“ALMA!” I yelled after entering her wing.
“In here, James.” she called quite casually.
I was there in a second and stared in wonder for a while, completely forgetting myself. I always found Alma to be impressive as she worked, but now I could see each individual spell she made, how she worked on dozens at a time. When we were fighting, I was too busy defending myself to really appreciate her skill, much less how far I still had to go. None of these spells were complicated at all, but I would need a great deal of practice to match her mastery of doing them simultaneously. Typing, for example, took a separate spell for each key pressed, and she was typing on all of her keyboards at once. I was amazed that I could read the screens from where I stood in the hall. Life was going to be so very different for me now.
“Did you need something, or have you come to your senses and banished that vampire from your yard?” asked Alma.
My anger returned instantly. “‘That vampire’ is a fourteen-year-old girl who just lost her parents to a mysterious fire.” I told her. “I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she just moved into the same building as her parents’ killer.”
“Yes, she did. I’m certain Aaliyah will make me pay for killing them in some way, since she did, in fact, live across the hall from them a few years back. Had I known that little detail, I assure you that I wouldn’t have killed them without consulting her first.” she admitted without even glancing up from her work.
“How can you be so cold?” I asked.
“What? Like a vampire? They feast on humans to survive, James. Would you have me prove in great detail how many humans have been killed by each one before saving countless lives from the likes of a vampire?” she demanded.
“Cosette hasn’t killed anyone.” I told her.
“Ha. A likely story.” replied Alma.
“I guarantee that she isn’t aware of killing anyone. She’s innocent, Alma, which makes me wonder if her parents were as well.” I explained.
She sighed and said, “I admit that I didn’t see her parents kill anyone, but the one who came calling on them certainly had. I was too late to save his meal when I discovered him, so I decided to see if he would lead me to more. He did.”
My temper was already gone. Alma fervently believed in what she did, and I knew she did save lives. Still, I told her “Please at least consider investigating more before just killing. I know there is the risk that you may be letting a killer find another victim, but isn’t that better than killing innocents yourself?”
Alma nodded and said, “For you, I will consider this, but I can make no promises, James. If I’m ordered to kill something, I will. Please don’t try to make me go against my family.”
“Will you try getting to know Cosette?” I asked.
“I would rather not, but I have been ordered to study her.” she replied.
“What? Ordered to study her? What do you mean?” I inquired, thoughts of labs and mad science passing through my head.
“I informed Adelmar of your newest guest. My cousin is amused by the situation and wants me to keep an eye on her, so I’m forced to play along with this farce for now.” she informed me.
I wasn’t thrilled by her view on the situation, but I was glad that there could be peace for the moment. I doubted that even Alma would want to kill Cosette after getting to know her. Cosette seemed far too amiable to invoke any sort of malice in others. Feeling somewhat better, I continued to watch Alma as she worked.
“Would you like a snack?” asked Alma as a frozen pizza floated out behind her.
I gaped and said, “I can feel it.”
“Feel what?” she inquired.
“Your magic.” I told her, staring at the pizza as it heated.
I ducked and rolled to the side as I felt her magic form beside me.
Alma laughed and said, “I wasn’t going to hurt you, James. I must say that is intriguing. We’ll have to see how the twins fair against you after you’ve had some rest.”
I didn’t actually feel tired at all. In fact, I felt more awake than normal, despite the time. Still, I excused myself after eating a couple slices of pizza, since I wanted to see how Cosette, Emma, and Aaliyah were doing. I was, after all, technically babysitting Death’s daughter tonight. There were so many things I wanted to ask her when we were alone.
“Oh. Mila. What are you doing here?” I asked, seeing Mila’s physical body curtsying as I stepped out of Alma’s wing.
“Master, I am here to serve you, of course.” she replied.
Seeing someone so similar to Alma in form wearing a maid outfit was all the more disconcerting when alone with her. The outfit really did look quite nice.
“I don’t really need anything at the moment.” I told her.
“As you say, master.” stated Mila.
Not knowing what else to do, I started walking down the hall, only to find that Mila was following me. Was she planning on following me everywhere now? Well, I supposed she always had in the sense that she was everywhere in the house, but this was different. I was far too aware of her now.
“Oh! Would you mind helping me fetch Cosette’s luggage?” I asked.
“Oh, master, do you think I’m such a poor maid that I wouldn’t have already seen to the luggage?” she asked.
“Oh, right. I suppose I did ask you to take care of it already. Umm… You don’t really need to follow me.” I told her.
“But master, this body was made to serve you. The closer I am to you, the more swiftly I can assist you.” she replied.
Well, I could think of a number of things I might need which would be more quickly accomplished if she was by whatever I needed fetched instead of by me, but I could see that Mila wasn’t going to be easily deterred.
“You seem tense, master. Might I give you a massage?” she asked.
“Not right now. Thank you. I thought I’d check in on Cosette again.” I told her.
I tried to distract myself, thinking about where to lead my guild next in Ancient Tribes of Earth, but I was still far too aware of Mila’s presence. She looked incredibly similar to Alma but far more… humble… with how her eyes were downcast as she followed me. She still looked elegant though, and I was thankful she hadn’t gone with some outlandish “sexy maid outfit” when she picked her clothes. Distracting myself wasn’t going well at all, and I was thankful when I arrived at Cosette’s door, though I was shocked when it opened at my approach.
Bouncing on her feet from just inside, Aaliyah said, “Boss-man, sir! Emma made Cosette some furniture, but she’s already falling asleep! We’re going to have a girls’ night tomorrow, so maybe you should plan something with Jarod and Brandon.”
“Sure. That would be fun.” I replied.
Mila then commented “Master, please don’t forget about planning our date either.”
“Of course not, though I’m not really certain what you’d be interested in doing.” I told her.
“Everything you’d want to share with me!” she exclaimed.
Tugging on the leg of my pants to get my attention, Aaliyah said, “I might consider helping you, boss-man, sir, if you convince Mila to join us physically for the girls’ night.”
“Mila, please join them. You don’t want to disappoint the princess.” I told her.
“Whatever you wish, master.” she replied.
“Princess? Which one?” asked Cosette as she came up behind Aaliyah.
“Huh?” I asked, feeling confused.
“Cosette’s daddy always called her a princess too, boss-man, sir. Of course, her daddy was once a king.” claimed Aaliyah.
“What? Really?” I inquired.
“Yeah, well… That’s what he claimed. Apparently his people revolted, and he was saved by the vampire who turned him just before his execution.” explained Cosette.
I could hear the sadness in her voice as plainly as I could see it on her face. Couldn’t Aaliyah have saved her parents? Couldn’t she have saved Regina?
“Sorry, boss-man, sir. That was their time.” stated Aaliyah.
I was shocked as much by her seeming to read my mind again as I was from her saying something like that in front of Cosette and Mila.
“I would suggest cake if you two are going to have such a dreary conversation.” stated Carl, appearing behind me with a three layer cake in his hands.
“Carl!? What are you doing here?” I asked, and then I realized something even stranger was happening. Nothing else was moving. Strands of Cosette’s hair were frozen in space from her turning her head.
“Well, Aaliyah knew you wanted to talk and suggested that I bring cake for the two of you, so here I am. I’ll just leave this here, so you two can be about your business.” explained Carl, disappearing from sight the moment he finished speaking.
“What…? How?” I asked, looking around.
“Oh. Carl has had a number of names throughout the years. ‘Father Time’, for example, has stuck fairly well.” replied Aaliyah before cutting off a slice of cake as it sat on its floating tray.
With so many questions in my head, I didn’t even know where to begin, so I started by getting myself a slice of cake. Cake helped.