“Raine!? What’s wrong?” I asked, having noticed her partially under a table, but not asleep as normal.
She cringed at my voice, sinking farther under the table, so I knelt down next to her and tentatively placed my hand on her shoulder.
Realizing she was covering her ears, I took a guess and said, “The screams… you can hear them, can’t you.”
She looked at me, tears streaking down your face. “Y-you c-can… c-can hear them?” she asked.
I nodded and told her “Mai’s in great pain right now, but we’re trying to find a way to help her.”
“T-the voice… is real?” she asked, looking scared as well as surprise.
I stopped myself from asking why would the voice not be real. Raine had her own demons in her past, at least one literally. What mattered now was helping her, since I couldn’t be of help to Ai.
“Come with me. I have something that might help you.” I told her, offering her a hand.
Raine reached out, withdrew her hand, and then forced herself to take mine. I was somewhat shocked at the strength in her grip. If she squeezed any harder, my hand might break.
“Can you manage to be a little more gentle?” I asked.
She instantly let go and withdrew, looking horrified.
I showed her my hand and wiggled my fingers as I said, “Look. No injuries. I don’t break very easily these days.
More tears ran down her face as she said, “S-sorry. I-I… I-I… EEE!”
The last, high-pitched noise was rather adorable, brought on by me lifting her out from under the table. I ran to the third floor with her, so no one would see us like this. I frowned, thinking Alma might notice, but I would explain the situation later.
I used a spell to open my office door and set Raine in my chair while saying, “Office, noise cancellation on. Environmental setting: random alien beach.” The interface felt clunky without Mila.
The room became slightly darker, lit by three moons in a night sky. Raine’s look of wonder was very cute.
Smiling, I asked “Better?”
“Why don’t you stay here a while and go over some of the company’s training courses?” I asked.
“O-okay. Umm… h-how?” she asked.
“Oh, yes.” I replied, realizing one might assume my office’s interface was different than the rest of the house. “Just state the commands as you do in any other room, and the desk’s monitor will illuminate for you.
She tried, and I was surprised despite myself. In her short time here thus far, I mainly found Raine sleeping when I came across her, yet she was already quite far along in the company’s primary coursework.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it then.” I told her, but she already seemed immersed. Given how quickly the text was flowing on the screen, I felt she could easily get through tremendous amounts if she stayed awake.
As I opened the door, Raine said, “J-James?”
“Yes, Raine?” I asked.
“T-thank you.” she replied.
I smiled and nodded.
But again she said, “J-James?”
“W-why did you… d-did you s-say… Aaliyah?” she asked, a degree of reverence coming through with how she said the name.
“Huh? When?” I asked.
“W-when I… w-when I w-went sc-scary.” she informed me.
“Oh. Sadly, I rely on Aaliyah whenever I have a problem. I was wishing she was there, because I was certain she’d be able to come up with a way to calm you down. Lucky for us, she was there already.” I told her, doing my best not to lie.
Raine nodded, and I waved and slipped out. Aaliyah had warned me that Raine would want to know. Did she sense something in Aaliyah? I had virtually no idea what Raine’s limits might be. What was being half-demon even like? Of course, many here were far more than they appeared.
Realizing I needed to tell the others at least something, I decided to first see Alma. Given that this was seen as “Slayer business”, I didn’t want to accidentally disclose something I shouldn’t.
“No, I don’t have any news yet.” stated Alma as I approached her.
“I see. I actually wanted to find out if there was anything in particular I shouldn’t disclose to the others.” I explained.
“Ah. Why must you tell them anything yet?” she asked. Each of her screens had multiple conversations going with text simultaneously being inputted on several at a time.
“I found Raine covering her ears under a table. She could hear the screams, so I’m letting her use my office to avoid them. I don’t know if any of the others can, but even Portentia will notice the absence of Ai, Mai, and Jarod.” I told her.
“Aren’t frequent absences rather common around here?” she inquired.
Nodding, I said, “Well, yes, but not for extended periods. We might not be able to recover Ai soon, so I…”
Interrupting me, Alma insisted “I will find her, James. I must.”
The stress in her voice was obvious. I hugged her.
“James, I’m…” she started, but then she took a deep breath and sighed. “Please feel free to explain the absence however you wish, but do not mention the connection between Ai and Mai. That’s their secret.”
“Thank you. Please tell me if there’s anything I can do.” I told her.
“Hire the assassin.” she stated flatly.
“What?” I asked.
“If I hire her, things would get complicated quickly. You, however, are not part of the family. There’s nothing against you hiring her.” she informed me.
“Hire her to do what exactly?” I asked.
“To kill Ai’s captors, obviously. I would wager my family’s estates that she knows precisely where Ai is.” claimed Alma.
After taking a moment to find the words, I said, “Alma, I am well aware of what Aaliyah’s other profession is, but I can’t condone…”
“You can’t condone killing? They’re torturing Ai and Mai, James. Are those two not your friends? She could end this with ease, and I am quite certain she would do this for you.” she told me.
I didn’t doubt the truth of what Alma said, but Aaliyah was far more than a killer, more than a tool. If she really wanted to intervene, she would have already. Ai and Mai were my friends, but I couldn’t force Aaliyah to save them. There was always more to what Aaliyah did than I knew.
“When I called for Aaliyah before, she apologized to me. She doesn’t want involved, and I am not going to try forcing her. You know quite well how trying to force her turns out. Tell me if there’s anything else I can do.” I stated before walking toward the door.
After leaving her wing, I did something rare for me, though I could never admit as much to father. I walked to the nearest mirror and opened the administrative option to browse everyone’s schedules. I wanted to tell everyone at once what was happening, so I wouldn’t have to repeat the words. Nothing in my life had prepared me for a friend being kidnapped and tortured. I wasn’t even sure how I’d tell the others what was happening, especially without mentioning the link between them. I needed to check on Jarod again as well. Being in the room with Mai pained me. Seeing Jarod hurt pained me. Still, attempting to use Aaliyah as a tool for slaughter was out of the question. She had her reasons not to be involved. She always had her reasons.