“James? James!” exclaimed a voice in slow motion. “No, no, no. What have you done to him?” asked Alma, her voice barely recognizable in the extremely drawn out way she was talking.
I opened my eyes when something wet hit my face.
“You’re… alive? Where’s your… Oh.” she told me, her tear streaked face hovering over me.
“Alma? What’s wrong?” I asked. Something was coming toward me, so I moved to the side and stood up. Then I realized that the world had slowed down. A tear was all that had been coming, and it hadn’t hit the ground yet, even as I stood there watching it. Suddenly, things sped back up.
“What was that?” asked Alma.
Aaliyah was standing there, shrugging with a perfect look of bewilderment.
“How did you do that?” asked Alma. She stood and approached me, casting a spell as she did, but she stopped as I turned my head to watch her.
“Do what?” I asked.
She went to punch me in slow motion, so I stepped to the side. Then she tried kicking me, but much faster. Soon I found myself fighting for my life, occasionally taking hits. Alma was usually as fast as me when she attacked. Now she was a little faster. Her spells, however, seemed slower. I managed to counter one after another as we fought and even try a few of my own. Then she casted something I didn’t recognize. I panicked for a second, taking a punch to the side.
“Where did you learn that?” asked Alma.
“Huh?” I inquired dumbly. She was smiling at me.
Then a dozen spells formed around her, none that I recognized.
As they were released, I felt something flow through me, and the spells were gone. What was happening?
“What did you do to him?” asked Alma.
Aaliyah shrugged and replied “I gave him this glowing drink. Now look at him go!”
“Fine. Is this a lasting effect?” inquired Alma.
Aaliyah nodded and said, “Looks like it.”
Alma rolled her eyes. Then she started attacking me again, physically as well as with magic. I didn’t know how I was blocking her spells, but I was grateful that I could. Keeping up with her physically was wearing me out fast, even with Alma in a dress. Not only was she faster, but she was still more skilled as well. I fell for her feints a number of times. Oddly, I didn’t feel sore. Then, suddenly, I did. I felt as if the strength and speed had drained out of me. I was barely able to remain standing.
“Easy, boss-man, sir.” stated Aaliyah as she smiled at me.
I looked around but couldn’t see Alma.
“Where did she go?” I asked.
“Over there on the ground, glaring at me.” replied Aaliyah.
“Huh? Why?” I inquired, not seeing her.
“I hit her.” explained Aaliyah with a shrug.
“What!? Why did you hit her?” I asked.
“You’re out of energy, so her next hit would’ve killed you. Alma was having too much fun and didn’t notice, so I hit her.” claimed Aaliyah with a grin.
“I’m so sorry, James. I didn’t realize… She had said what she did to you would last.” explained Alma, sounding worried.
Her costume was torn and muddy. Aaliyah obviously wasn’t gentle with her.
“Why did you attack me in the first place?” I asked.
Alma smiled and said, “I just meant to test you a bit but got a little carried away. That was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?”
I rolled my eyes and told her “I was the one on the receiving end of all those hits, you know.”
“Just be sure to charge him up before you consider going a second round. The boss-man needs some acclimation time to get accustomed to his upgrade.” stated Aaliyah.
“Upgrade?” I asked.
Aaliyah nodded, grinning as she said, “Uh-huh! You’re boss-man 2.0 now.”
“What did you mean when you said to recharge him?” inquired Alma.
Aaliyah rolled her eyes and explained “You know how he’s always ran on residual energy? He still does, but with more betterness.”
Alma grasped my hand, and I felt the fatigue vanish almost instantly.
“That’s amazing! I should have noticed.” stated Alma as she stared at our hands.
I didn’t need to look. I could feel the energy surfacing on her hand and passing into my body. Where my body had been rather “picky” about which points of energy to absorb before, none was left behind now.
“I thought you had to use your magic to draw residual energy into the world.” I commented.
“I am, obviously. I’m attempting to heat up my own bone, and my body’s counteracting the heat. Both acts use magic. I have a slight advantage with this type of thing.” exclaimed Alma, once more.
I created a spell to clean the mud off Alma’s costume. I wondered how my own looked at this point. I needed a mirror.
“I can see in the dark.” I stated, dumbfounded by the notion.
“Well, I’d wager you couldn’t see if there were no light.” argued Aaliyah. “You can always ask your little friend to test that out. She’s rather good with light, you know.”
“What was that stuff you gave me?” I asked.
“I gave you a vial. You’re the one who broke the seal. I’m betting it wasn’t the poison though! I would’ve been sooooo sad if I had mixed those up!” exclaimed my tiny secretary.
Well, she wasn’t just a secretary. I still was having trouble picturing this little girl as the terrifying figure who had haunted my dreams. “Death’s daughter” didn’t seem like a good name for her, unless Aaliyah’s mother was supposed to be “Death”. Chad surely wasn’t. Arguably though, Death was the reaper, and Aaliyah admitted to being the reaper.
“Why do people call you ‘Death’s daughter’?” I asked.
She giggled and said, “Well… People are silly and generally picture Death as a guy, yet those who had seen me and lived were certain I am female. Someone decided I must be the daughter instead of Death herself. Something like that perhaps.”
I nodded. I supposed that made some sort of sense, though I felt Aaliyah was holding something back.
“Just remember… I’ll know if you tell anyone about me.” claimed Aaliyah with a wink.
I laughed. Even knowing she was Death, I still found her adorable.
Alma turned my head to face her and said, “She’s not joking, James. She kills people who reveal her secrets.”
I kept smiling as I told her “You have to admit she’s adorable even when threatening me though.”
Alma sighed and said, “Just don’t let her fool you. Now you should realize why I’ve tried to warn you not to trust her.”
“I realize why worrying about her might have been a bit silly, but she’s still the most amazing secretary I could have.” I argued.
Alma clearly wasn’t amused, but Aaliyah was giggling.
“Thank you, boss-man, sir! You’re the bestest boss ever!” exclaimed Aaliyah.
I did have dozens of questions for the little girl, but I felt I had time to ask her.
“Let’s finish checking out the yard and get inside. You might want to get into something that isn’t torn.” I told Alma.
“Oh! Oh! I can fix that!” exclaimed Aaliyah.
Suddenly she was gone. Then Alma’s dress moved as if caught by an unseen wind. I quickly turned my head when I heard a clapping noise, only to find Aaliyah brushing off her hands against each other.
“That took some tricky stitching, but I managed!” she exclaimed.
Alma and I looked down to see the dress looking like new. Even now I wasn’t able to follow Aaliyah’s movements.
“Show off.” declared Alma. Then she said, “Thank you. I do like this costume. Oh. You fixed James’ as well.”
“I figured I might as well, but I didn’t bring thread for it and had to run clear back home again for some. You wouldn’t believe how hard sewing his jacket was while balancing on your shoulder, Alpy. If you weren’t standing still, I don’t know if I could’ve managed!” claimed Aaliyah.
She wasn’t being entirely truthful, but who was I to call her out on it, especially considering that she was lying about her task being hard. I doubted Alma believed Aaliyah had any difficulty. When I started to walk, Alma pulled me back by my hand.
“James… you didn’t give me your answer.” stated Alma.
I looked back at her questioningly, not having a clue what she was talking about.
She blushed as she said, “About dating.”
My phone started buzzing in my pocket, so I said, “Sorry. Just a moment.” When I pulled out my phone, the screen lit up instantly, showing Mila’s avatar.
“You promised me a date, master. You can’t be exclusive with her and go on a date with me, can you?” asked Mila.
“What!? You even promised Mila a date? James, this is ridiculous. Still, I suppose I can allow this before you give me your answer, not that I really know how you intend to go on a date with her. Maybe Jarod will loan you his glasses? With the right software, I suppose you could see a projection of her inserted places.” suggested Alma.
“So you won’t be angry?” asked Mila.
Alma was a bit stiff as she said, “I can’t say that I’m pleased about how casually James agrees to dates, but I don’t see the harm in this…”
Her words trailed off and her head suddenly jerked to the side. I could hear someone running toward us quickly. I felt my mouth drop open as I saw a second Alma round the corner, wearing a very elaborate maid outfit with a ruffled white headpiece. When she looked at me, I realized that her eyes matched Mila’s avatar perfectly. Alma’s grip on my hand was very tight. She was probably having second thoughts, and I couldn’t blame her.