The courier delivering the key to the challenge arrived two days after the letter of challenge itself. The spell Alma created based off the key seemed insanely complicated simply to open a letter, but I could see how guessing such a procedure would be nigh impossible. Alma had to read the letter to me, since I couldn’t read Chinese. She didn’t even know who this Xiu Enlai was, which surprised me, though Alma insisted that this was proof of someone else pulling the strings. I couldn’t argue. If the man wasn’t even on her radar, he probably wasn’t very prominent in the Slayer family. Alma confirmed my suspicion when she did a little inquiring about him over the next couple of days.
She called Xiu Enlai a “trumped up farmer” and spent more time musing over what he could have been offered than speaking of him. A far more considerable allotment of my time was spent reviewing etiquette for the fight, not that I had forgotten anything. I was thankful that the duel was not to involve weapons, but I wondered if my opponent had any clue what I was like. Would Adelmar have told anyone what he knew? I considered asking Alma, but she was touchy where her cousin was concerned. If the man had warning, he likely had something he thought could kill me. If not, he was in for a surprise.
“James, make sure to remain alert.” insisted Alma in a whisper as her and Adelmar passed me in the hall.
We were on Poenari Island, having arrived last night. I had stayed in a hotel while Alma had spent the night in Adelmar’s home. He had offered to “bend the rules” and allow me to stay with “my prize”, but I declined, not really wanting to spend anymore time with that man than necessary. Alma and I weren’t technically supposed to be speaking from the time our plane landed till the challenge had been met, but she told me that rule had never really been enforced. Discretion was proper in her mind but not entirely necessary.
I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling her last words at the airport incited. She had told me that if I felt killing my opponent was necessary to do it in a manner that would give all who witnessed nightmares, so no one would be willing to face me again. Despite her words, I felt she knew I wasn’t going to kill him. Jarod had warned me against being gentle, but that was precisely what I planned on being unless my opponent proved far more difficult than I expected.
I heard a chime, the sound resonating in the air for quite some time. I quickly finished changing out of my tuxedo and into the silk garment prepared for me, a traditional uniform made for these events. The door would be opening soon. I took my position the moment I finished donning the uniform. I felt anxious. Wasn’t the door supposed to be open by now? I turned, ready to attack when I felt something tug on my clothing.
“Boss-man, sir, have you seen my secretary glasses?” asked Aaliyah, standing behind me.
“Huh?” I dumbly asked.
“Well, I was wearing them earlier, and then I put them down when I decided to take a break for cake. I really wasn’t slacking, by the way. You know I’m only allowed to work so many hours in row due to my age, and the cake was calling to me. Carl brought it specifically for that break. He also gave me a pre-fight cake for you, but I ate it…”
She was lying about the glasses and eating all the cake, but that wasn’t unusual for her. I took the glasses off her head and put them on her nose. “Did he stop time? I swear the door should have opened a while ago.” I told her.
“You found them! Thank you, boss-man, sir!” she exclaimed. “Now boss-man, sir, you would know the answer to that if you were just paying attention. Didn’t Alpy tell you to remain alert?”
Fine. The dust did look frozen in the air, but there could be some other spell at work here. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I brought you cake! You didn’t really think I ate all of it, did you!?” she asked, lifting a plate off the stone bench by us.
“Well, you do love cake…” I claimed. “Wait, someone’s not going to die, are they?”
“There’s always someone dying, boss-man, sir, but no one in this building will die today.” she assured me.
“That’s a relief.” I told her, feeling as if a weight had been taken off my shoulders. I gladly took the plate from her. “If I didn’t know better, I’d worry that you were trying to fatten me up. I’ve had more cake this year than the last few combined.”
Rolling her eyes, Aaliyah said, “You don’t even weigh yourself, so how would you know if you gained a pound or ten?”
“Umm… Mila would start making jokes at my expense?” I teased.
“Master! I would never!” exclaimed Mila from the phone in my tuxedo. “Besides, I am quite certain that you are incapable of gaining weight.”
“She’s not happy that you left her behind, you know.” stated Aaliyah.
“Neither was my little fairy friend, but Alma keeps insisting that appearances are important here. Mila would too easily be mistaken for Alma if she were present.” I insisted.
“Are there rules against them making mistakes?” asked Aaliyah with wide-eyed curiosity.
“Well, no, but Alma surely wouldn’t be pleased if someone mistook Mila for her here.” I suggested.
Giggling, Aaliyah said, “Can you imagine Adelmar’s expression if someone insinuated that his cousin was out and about in complete disregard to the rules?”
“Well, he knows about Mila, so I’m sure he could explain the situation.” I told her.
“Oh, yes. He’s so good at sharing information and simply loves explaining things!” claimed Aaliyah with complete sarcasm.
“Fine, he’d probably be angry and punish someone over a misunderstanding, but that’s why Mila can’t be here. Wait. How does this time distortion work with electronics?” I asked.
Grinning, Aaliyah said, “Excellent question, boss-man, sir! You see…”
I quickly interrupted her, saying, “Nevermind. I suddenly feel that I’d be an old man by the time I started grasping relativistic physics at that level.”
“You underestimate yourself, boss-man, sir. Jarod already has a much better understanding than you’d guess, and he’s still human.” she told me.
“What do you think? Was Jarod right about me holding back too much and getting in trouble?” I asked.
“Absolutely, if things were fair. They won’t be.” she informed me.
“What!? How so?” I asked.
Pulling her glasses down to look over the rims at me, she said, “Anyone that wants you dead has to argue with me, boss-man, sir, and I can be very persuasive.”
I shuddered involuntarily. She didn’t mean arguing with my secretary precisely.
“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. People run if I simply tell them ‘boo’. You know how seeing me made you feel.” she told me.
Nodding, I said, “I can’t wish that on anyone, Aaliyah.”
“I know, but you’re going to have to accept that it will happen.” she replied, patting my leg.
I’d never cease being amazed by someone as tiny as her being feared throughout the universe. No, her size wasn’t the strangest part. Aaliyah was compassionate and thoughtful. I saw so much of her good side that I often dissociated the rest of her as if it were something else.
“You’ll learn, boss-man, sir.” she assured me.
Giving her a smile, I said, “I’m not really sure I want to.”
She grinned, and then insisted that I finish my cake, having hardly had a bite yet.
When I handed her my empty plate, she said, “Boss-man, sir, you’ll be fine as long as you’re true to yourself. You can’t let these sillies change you, even if you play their games. Now, boss-man, sir, we need to work on your Chinese.”
“Pardon?” I asked.
“You don’t speak Chinese, and you’re not allowed a translator. How will you know if he submits?” she asked with a smile.
“I.. what? Why didn’t Alma warn me!?” I asked.
“She underestimated you too, not believing you’d know enough to matter in the short time you had. Of course, Alpy doesn’t realize that we have all the time we want. Now you could go out there and pin the man till Adelmar declares the fight over out of boredom, but you’ll leave a better impression on everyone my way. Trust me, boss-man, sir, you’ll be fluent in no time.” she assured me.
The Chinese language seemed baffling at first, but Aaliyah had a way of helping me to understand. Mila threw in her own insights as well. I protested when Aaliyah started instructing me on the written part, but there was no real arguing with her. I had no idea I how I was going to explain this to Alma.
The door opened behind me, so I quickly turned around. The room in front of me reminded me of the Colosseum, a great oval of seating raised over a pit meant for battle. My opponent here challenged me to this fight, but he might have been coerced. I needed to be as gentle as I could be in forcing him to submit.
After the ceremonial words were said, we both bowed to Adelmar, the effective emperor of this arena. Then we faced each other, waiting for the chime to sound. I was calm now, no longer worried as I was before. No one would die. Death herself promised.
The moment the chime rang, my opponent started preparing three spells. I recognized enough parts of them to know he intended to burn me, shove me backward with air, and trip me with a telekinetic force. I changed his fire spell to one that would create a small flash of light, made the air spell into a light breeze that would still hit me, and turned the telekinetic spell at his feet.
He called out with shock evident on his face. He seemed dazzled from the light, so I calmly walked over to him. He attempted to kick me from the ground, so I caught his foot, spun him over, and pushed him against the ground. He struggled briefly, but everyone knew this was over.
In Chinese, I told him to submit. As Aaliyah had instructed, I declared his unwillingness to admit defeat disgraceful, since he couldn’t do real battle with me. Then I said that he was unworthy of Death’s attention this day. The man submitted, and Adelmar declared the duel to be over. I had won without even inflicting a lasting injury.