I wasn’t honestly prepared to go back into the forest so soon, but I wasn’t going to refuse this to Alma and Emma, not when they both seemed so excited. I wished Aaliyah came along though. She communicated so well with these creatures, but she was going shopping with her father today. Between work and her father, the winning priority was very clear, and I couldn’t complain when she made me seem extremely lazy already. I just… just had trouble trusting Alma in regard to these creatures. What if she lost her temper and killed one? An unpleasant feeling sank into my gut. Alma signed a contract to enter these woods, fully knowing what happens if one breaks contract with Aaliyah. I had no doubt that Aaliyah would’ve covered such an obvious situation, since the girl seemed to cover vast possibilities with every contract. I wished I was better at reading her expressions. She seemed so impassive when I glanced down at her. Emma, on the other hand, was skipping along and humming as the little fairy zoomed around her. When Alma looked up at me, I quickly looked away. Getting lost in the exotic beauty of her violet eyes was far too easy, and I needed my wits about me. Due to the height difference between us, there was no way to discreetly glance at her when she was so close. I had to look too far down.
“What’s bothering you, James?” asked Alma. I hesitated, not sure if I should be honest or not while standing so close to her. Then I remembered how she reacted when she accidentally hurt my hand. She was so worried and obviously felt guilty. I smiled ruefully as I thought how fragile I was next to her. “Please don’t be offended, but I’m worrying about your temper. I only spent one night around these creatures, but I already feel they can be taxing.” I admitted. She smiled, grabbed my hand, and gave it a squeeze. “Don’t worry. I’ll leave if they annoy me too much.” she assured me. Feeling Alma’s hand, one would think she had never done a day’s work with it, not with how extraordinarily soft her skin felt. There was unmistakable strength there as well, a strength that made me wonder if she’d crush my hand by twitching. The first time she held my hand, I didn’t really notice the strength for some time, but I couldn’t ignore the strangeness when I went to adjust my grip and felt I just attempted to bend steel that was wrapped in satin. The gap between us was so very immense, and I still didn’t really understand why she was staying in my home, thousands of miles from her own.
At the edge of the forest, I came to a stop. I had been stepping forward, but an insurmountable force held me back by the hand. Alma was staring at the woods, unmoving. She suddenly looked at me and released my hand as she said, “Oh. Sorry, James. I needed a moment to disperse my typical protective spells. When I did, I started seeing these images of Emma and that fairy frolicking around the woods. I knew of how the fey communicate, but experiencing it is fascinating. She’s so happy… and ignoring me. I must say that I’ve never had anyone give me the cold shoulder quite like this before. It’s more of a sensation than anything in the image.” A sudden burst of light made me see spots. “What was that about? I asked as I rubbed my eyes. “Sorry. I thought about grabbing her, and she seemed to know. Don’t look at me like that, James. I wasn’t going to hurt her. She seems to believe that I’ve been ignoring her since we met. She knows you’re ignoring her, but isn’t mad at you? That’s not fair.” claimed Alma as Emma was giggling. Between fits of giggles, Emma told us “She’s been complaining about you both for half the walk. I didn’t realize you two honestly didn’t know. How could you not!?”
“I actually have to work at hearing them. My magic seems to block out their form of communication.” I admitted. “That’s new. How much do you know about your magic, James?” asked Alma, her beautiful eyes piercing into me. “A fair amount, I think, but being certain is hard when I’m constantly seeming to learn new things about myself.” I told her. Laughing, Alma said, “Well, I’m defenseless now, so try not to be too charming.” Emma was looking at us curiously, so I told her “I may have failed to mention that I have a number of magical abilities, but, in my defense, I’m still learning about them as I previously mentioned.” Smirking Emma told me “Man-slave, you just keep getting more incredible, don’t you.” I smiled at her, but I realized I desperately needed to talk with Jarod soon. If he found out about my magic from someone else first, he’d be extremely disappointed. I just wasn’t certain how to tell my best friend that I have been involuntarily forcing him to like me with magic for years now. I’d thought and thought and thought about it, but no grand scheme to lighten the blow came to mind. Alma grabbed my hand and Emma’s before pulling us forward into the woods with her. She gasped and gazed around, but I didn’t catch at what she was looking, not seeing any of the fey save for our little friend.
“Whoa. It’s like a magic whirlpool!” exclaimed Emma. Duh. I opened my mind to the magic around me and was instantly taken aback. Likely an effect of the enchantment around these woods, all of the residual energy in the air was slowly spinning upward, funneling to a central point far in the air. The effect was dazzling to say the least. Small amounts of magic continuously seeped up from the ground all around us, and I wondered at their source, having never seen such an effect before. The edge of the barrier was quite obvious from this side, and I marveled at how the energy was invisible to the other side. “They’re coming.” stated Emma. “I know. How could they not with this little one calling for them though?” asked Alma. I let my concentration on the magic slip as I forced myself to listen to the fey. Instantly I could feel the excitement of Emma’s arrival here and a wariness regarding Alma. The little one was making images of things catching on fire, each followed by Alma being thrown in a pond by a group of fey. I quickly looked to Alma and thought her still impassive at first. Then I noticed a small smile, the corners of her lips barely lifted. I was nearly knocked off my feet a moment later when the pointy-eared fey girl jumped at me from out of nowhere.
“She can become invisible!” exclaimed Emma. “More than that, I’d say. Were you able to feel her in the grass?” asked Alma as she pulled the fey off me. “You’re right. I can’t.” replied Emma after a moment. “I thought not.”, said Alma as she stared up at the girl without letting go. To my relief, the girl was clad in steam at least, a distinct improvement from before. I realized I lost my concentration and let the fey speak with me again. The fey girl seemed confused by Alma, not understanding why Alma was holding her. “James, we need to have a talk about you coming here later.” stated Alma as she looked to me. The tone of her voice made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. Others appeared as Alma had spoken, each clothed in steam and some obviously confused by it. Emma and I were both gaping a moment later as what appeared to be a very short tree hugged Emma. The bark dispersed to reveal a girl slightly shorter than Emma with light green hair and tan skin. “She’s your grandmother.” claimed Alma with obvious shock. Then she said, “Well, with a good hundred ‘greats’ thrown in for good measure.” I could feel the truth of her words in the image as well. The fey, at least, was certain. Emma didn’t say a word. There were tears in her eyes as she smiled and hugged the little creature.
Several of the creatures approached Alma with obvious hesitation in their thoughts. All of them seemed to know of her fire. Then there was an image which stuck out horrifically in my mind. A man wreathed in fire was swimming in lava. Then he was dancing and playing with some of the others here; the fires of his body were annoying at times, but he kept the heat from those he touched. Suddenly, he was burning men in armor, melting it to their skin when a very large, shirtless man seemed to appear out of the air. The shirtless man grabbed the other’s head and smiled as he slowly brought his hands together. The fiery man screamed just before his head caved. Alma gripped my arm a bit too tightly as she said, “I shouldn’t have asked. These poor creatures were there, James.” I felt like retching from the image and from the feeling of it. There was a stench associated with it that made me queasy. I was vaguely aware of countless dead as if seen from the eyes of someone desperately looking for a way to hide. “I’m so sorry. I had asked if there were any like me here, and they showed me the last they knew. That was likely one of my ancestors killing another. I hadn’t realized how far these creatures had come, but I recognized that man. We just saw Europe nearly two thousand years ago at one of my family’s battles with the fey.”
I never really liked the idea of war, of killing. Seeing Alma, Ai, and Mai killing minotaurs was surreal. This glimpse of their family’s past was terrible to me on a whole different level. The smile of the shirtless man as he crushed the other’s head was stuck in my mind, and I felt rage boil within me at the idea. “James. James! Listen to them. Listen.” pleaded Alma as she shook my arm. Part of me didn’t want to open my mind to them after seeing something so horrible, but I still listened to Alma. My anger vanished in an overwhelming sensation of joy. I was being shown this forest over a period of what might have been many years. I saw the fey going through countless days of eating and playing. There was happiness and safety here. The feelings were absolute in their minds. I shut them out again and sat down, feeling dizzy. I wasn’t surprised that Alma could keep up with all of those images flashing through her mind, but Emma didn’t seem bothered either. Perhaps being descended from the creatures helped her cope. Well, woman I supposed. The little woman was still smiling and hugging Emma, but now there were flowers blooming around them. I looked up at Alma after she rested her hand on my shoulder. There was water in her eyes, but I couldn’t tell if she was happy, sad, or something else. How did she feel about what we had seen? Would I ever know?