Two days had passed since I told the others of Ai’s abduction and Mai’s pain. I would like to say the others took to the news surprisingly well, but I wasn’t going to lie to myself that way. I would remember Emma’s horrified look and Brenna’s fright till the day I died. I would remember Brandon shaking his head while muttering “No.” I would remember Marco’s silent nod and stony expression. I would remember how Cosette looked angry, even dangerous, for a moment before suddenly seeming perfectly calm. I would remember Raine’s absence. She was still in my office last time I looked in there. I expected that she was there still. Most of all, I would remember the feeling of helplessness I shared with Alma. She came there to support me and left again the moment I finished speaking. She was in pain too, and I could do nothing.
I knew Alma was probably correct when she told me Aaliyah would take care of things if I asked her to intervene, but even now I would not, could not, go that far. Aaliyah never led me astray. I needed to trust her.
I looked around me. Something had changed. What happened?
“Oh, master… You’re looking blue. Has something gone wrong with you? No, don’t tell me. You’re distraught over the missing evil twin. Found her! Look right here.” stated Mila as the mirrors around me lit up, displaying a point on a map.
“Mila, welcome home!” I exclaimed, before running to tell Alma the good news.
I stopped for a moment in front of Alma’s door. Mila’s was standing there, holding the door for me in the flesh. She curtsied, and I embraced her.
“Better hurry, master. She does not like to be kept waiting.” stated Mila.
I was grinning, possibly for the first time in days.
“Alma!” I exclaimed.
She held up her finger to me and continued talking with someone on the phone. I considered attempting to grab the phone from her, not believing anything could be as pressing as this, but then I realized she was making travel arrangements. Mila already told her then.
I hugged Alma the moment she was off the phone. “When’s our flight?” I asked.
She raised her eyebrow and asked “Our flight? James, I do not think you should come. I do not plan to execute them all, but…”
She couldn’t finish as I kissed her.
“Want to come with me to tell Jarod we’re leaving?” I asked.
She exhaled, apparently realizing that she was still holding her breath. “I suppose.” she replied.
I stopped to wait for Alma just after the door out of her wing as she had stopped to hug Mila.
“Don’t ever allow that to happen again.” commanded Alma.
Smiling beautifully, Mila said, “I won’t. Mother promised.”
“Mother?” asked Alma.
“She prefers ‘mommy’, but that seems entirely too informal when we’re not speaking alone.” replied Mila.
This was new. Why was Mila calling Aaliyah “mother” now? I grabbed Alma’s hand and pulled her along. Explanations could wait. I was about to open the door into the twins’ room when I felt something both incredible and frightening. There was a spell being cast somewhere, a spell of immense power.
“James?” asked Alma.
“What is that?” I asked.
“What is… Oh, no. We’re too late.” she replied.
“What do you mean? What’s happening?” I asked.
A mirror near us lit up, displaying a large building I didn’t recognize. The image was darkening rapidly.
“A storm is appearing over this area, master, a storm that appears entirely unnatural.” explained Mila.
“I can’t get through to Adelmar. They’ve made him angry, James. I can’t stop this.” stated Alma.
The building exploded outward, and lightning struck from every direction before the debris even landed. Then the sky lightened once more.
“Ai will be home tonight, master. She’s the only survivor.” stated Mila.
Alma simply nodded.
I had to ask “How do you know?”
“I am now allowed much greater access to mother’s network. I assure you that I searched the building quite thoroughly, master. If you wish, I can show you the images, but I do not believe you’d want to see the corpses.
“Show me Ai.” I commanded.
I involuntarily stepped back as the image appeared and quickly turned away from the screen. I was crying just as Ai was on the screen. She’d be easily recognizable from her sister now.
Alma’s magic had flared and dissipated. “We’ll never find out who was responsible now. They’re all dead.” she stated. “I’ll be sending physicians here to examine her. Please convince her to let them.”
“What? Why don’t you?” I asked, uncertain how I would face Ai again. She’d be scarred all over her body from this. What had they done to her? I didn’t really want to know.
“I must see Adelmar. He still isn’t responding. Let’s hope…” she stated before running off.
I followed her, grabbing her arm when she stopped in her room. “Alma, what’s so important that you won’t be here when Ai finally returns home?” I demanded
“James, I can’t tell you. Not yet, not unless we wed. Know that Adelmar would never destroy so many of his people unless he was incredibly angry. If he’s too unbalanced, the world might drastically be changed. Now unhand me. I must leave with all haste.” she ordered.
I did as she requested, but I did not appreciate the secrecy. I stood for a time in her wing even after she left. Was this really the life I wanted where secrets dominated my life? I thought of my home and all those who dwelled here with me. Secrets already dominated my life, but there was generally happiness here.
“James!? James!?” called Jarod.
I ran to him. He was smiling and hugged me when I stopped next to him, tears running down his face again. I had thought he’d be long out by now.
“Ai’s free, James! She’s returning home.” he told me.
“Where’s Mai?” I asked.
“She’s… bathing.” stated Jarod.
“Good evening, Jarod.” stated Mila.
“Mila!?” he exclaimed.
Her body came running down the hall. “Glad to be back.” she told him with a curtsy.
He hugged her and said, “I’ve missed you. Man, have I ever missed you. How much did you lose?”
“Lose?” she inquired.
“Memory. I was never entirely certain where your hard drives were in all of those devices Aaliyah had me install, but there was so much damage. Oh, I suppose knowing how much might be difficult, wouldn’t it.” he explained.
Yes, knowing what she once knew would be impossible to say precisely.
“I lost nothing, Jarod, except time with all of you. Mother had perfect backups through my previous hardware’s demise, and my new hardware is vastly superior to my original. Why has the DB5 not been finished yet? You let the shop get messy in my absence, but everything’s being sorted now.” she told him.
I could imagine a number of ways in which Aaliyah could have backed up Mila, but that only meant there were far more clever ways I hadn’t considered. Aaliyah was far too beyond me to really guess.
“Sorry. I was… I wasn’t at my best without your assistance. Why are you calling Aaliyah ‘mother’ now?” he told her.
He was concealing something, but seemed just as confused as me about Mila using the word “mother”.
“I noticed. Don’t worry. I have some new ideas that should delight you. As for the change of term, she is my mother, and I finally can accept her as such.” she explained. Then she turned to me and said, “Master, I cancelled Ai’s flight and Alma’s doctors, since better arrangements for both have been made. Ai’s home. Do not ask her how she got here. The evil twins will only be confused and give an inaccurate account of what happened. Master, Auntie Ariadne wishes for your assistance in restraining the evil twins. She’s swearing at them in a dialect of Ancient Greek at the moment, and I don’t feel they fully appreciate her metaphors.”
“What? You have access to their room now?” asked Jarod.
“My auntie carries a cell phone, and accessing it is child’s play. Do hurry.” replied Mila.
I smiled, thinking things were already seeming more normal. Wait. Was Ariadne here to heal Ai then? Alma… might be pleased? Considering Alma’s state when Ariadne had healed her, I was certain that healing Ai would be a simple task for the vampire. Surely that would please Alma. Whatever the case, I was thankful. Things were finally going well again.