“Well, now that that’s settled, mind guiding the way, Mila?” I asked.
“Of course not, Master. I’ll gladly guide you anywhere.” she replied, sounding all too flirtatious.
Emma truly was a bad influence on her, but the damage was already done. All I could do was hope that Mila’s personality evolved in a different direction eventually. When we reached the hidden passage, I turned back to catch my parents watching intently as Mila opened the way.
“Your vault is in there?” asked mother, sounding dubious.
“Yes, actually. Mila wasn’t joking before she went to get refreshments for us. This will be a bit of an adventure.” I warned them.
Chuckling, father said, “We really do need to visit more often, son, or I’ll never get to see all of the surprises around here.”
I didn’t bother telling him how right he was. No need to encourage my parents to get too interested in uncovering secrets, not with how many dwelled in my home. Mila offered everyone a flashlight as we entered, and then continued onward. I nearly laughed as I realized how odd not using magic was for me now. I could provide vastly superior lighting with ease now. I wondered how quickly I could reach the vault if I hurried. As we proceeded, I realized how beautiful the walls were. I hadn’t really looked at them closely on my first trip down here. There seemed to be some sort of story depicted here, but the style was completely different from the one in the main part of the house.
“James, these engravings are amazing! Have you had anyone in here to examine them yet?” asked mother from a ways behind me.
“Yes, of course. Aaliyah had them examined at the same time as the contents of the vault. I don’t honestly know the details though. There was quite a bit to learn, and I haven’t found the time yet.” I told her, certain that Aaliyah was an expert herself.
“I will have to ask her about them as well. They are quite fascinating. The style is similar to that of the Aztecs, but there are some obvious differences.” stated Alma.
“Do you study archaeology, Lady Pendreigh?” asked father.
“Alma, please. Yes, I’ve dabbled a little. One can never know too much.” she replied.
Nodding, father said, “Oh, I agree with you there completely. James had a fairly diverse education, but Rachel and I didn’t want to have him privately tutored, not with how down to earth a public school can keep someone.”
“I had a number of tutors, but a large portion of my instruction was carried out by my mother. She was very well educated and wanted to impart all of her knowledge to me.” replied Alma.
“Where is your mother? I’d like to meet her sometime.” stated mother.
“She passed on. Father hasn’t been well for a while now, so I’m sorry to say that you won’t be able to meet him either.” replied Alma.
Father told her “Sorry for your loss.”
Things were quiet for a while as we continued walking, save for mother’s occasional comments about the beauty of the walls. When Mila opened the first of the hidden passages within the maze, I noticed that the section on which Mila pushed appeared to be a doorway with a number of human figures pointing to it.
“I see why this vault of yours is secure. It’d be easier to tunnel into the ground than to traverse this maze, assuming you knew where to dig, of course.” remarked father.
“You would need some very heavy equipment. The vault looks quite sturdy, I assure you.” I replied with a grin.
I took one of the water bottles Mila offered after the second hidden door, though I wasn’t really thirsty. I doubted Alma was either. She never seemed to fatigue in the slightest. By the third hidden door of the maze, I realized there was a feeling getting stronger, something similar to what I felt when Alma or the twins used their natural magics near me.
“What’s the matter?” whispered Alma under her breath as she took my hand.
“I feel something. I replied. I think there’s magic ahead.” I whispered back.
“Somehow I am not surprised. I imagine your vault has some sort of magic guarding it. Can you really expect anything less after seeing what is in your forest?” she asked.
I shrugged slightly and continued on in silence. She was right. The moment I saw the vault, I knew the source of the magic was directly ahead of me.
“Master, I’ll open the door for you.” stated Mila, skipping over to the huge door.
“Thank you, Mila.” I told her.
“James, dear, I’ve seen banks with smaller doors.” commented mother.
“What’s inside is the real treat.” I promised.
“Well, I hope your chef prepares a large meal. I’m going to be famished after this.” claimed father, winking as I looked at him.
Alma looked amused as she watched Mila assemble and use the large key, probably finding the thing as outrageous as I had my first time here. When the light from the room beyond hit my eyes, I was expecting to be dazed again by the brightness. Instead, my eyes adjusted instantly. There was so much to learn about what I could do that I had to wonder how long I would take to understand my limits.
After their eyes adjusted, my parents followed Alma and me inside the vault, looking around with bewildered expressions. I told my parents what I could remember of Aaliyah’s explanations as to what the various pieces were, surprising myself with how much I could remember, but there were definite gaps from when I hadn’t been paying attention.
“Sorry that I’m not as great of a tour guide as Aaliyah was, but I don’t have her memory.” I explained.
“Master, I will gladly provide you a cheat sheet on your phone if you wish.” offered Mila.
I replied “Oh. Why don’t you give us the tour, Mila? I should have realized that you’d have access to the catalogue.”
Mila seemed to know every little fact about each of these items, answering questions for my parents and Alma that I hadn’t thought to ask on my first visit. In fact, listening to her descriptions was very similar to listening to Aaliyah herself. I guessed that Aaliyah had written a tour program for the vault, but I felt mentioning it might be a step in the wrong direction. My parents didn’t have the great appreciation for Mila’s individuality that I had yet, and I didn’t want them to think of Mila as just a collection of programs written by Aaliyah.
“Son, you’re sitting on a fortune down here.” stated father not even halfway through Mila’s tour.
“A fortune? This whole collection is priceless.” argued mother.
“I’m planning on looking into loaning some of these pieces out to museums from time-to-time. You wouldn’t believe the guilt I’ve felt knowing what’s down here.” I assured them.
Alma’s smile as she looked up at me stole my breath away. “I have contacts in the British Museum if you would like to expedite things, assuming you wouldn’t mind some of this being showcased in London.” she told me.
“That would be wonderful. I’ll have Aaliyah get in touch with you about it.” I replied.
She pursed her lips, not looking pleased. Did she want to go over the collection with me? I didn’t really know enough about any of it. Well, I supposed I did remember everything Mila had explained so far, but how long would I remember it? I wasn’t sure precisely how good my memory was yet.
“Actually, let’s set up a date for the three of us to sit down and talk it over.” I told her, earning another smile.
Aaliyah needed to be there for the business side of the discussion. Despite owning the business, I didn’t know too much about running it anymore. Even with all of my advancements over the past day, I was still hopelessly outmatched by my tiny secretary.
Mother then told me “I have a few contacts of my own, James, if you want to get some of this on display more locally.”
“Oh, of course. Maybe we can discuss it before you leave if Aaliyah’s free by then.” I replied.
I should have thought about mother’s contacts, having met a number of them myself. There was always so much to do that I never put enough time thinking about what to do with my collection. I surely would have more time soon though, now that I could accomplish far more in a day. Remembering all of the conversations I was planning on having before being informed that my parents were coming, I had some doubt. Hopefully, I’d catch up though. I had to find a way.