Training with Alma seemed extra painful over the past week, and I could only guess she was still upset about my date ― if it could really be called that ― with Portentia. However, she was surprisingly complimentary several times. I was learning. I feared that failing would lead to my untimely demise with how Alma instructed, but I knew a great many more spells and could more easily cast them while fighting now, not that I had any hope of utilizing a spell against Alma. On several occasions, she had ripped the energy out of my control just before I managed to finish forming my spells. I got the impression that she was grossly dissatisfied with my attempts on those particular occasions. She hadn’t scolded me, but there was something in her stance that always told me. I was, in a way, getting closer to her, though this past week seemed to be a setback. I wish I knew how she was feeling more often, but gauging someone’s emotions without looking into their eyes wasn’t as easy as I might’ve guessed. When I did look into her eyes, I was generally too distracted to do much other than admire them ― a dangerous advantage for her to have in combat. As I looked into them now, I just wished she would return my smile.
“James, are you coming to see me off?” asked Duncan. Amazingly, Duncan’s leg had been healed for weeks now, but he used his interest in the fey to remain far longer. He only left now because his mother demanded his return, or so Jarod had told me. “Of course. I’d feel remiss as a host if I did not. I only wish I could have been more successful in protecting you from your sisters during your stay.” I replied. Duncan laughed and said, “If you learn that trick, I would be grateful for you to share.” Laughing as well, Jarod said, “I’d appreciate learning that one as well.” With his arm around Ai’s shoulders, she had an easy time elbowing him in the gut for that remark. He still didn’t seem to care which of the twins gave him affection at any moment. Even when I tried to warn him that they switched places on him, he didn’t seem bothered by the fact. He was my best friend, but I couldn’t even guess what was going on in his head regarding a relationship with one of those girls. Just as oddly, Duncan didn’t seem bothered by the idea, although he didn’t seem to tell his sisters apart very well either. “Be sure to give mother-dear our gifts, nii-san.” commanded Ai. “We’d hate a repeat of two years ago.” added Mai. Duncan grimaced as he said, “That was two years ago, and I’ve told you that someone had moved the gift!”
The twins continued teasing their brother as we headed outside. “Must she come too?” asked Alma all of a sudden. I didn’t have to ask to which “she” Alma referred, not when my little fairy friend was nearly inseparable from me despite my best efforts. “You know she doesn’t really listen to me.” I replied. Alma squeezed my hand and said, “I know, but I still feel you should work to fix the situation. She’s no less dangerous now than she was when I first warned against letting her off the grounds. Aaliyah is quite obviously capable of helping you if you simply ask.” I shrugged and told her “I don’t doubt that she’s capable, but she seems amused by the situation. Have you ever attempted to convince Aaliyah to end something that amuses her?” Alma’s face was perfectly impassive as she said, “Perhaps you do have a point. Still, you could at least try to act like her boss for once and assign her a task.” I laughed despite knowing Alma was being serious. “Sorry, but I really doubt her contract with me actually gives me any sort of authority. Care to look over it sometime? I’d take at least a year to read through the thing even if I had the time.” I explained. Alma sighed but didn’t pursue the subject any further.
Not even halfway to the airport, Duncan had already gotten the discussion back to how much he’d miss my forest. I still felt strange thinking of how I went from ignoring the forest entirely to visiting it almost daily now. I was supposed to be there anytime someone other than Emma went there. Alma insisted on coming more often than not as well, generally mumbling about how the fey ought to wear clothes. I honestly was a bit grateful to her sensibilities, not feeling comfortable looking at the fey without the misty garments she created. Plus, Alma had a way of keeping track of everyone which I envied greatly. Brandon would’ve been lured away into the depths of the forest on several occasions when I had gotten distracted. His shapeshifting seemed to amuse the fey to no end, and he’d play games with them continuously every chance he got. Of course, he wasn’t the only one. Ai, Mai, Emma, and even Duncan seemed to enjoy playing games with their magic, and all of us enjoyed seeing what all the fey could do in response. Despite their hardships, the fey were creatures of life and joy. At least, these ones were. Alma told me of accounts she had read where the fey were vengeful and merciless, though she admitted the accounts were probably biased.
When we arrived at the airport, I wasn’t surprised to find that Duncan was flying out of the private wing and that he would be traveling by personal jet. I felt awkward when the conversation had turned to Japanese, being the only one who couldn’t speak it. Jarod had somehow managed to gain some degree of proficiency already, at least enough for him to take part. After looking a bit awkward as his sisters hugged him, Duncan shook my hand one last time before bowing and saying something to Alma in Japanese. Then he turned and left without another glance back. On our way to the car, Alma suggested that we all go to a theme park together. I wasn’t the least bit comforted when I learned the park in question was the same one to which I had taken Raine. Was Alma still upset about that date too? I sincerely hoped not, but coincidences didn’t seem to exist around her. “Why are you so tense, James?” she asked. Before I came up with a reply, Jarod said, “Oh boy. You’re not remembering that time Michael lost his lunch are you?” I laughed and told him “No. I had blissfully forgotten all about that. Thanks so much for reminding me.” Smiling, Ai asked “Were you next to him?” I shook my head and replied “No, thankfully. I did find him some new clothes though.” Laughing more, Jarod said, “Yeah. James couldn’t get out of there fast enough after being stuck for five minutes in a cart with three girls from some other school.” I rolled my eyes. Jarod just had to mention that part. Alma didn’t seem upset, but I really wanted to know what she was up planning. Things with her were never simple.