Once in the limo, the drive was fairly silent, save for Jarod making jokes with Ai and Mai. I was honestly a bit surprised about how Duncan seemed fine now with the idea of his sisters flirting with Jarod. Did something happen between the two that I missed? Perhaps he wasn’t quite okay with the idea, and stared at me now in an attempt to ignore them. I, myself, was attempting to ignore how Alma lightly gripped my arm. My attempts to understand why Alma did the things she did were completely unsuccessful. I didn’t really get why she was floating and burning a hole in my yard the other night. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have learned of the fey in the forest, so I was as grateful as I was confused. What did she really think of me? She was a very stern, unforgiving teacher in both martial arts and magic, yet she so often wanted to hold my hand with a feather touch. Did she really like my company, or was she wanting to possess me, to control me? I realized I was staring at her auburn hair, how the light brought out the red at the right angles, when Alma looked up at me curiously. Again I found myself amazed at how vibrantly violet her eyes were. Light playing off her hair was dazzling, but the light reflecting off her eyes was a far more entrancing sight. If she actually was interested in me, why? I couldn’t fathom this strange, beautiful girl with seemingly endless strengths really finding me interesting at all. She had to be affected by my magic to some extent.
In an effort to derail that line of thinking, I turned to Duncan and asked “Since you’ll be with us longer, I was wondering if there was anywhere which you wanted to visit? I’d feel remiss as a host if I didn’t manage to spend some time with you away from my home.” Duncan seemed to consider for a moment before saying, “Thank you for the consideration, but I have seen more wonders in your home than I ever would in the city. I simply wish to visit that remarkable forest and see the creatures within at least once before I go.” I nodded and said, “I’m sure we can manage, though my secretary will likely require a contract. The creatures there are quite rare and precious.” Duncan seemed uncomfortable when I mentioned Aaliyah. How much did he know about her? “I see. I’ll have to discuss this with my family after I peruse the documents then.” he told me. “I found the contract to be pretty standard fare for her, Duncan.” stated Alma as she gave him a small smile. If anything, he looked more uncomfortable as he nodded and said, “I see.” Alma’s smiles were such rare treasures that I didn’t understand how he couldn’t be comforted. Despite the time spent with her now, I had yet to find the slightest imperfection in her skin. Her eyelashes were perfectly long and curved. Even after eating, her teeth were completely white, as if the food wouldn’t dare to stick to her. I was amazed that she ever passed for human.
I wished I would’ve had the sense to find out more about what mother thought when she met Alma. I wasn’t precisely happy at the time though. “Did mother ever finish that painting for you, Alma?” I asked, wondering if we might pick it up. “Yes. Her talent is quite extraordinary. I was very impressed by her work.” replied Alma. “Oh, so you’ve already picked it up? Mother never mentioned that you stopped by again.” I told her, somewhat disappointed. She turned away from me, releasing my arm as she said, “No, I haven’t. I made arrangements for her to hold onto the painting for now, as I don’t feel the timing is right to have it publicly displayed. Ah. Let’s have a stroll through the park, since we have some time. I do like this one.” The weather was quite nice, but I was more interested in why Alma would commission a painting and not hang it in her wing. The place was hardly public. Even I hadn’t seen half of the rooms yet, and I owned the estate. Mila had pulled over and opened the door, so I stepped out of the car and offered Alma my hand. Then I found myself wondering if Alma had meant for the painting to go back to her home in England, so as we walked, I asked “What is your home in England like?” She seemed surprised, but told me “My father owns a castle, but I wouldn’t really call it my home. I only visited the place a few dozen times in my life. I should go see father again soon.” I wondered for a moment if she misunderstood the question, but I was also really curious about her father. Then I found myself worrying about how long Alma would be away.
After considering for a moment, I decided to stick with the safer of the questions, so I asked “Where did you call home then?” Alma shrugged as she said, “No where, really. Up until coming here, I spent most of my life traveling. At first, I was traveling with my mother and learning the family trade. Then I took over. Mother probably wouldn’t have approved of me staying here this long, but Adelmar, my cousin, does.” The name seemed familiar to me. “Wait. Was Adelmar the one who sent the tiara to Aaliyah as a birthday present?” I asked. Alma nodded and said, “I do apologize about that spell I used on you. I hadn’t meant for you to feel unwell, but that spell affected you differently than it should have. I’m guessing your magic threw things off a bit. Otherwise, I would have stayed longer.” I stared at her in shock as I said, “You were the one who delivered the tiara? I suppose that makes sense, given that the tiara looks extremely valuable. Why would your cousin give something like that to a young girl?” Alma stopped walking for a moment to stare up at me. Then she resumed walking as she told me “I do wish I could explain. I am sorry, James, but I am privy to a great many things which I cannot share, at least not yet. Hopefully, someday. Hopefully, soon.” She reached up and firmly squeezed my hand, and then held it with a touch as soft as silk resting against my skin.
Alma and I continued talking as we walked, but our conversation quickly became engulfed by our plans in Ancient Tribes of Earth. Having a massive guild, we needed extremely large-scale events to keep our guild members entertained and focused as a group. Alma seemed to have given the possibilities a great deal of thought, and I was swept away in her enthusiasm until she suddenly announced that we best be off. The journey to the gala ― I found that there would be entertainment as well when I looked at the invitation ― was far too short for all of the thoughts bouncing around my head to gain any sort of order. I had so very much to do for my guild members and my friends. I felt a bit overwhelmed as I tried figuring out what I could manage. Alma would help though, and my secretary’s organizational skills were unmatched. Whatever happened, I’d do my best for everyone. I truly hated to let anyone down if I could help it.
I helped Alma out of the car and smiled as I saw Jarod doing the same for Mai. She was clinging to his arm a moment later as Duncan and Ai came out. Merely a couple years ago, I found black tie events extremely stuffy, despite the entertainment. Luckily, my parents only encouraged me to go to a few at Regina’s request. I should have tried harder to enjoy myself with her, despite feeling forced into the situations, but there was no way I could have known how quickly I’d lose her. This one was going to be different though. My best friend was with me, and the event was hosted by someone we knew to be a villain. Not everyone could claim to have waltzed into a villain’s gala and helped countless children. Intentionally or not, Maxine set us up to be heroes today by contributing to something truly worthwhile. Plus, I would make a point to enjoy my company as well as the entertainment provided today. After handing off our invitations, we were guided inside to our seats where we found Chad and Aaliyah already seated at the same table. Chad rose and greeted Alma and I before we sat. Then he bowed to Duncan and greeted him in Japanese. Jarod said something to him in Italian, which made Chad laugh. Chad was always so cheerful that I felt people had to enjoy his company. If I was fluent in anything beyond English, I might have attempted being a translator. I needed to give my company’s courses on languages a shot, seeing as how they worked so well for Jarod.
My parents joined us not long after, and I wondered if Aaliyah simply neglected to inform me that they’d be joining us. We all chatted for a while before the lights dimmed and the stage lit up. Maxine greeted everyone, welcoming us to her gala and explaining how the auctioning was to work. Then curtains rose behind her, revealing the first band as she was guided offstage. After some music, we toured through the items going up for the silent auction as well as the live auction. When we arrived at my donation, Aaliyah let slip that I was wanting mother to come see my vault, though I didn’t remember telling the diminutive girl about that plan. Father was intrigued by the notion as well. I was thankful that Aaliyah didn’t let slip in front of father that I failed to look over my inventory until recently. In fact, she made things sound like the items down there were recently discovered instead of found, as she had recently informed me, shortly after my purchase of the estate. The “old clothes” that Alma was donating turned out to be the wedding dress of some noblewoman from the 1700s. Given the obvious gems and age, I was surprised the dress wasn’t in a museum. Aaliyah’s longrifle was documented to be the very weapon used for the assassination of the noblewoman whose dress was up for auction, though Alma didn’t react to the news. There were many strange, but valuable, items available.
After another performance, we all were eating dinner to the sound of a string quartet when half of the table closest to us left in a hurry. News quickly spread around the room of a robbery that took place across town where a “robot” tore through a bank and stole safe deposit boxes. I quickly looked over to where Maxine was seated, but she was still there, as calm as could be. I looked questioningly at Jarod, but he was staring in Maxine’s direction. I couldn’t catch his eye. Did Maxine have a partner, or was there someone else with similar technology? I really, really wanted to talk with Jarod about so much, but I needed to find a way to get him alone for some of it. “James? What’s so funny?” asked Alma after I started laughing to myself. “Nothing, really. I’m sorry. Life just has so many unexpected turns.” I told her as I finished sending a text to Aaliyah, so she could arrange hiring Jarod as my “Best Friend” for later tonight. Alma was still looking at me quizzically, so I squeezed her hand and assured her that I just realized how easy finding time could be, which didn’t seem to abate her curiosity in the least. Moments later, I received a notice on my phone from Aaliyah, saying Jarod was scheduled. Then I caught Jarod staring at me like I was crazy with his phone in hand. Life was really strange at times.