“James, what’s wrong?” asked Emma. She came running to us the moment we stepped inside with Portentia on her heels. I didn’t know what to say. Alma still hadn’t contacted us. Even my little fairy friend seemed subdued; I could barely feel her lying on my head. The twins didn’t stop with me. They were guiding Jarod toward their wing. “Is he alright?” asked Portentia, looking from me to the three and back. “Where’s Alma?” asked Emma, now looking around for her. Too many questions and not enough answers. I motioned for them to follow me and walked toward the ballroom. Brandon was playing Ancient Tribes of Earth without a care in the world, but Brenna was ignoring the game to watch me when I entered. She hit her brother and pointed to me while I was still considering what to say. “Mila, were you inside the park’s surveillance systems when the explosions took place?” I asked. Those around me took on a look of shock at the mention of explosions. “Of course, master. Shall I show you?” she asked. I nodded and the unused mirrors glowed as numerous video feeds appeared on them. I regretted my decision a moment later as I witnessed what had to be the zombies exploding outward in a crowd, ripping people apart. I felt queasy and angry at first, but as my eyes locked on Alma appearing at one of the scenes, something in me relaxed.
“Who did this?” asked Portentia. Alma kneeled next to one of the victims, and the camera went out. “Sorry, master, but the camera was destroyed at that point.” explained Mila. Shaking my arm, Portentia asked again “James! Who did this?” I glanced at her and then at the other screens. I had seen enough. “Kill the feeds, Mila.” I commanded. Then I looked Portentia in the eye and told her “I don’t know, but I want to find out. When the first zombie blew up right next to me, Alma seemed to think someone was attempting to target her. She got me out of the park, fetched Jarod and the twins, and then went to search for more of the zombies. That’s all I know.” Portentia nodded solemnly. This was a scenario where a superhero would actually be fitting, and I appreciated the lack of her normal enthusiasm. Assuming whoever created the zombies was actually after Alma, he obviously didn’t care who else was caught in the blasts. Why did he set them all off though? Was he trying to catch her as she appeared? I wished she’d get home already. I wanted to talk with her. “Let’s go find a dungeon.” suggested Emma. I took a second to realize she meant in Ancient Tribes of Earth. “I don’t really feel like playing right now.” I told her. She nodded and said, “Neither do I, but we need to be distracted for a bit, unless you know something useful we can do.” I wanted there to be something, but nothing came to mind.
I wasn’t sure how much time had passed when Ai, Mai, and Jarod joined us in the game. I didn’t even realize they were in the ballroom until their characters logged in, causing me to look around. My little friend was sending me images of her and I inside the game world, playing around. She almost blasted a hole in my screen the first time she watched me play, firing a laser at a minotaur that attacked my character. Luckily, Alma had expected it and created some type of protective barrier beforehand. Then Aaliyah, who had been visiting at the time, managed to relay the concept of a video game far better than I had. Now my little friend seemed to enjoy watching me play, though she slept through as much as she watched. I knew she drifted off because her thoughts would grow bleary for a time. Then I’d be seeing what I had to assume were her dreams. I had to wonder at what being one of them was like, connected with each other even in sleep. I wasn’t even entirely sure the little fairy needed sleep so much as did it when she had nothing else to do. At very least, I hadn’t caught onto any sort of sleep cycle for her. There were days she remained active from when I woke to when I went to sleep. Then there were days where she hardly stirred.
My stomach rumbled, and I realized I was smelling something wonderful. Marco was pushing a cart of food into the room, and I appreciated his impeccable timing greatly. I froze in the middle of standing when I saw a plate float off the cart with various foods chasing after it. Alma was here!? My gaze followed the food to find Alma sitting in her usual spot, already logged into Ancient Tribes of Earth as if nothing had happened. Perhaps she needed to escape for a bit as well. I thanked Marco for the food and was rewarded with a smile as he said, “I just thought some of you might be wanting a snack, since Mila told me your day was as busy as ever. I’m heading out for the night myself. There’s a this girl I know who doesn’t deal with cold weather too well, so I thought I might help her out.” I nodded and wished him luck, not wanting any details. My little friend was stealing meat off an hors d’oeuvres before I even started filling a plate. Luckily, no one seemed to mind her touching the food. Of course, they might have just realized convincing her to do anything differently was probably futile for anyone other than Aaliyah. Well, Alma might have a chance. She did far better than most of us at communicating with the fey, though she hadn’t made any of them interested in clothing yet.
I continued my game, grateful that my schedule was free. I kept hoping for Alma to say something, even if she only sent me messages in the game, but she didn’t say a word. When she logged off and walked out a few hours later, I almost followed her, but I was guessing that she was off to do some work. If she had anything to say about what happened earlier, she wasn’t sharing with me. How did she manage to look so impassive? I supposed her upbringing was an explanation, but I wanted to know how she felt. Was she really alright or was I just seeing a facade? I realized my little friend knew how I felt when she started hugging my neck and sending me images of the silliest of things, like Brenna laughing when her brother grew too large in the forest and bumped his head on a tree branch. There really was a great deal of happiness to be found in the forest with the fey. I wished Alma could be more involved with that part of the supernatural than the fighting and killing. She did visit the forest often, but she obviously wasn’t part of it, not with how she worried so much about proper decorum. There was a difference in the fey when she was around as well. They laughed and played as normal, but I could feel a tenseness in them that I’d relate to knowing a predator sat in their midst. These creatures knew battle and obviously abhorred it while Alma sought fights, determined to kill anything she deemed a threat to humanity. I was worried about her, but there was nothing I could do. As close as I had grown to her, I was still so far away.