegant dress.
Her voice trembled as she said, “James, please. Please, leave. I’ll explain later.” She was still reaching for me when I suddenly found myself hurled across the yard, yet landing softly. I loved and hated magic at times. What was happening here? I focused on the residual energy around me, and my eyes were immediately drawn back toward Alma. There was an immense amount of energy in the air there, enough to create a solid radiance instead of the typical pinpoints floating about. I nearly was knocked over as someone slammed against me from behind, hugging me. When the grip loosened, I spun around to find the tall girl with the strange eyes who had kissed me a few months back. She grabbed my hand and started running to the forest. I followed for a moment before realizing she was naked again and coming to a halt. “Who are you?” I asked. She cocked her head as she gazed at me and reached for my hand again. “Do you understand me?” I inquired, doing my best to avert my eyes. Still, she just tried pulling me along with surprising strength. “She doesn’t speak English, boss-man, sir.” claimed Aaliyah, seeming to appear by me. “You know her? Why isn’t she dressed?” I asked. “Because she doesn’t wear clothes, boss-man, sir. Neither do they.” replied Aaliyah matter-of-factly as she motioned to the forest with her head.
I looked up to see countless… creatures staring at me from the forest. Some appeared human-like as the girl did. Others were far more bizarre. The girl darted without a word, as did the onlookers. “What happened?” I asked, jumping when Alma appeared beside us. “You’re looking scary today!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she gazed up at the older girl. “Where are they? Who are they?” demanded Alma. “This is James. I’m Aaliyah. Is your memory gone?” asked the little girl. Alma looked annoyed, glaring down and saying, “There were others here. Many for that matter. We need to keep people away from James right now. Even now I feel my spell’s insufficient.” Aaliyah was staring up at me and smiling. She looked completely adorable. Even knowing others were here, doubting her seemed impossible. Her innocence was so very evident, as if she incarnated the concept. I plopped on the ground, patted her head, and wondered how anyone managed to doubt her. How could those big, blue eyes and that cutesy grin not assuage everyone’s doubt? Aaliyah was, after all, always several steps ahead. Seeing her stare back at me, she seemed so completely happy. I wished there was something more I could do to keep her happy forever. Nothing else mattered. A tear rolled down her cheek, and I brushed it away as I asked “What’s wrong?” She looked up to her right, and I was surprised to see Alma was with us. “Please. Not you too.” begged Alma. Wait. She had appeared a moment before asking about those odd creatures. My head was fuzzy, but I could tell Alma sounded extremely strained, making me suddenly feel really concerned. Alma never struggled and never begged. How did I forget she was there for a moment?
“Don’t worry, Alpy. You don’t need to protect me. He can’t affect me now.” replied Aaliyah. I impulsively moved to hug Alma, and she vanished, appearing behind me as she pleaded, “Please, James, keep your distance. Aaliyah, promise me that he’s safe with you.” There was a pain in my chest at hearing Alma’s words. I never wanted to hear her sound so distraught again. “He’s safe, Alpy.” promised Aaliyah. “Safe from what?” I demanded, feeling all too strained to deal with secrecy, but Alma was gone. “Safe from everyone, boss-man, sir. Your magic’s a hundred times stronger than normal. Even inside, our friends are anxious for you to return. People you’ve never met before would give anything to help you if you asked right now. In seconds, you became saturated with the energy Alpy brought into this world when she was using her magic. If you understood the willpower leaving took her, you’d be amazed. She’s miles away now, so she’ll be fine soon. Unfortunately, such extreme desires as you can elicit at the moment might also bring out the worst in people. You could accidentally start a brawl if you were to go out in the city.” explained Aaliyah. I needed a way to control my magic. This was out of hand. First, I asked “Who or what were those… creatures?” Aaliyah smiled and said, “More of your tenants, boss-man, sir! Did I forget to tell you that the forest is filled with the last of the fey? They feel your magic somewhat differently than most and were drawn out by it.” The things that “slipped her mind” amazed me. The last of the fey were… tenants?