I found myself pacing nervously for well over an hour as Alma instructed me on the proper etiquette when meeting leaders of various countries, claiming that I might well be doing precisely that in the relatively near future.
“How will we know when to pick him up?” I asked, interrupting her. Then I remembered that I no longer have any transportation. How was I going to get around?
“He’ll be landing here. Don’t worry about him.” she assured me.
“What do you mean by ‘landing here’? Is he coming by helicopter?” I inquired.
With a quick sigh, she rolled her eyes and informed me “No. Adelmar prefers using magic to fly when he’s in a hurry to avoid hassle. I suppose we can pick this up later. He’ll be here any moment.”
“How does he know where here is?” I asked.
Alma then said, “None of us can… Oh.” She frowned.
“Oh? What’s wrong? What do you mean by ‘none of us can’? None of us can what?” I demanded.
“Sorry. This is just.. frustrating. No one in my family can hide from the Slayers. If I know where I am, they know. At least, that was was true until the incident tonight. What happened while I was out?” she asked.
I explained “When you stopped talking, I called for Aaliyah. She gave me a vial, so I poured it down your throat.” I was going to continue, but she raised her hand to stop me.
“James, what was in the vial?” she asked.
“I have no idea.” I admitted.
“You just took this unknown substance and gave it to me? What if it had killed me?” she inquired.
“Moot point when you were literally a second from death according to Aaliyah.” I replied.
“Fine, but she didn’t tell you what this did? I keep telling you that you can’t trust her, James! You know who she is!” exclaimed Alma.
“Yes, I do, and I trust her with my life. She’s my friend, Alma.” I told her, annoyed by Alma’s insistence that someone who constantly took care of me wasn’t trustworthy.
“How can you believe yourself to be friends with her!?” she demanded.
I was about to reply, but Alma’s head suddenly jerked toward the door.
“He’s here.” she stated.
I used a spell to open both sets of doors, painfully aware that they wouldn’t open automatically now. Walking toward the house was a well-dressed man with black hair, eyes nearly as black as his hair, and obvious confidence. He took the last hundred feet in a single quick leap, spells spreading around him to protect his clothing. Alma curtsied, so I bowed as she had instructed me earlier, remaining that way until he spoke.
“Cousin, such formality… Did dying finally improve your manners?” he mirthlessly asked.
She tried kicking his shin, but he easily dodged. I had no doubt that Adelmar was significantly faster than me. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem much older than me if any.
“Tsk tsk. You’ll ruin your dress. Such rude behavior before even introducing me to James couldn’t go unpunished in court.” he told her.
Smiling sweetly, she said, “Lucky for me, we aren’t in court, you-”
Lightning quick, he lifted her jaw with his finger as he said, “I may not be able to read your mind now, but I’m quite well aware of how foul what comes next would have been. You’ve already inconvenienced me. No need to annoy me. James, I apologize for having you play host to such a disreputable creature. I trust she hasn’t caused you too great of discomfort. I, by the way, am Adelmar Slayer.”
Uncertain whether or not to offer my hand, I decided to refrain. Then I said, “As you seem to know, I’m James Michael Somerset III, and, on the contrary, I was just telling Alma earlier that I wish to date her.”
“Such a long name makes me wonder if I should have used titles.” he stated, pacing away from me. “Up until tonight, I have been kept informed of your progress.” He quickly turned around and looked me in the eye as he said, “I cannot imagine a man being worthy of my cousin, but I do believe you will bring her happiness.”
The last part was said in such a way that I wondered if he was threatening me.
He walked toward me again. “Do not fret. I do condone your relationship, but you will abide by my family’s traditions in this matter. My cousin is of tremendous value, and there will be some who believe themselves to be better suited for her.” he confided, smiling and placing his hand on my shoulder.
Pacing away again, he said, “From this moment till you are wed, you must be on guard every moment of every day. Some would-be suitors will try to have you killed to avoid dueling you. I recommend making examples of them personally. Others will challenge you properly, and you have to accept. If you refuse, your courtship is over, and you will never have another chance.” He quickly turned toward me again and said, “Trust that I will know should you refuse.”
I asked him “What do you mean by-”
He held up his hand and told me “My cousin will instruct you on dueling.” Smiling again, he added “I might just feel sorry for you, since I expect my cousin will stop being so soft in your instruction.”
A number of spells formed near Adelmar, and I found myself under attack for a moment.
“Your defenses do appear quite formidable, so I am certain you will survive.” he claimed. Turning to Alma, he said, “You have chosen well, cousin. His abilities could prove quite useful.”
Throughout this monologue, Alma kept silent, impassively watching as Adelmar talked. She appeared to be on the verge of replying, but her mouth shut again.
“Yes, they have arrived. James, please have your man fix some refreshments. I wish to dine with you all, and I’m certain everyone will be hungry by now.” stated Adelmar.
I didn’t care to be ordered about in my own home, but I shoved my irritation aside for now, not wanting to offend this strange guest. Marco looked up from talking with the… dolls… as I approached.
“Ah, James! What can I do for you?” he asked.
“Sorry to bother you this late, but would you be willing to fix a meal for everyone? Adelmar Slayer is here and wishes to dine with us.” I told him.
I watched Marco’s smile slide from his face and quickly be replaced by a far less convincing one.
“Adelmar Slayer? I will a make something to his liking. No worries.” stated Marco.
“Do you know him?” I asked.
“Yes, this could be said, but only by the reputation. Slayers are dangerous, but given the Lady Pendreigh, I expected this in time. Is no problem.” he told me.
He wasn’t lying, but I felt like there was something more here. I didn’t want to press the issue at the moment though. Instead, I said, “If you need any help, I’ll gladly assist you.”
He replied “No need. No need. I know a just what I’m going to fix. Give me…” Pausing, he seemed to be counting something on his fingers. “Give me forty minutes, and all will be ready.”
I nodded and thanked him. Taking my time as I walked back, I thought again about what I was getting myself into. The Slayer family was dangerous and seemed somewhat cruel. Ai and Mai could’ve died during some sort of initiation rite of their family. Emma’s mother didn’t want her anywhere near the family. Cosette’s father had warned her to stay clear. Even Marco seemed disturbed by Adelmar’s presence here. Alma was most definitely dangerous, but I certainly did love her. The thought of losing her, or even letting her move back to England, palpable pain through my chest. I needed to see this through. Since I couldn’t live without her, I needed to live with her.