“James, if you’re quite finished, we need to move.” stated Alma, though her arms still embraced me plenty firmly.
Still, I made myself release her from our embrace. There was, after all, a chance that the necromancer who had hurt her was still around. The moment my arms fell from her, Alma released me, shut her eyes, and took a deep breath.
When her eyes opened, she said, “Turn around while I don this shirt.”
I did as she commanded.
“Finished. Mind watching the perimeter of this cemetery while I take care of the bodies, spells, and lingering zombies?” she asked.
“What? After what just happened, you wish to split up?” I asked, completely shocked.
“You’re the one who wanted to stand there, in public, embracing me. If he was nearby, surely he would’ve attacked us then.” she retorted.
“Sorry for getting caught up in the moment. I thought you died, Alma.” I admitted.
“Yes, we can talk about that later.” she replied, sounding a bit annoyed.
“I love you.” I told her.
She paused to stare at me, her violet eyes looking into me. Then she sighed and said, “Priorities, James. I feel the temperature spell slipping, so the enchantments keeping people away might be failing soon as well. We need to clean up this mess. Be on guard, of course, but I have a feeling our enemy has fled.”
I wanted to keep arguing, but I refrained, barely. If the spells were failing, people might come near, and I didn’t want any lingering zombies to kill someone. I started off at a light jog, far more swiftly than an average car could go. The illusory fog was a pain, and I nearly tripped a couple times, but I reached the cemetery’s perimeter in seconds.
There were so many bodies. How was Alma going to cover this up? I did my best not to look too closely as I started moving the bodies together. I considered incinerating them myself, but I had never tried turning bone to ash before and wasn’t confident in myself estimating how much energy to put into the spell.
Hurry all around the cemetery’s borders wasn’t exhausting, but I was wishing the place was a bit smaller. If that necromancer was still around, he might well slip past me. Fortunately, I didn’t see anyone approaching the area yet. Time passed without word from Alma, and I started to worry. What if he found her? What if…
The fog dispersed for a moment, and suddenly reappeared. What happened?
“James, you might want to go home for this part. You’re not going to like it.” stated Alma as she appeared by my side.
With how she looked at me, I could only guess my relief was showing. “I’m staying with you.” I told her.
“As you wish.” she stated.
There was a flash of light, and the nearest bodies were turned to ash. Wait. Some of them were still there. What was she doing? The bodies that remained were held upright and repositioned by magic. I followed her back around the perimeter as the scene repeated. Then she ran back into the cemetery.
“Close your eyes, James.” she ordered as she hugged me.
I did as she said and heard a dull thud moments later. The fog was gone again, and I could see houses burning.
“Alma, what have you done?” I asked.
Looking me in the eye, she explained “They were empty, James. Don’t worry. I double checked as we went, so I could determine the blast radius needed. A terrorist attack claimed the lives of numerous families tonight. My family’s contacts in the FBI will investigate and confirm that a terrorist cell accidentally set off the bomb they were building here. Let’s go home. I asked Adelmar to meet us there, since he is still insisting on coming.”
I nodded as I considered the story, thinking again of all the conspiracy theories Jarod had told me. How many held a fragment of truth? The thoughts left me as I pushed myself to keep up with Alma as she ran through the streets, and I was thankful I didn’t need the numerous spells she created as we moved.
I was somewhat amazed when we arrived at how quickly we could traverse the city. I didn’t need to worry about traffic cameras catching us, because… Oh. Mila… The difference in the house was very noticeable. The doors didn’t swing open at my approach, which was becoming the norm. The lights didn’t automatically come on. There was no Alma-like figure greeting me by the door.
I started saying, “Alma, my cars… We’ve”
“I took care of the cars, James. There’s nothing recognizable left.” she told me.
“What of Mila’s body?” I asked.
“Her body was gone, so I’m guessing the others have it.” she replied.
“Are they here?” I asked, looking around for some sign of them.
With a slight shake of her head, she said, “Not yet.”
I pulled out my phone and sent Jarod a text, asking if everyone was okay.
“James,” started Alma as she touched my arm. “Aaliyah will be able to fix Mila. Though I don’t always see eye-to-eye with her, I will gladly acknowledge that she’s remarkable. Knowing her, there’s a backup, and a backup of a backup.”
I nodded and hoped that Alma was right. My phone buzzed in my hand, and I was happy to see a message from Jarod, saying they should be on their way soon. Brenna was getting a cast.
“Are you ready to date me?” asked Alma.
“I…” I started, hesitating again. “ Yes. Yes, I wish to date you.” I told her firmly, not letting myself back out. I did want this. I was in love with her.
She smiled at me, and I forgot for a moment how wrong my world was.
“I’m glad Adelmar is on his way then for he’ll certainly wish to meet you.” she told me. “Oh, I had better get changed. You might want to make yourself presentable as well.”
Without another word, she ran off. I resisted the urge to chase after her, knowing I wasn’t in a fit state to meet anyone, much less my girlfriend’s cousin. I found myself smiling at the idea. I had a girlfriend. Wait. Did she accept? I certainly wanted to find out as soon as I was finished changing. My parents would want to know if I started dating someone, especially Alma. Would they approve? I frowned. Father certainly had mixed feelings about her.
As I stepped into my room, I realized that I had no clue where the light switch was. I pushed the thought aside, created a light with magic, cleaned myself with magic, and dressed in a hurry. I didn’t want to remain there. I wanted company.
I found myself pacing by the light of a spell outside of Alma’s wing. She was taking longer than normal to get ready. Of course, my perception of time was still a bit off, especially when I felt antsy. Wait. Someone was coming, and not from Alma’s wing. I heard footsteps.
“James! It is you!” exclaimed Marco. “What happened? The house is a dark. Mila won’t a talk to me.”
“I’m sorry, but Mila is currently out of commission. She… Well, I’m going to have to sort this out with Aaliyah.” I told him, jumping a little when my phone buzzed.
“Boss-man, sir, please state the following aloud: ‘Home, reset to defaults.’” read the text from Aaliyah.
I did as she instructed, and the light above me came to life. My phone buzzed again.
The text read “Forgive the little ones. They get confused.”
Little ones? I stared in bewilderment at the text for a few seconds, and then gazed around the hall as I heard movement.
“Mila?” came a quiet, high-pitched voice.
“Mila?” came another.
There were many. I stared in shock as I watched panels throughout the hallway sliding open, and tiny people crawling out.
“Ah! My little helpers!” called Marco.
The tiny people looked at Marco and me for a moment, and went scurrying back into the walls.
“Mi scusi. I startled them.” stated Marco.
“Marco, who are they?” I asked.
He looked at me in obvious surprise as he said, “You don’t a know? Your cleaning staff! They a wash a the dishes, clean a the floors, and make everything nice.”
“And they live in the walls?” I inquired.
“Well, I wouldn’t a say they live, no. Little miss Aaliyah calls them her dolls. She a once told me that they were an early A.I. project of hers. Not precisely… what is word… sentient! More of a…” he explained, waving his arms in the air as he reached for a word again. “I’ll just a let the little miss explain. Okay?”
I nodded as the door opened next to us.
“James, you got the lights working again. Marco, pleasant to see you.” stated Alma.
Smiling, he said something to her in Italian. Then he told me “I’m a going to reacquaint myself with the kitchen. Things be different now, no?”
I nodded and looked back to Alma. She was really dressed up.
“Should I have worn something different?” I asked.
She smiled and said, “Yes, but don’t stress out. Think of this as meeting a king of sorts, but one with ties to every country. Once Adelmar gives his approval for us to date, you’ll have to learn our ways.”
Yes, Marco was correct. Things most certainly would be different.