I was glad when my parents had stayed the night and watched my company’s morning lessons, but I hadn’t expected them to show up daily to visit now. I was having trouble deciding if they were that nervous being home or that curious about magic. Maybe both? I could have asked them directly, but interrogating my parents seemed wrong to me. Unfortunately, they were there to witness another letter of challenge brought to me and remained throughout the day till the key bearer arrived.
Alma was appalled that they didn’t even wait a full week, but the challenger sparked her interest. Walis Shiqatafatu was known for being a prodigy among prodigies in magic. She felt I might be able to learn from him if I drew out the fight. My parents found the idea of fighting such a person distressing, but Alma reminded them of what they had seen me do in the manner of the fey. The complete lack of emotions that came through this time felt odd, given how the fey never hide their feelings. I missed the overlying feeling of her love for me in that recap.
My parents wanted to come along, which I protested. Alma, however, just had to inform us that family being present was customary. I did my best to dissuade them from their course, trying to convince them that the island hadn’t seemed safe. Honestly, I simply wanted to save them from meeting Adelmar, but I couldn’t say that in front of Alma.
A couple nights were filled with learning more languages from Taiwanese Hokkien to aboriginal languages, such as Thao, that are virtually extinct. When I questioned the need to learn the dying and extinct languages, Aaliyah told me that Walis Shiqatafu was descended from such a tribe and would understand Thao. She then talked to me about “understanding my enemies” as she put it. The tremendous depth to which she spoke of knowing people seemed to go far beyond the understanding I had of even my friends. Was knowing someone so completely without, in a way, loving them even possible? Was she actually wanting me to love my enemies?
I wondered on several of those nights of lessons if Carl had altered time around us, because the nights were filled far beyond what I felt should have been possible. I had so many questions, and Aaliyah always had answers. The most disturbing statement she made would probably be with me for a very long time.
Looking adorable and innocent as ever, she had said, “If you truly understand a thing, you know how it can be destroyed.”
After endless hours of explanation that made me think more of love than war, I couldn’t fathom how a person could be brought to destroy something they found beautiful. I had never met Walis Shiqatafu, but I felt I knew a great deal about him. I knew the names of his entire family as well as ancestors stretching back. I could speak of where his family took shelter and who had fought during wars. I knew about the teachings of his tribe, interactions with the others, and how magic became part of their cultures. Yet here I stood in a room, waiting to fight him.
When the chime rang and the doors opened, I recognized the man facing me. I hadn’t been told why he had challenged me, but I knew he was fighting for something in which he believed. He was a man of knowledge and passion with deep conviction to family honor. I couldn’t harm him.
The chime rang again, signaling us to fight, and I took a seat, unwilling to hurt the man in front of me despite my parents watching. Spells came at me from all directions. There were some I found familiar, but many were new to me. Even in the way this man attacked me, there was a great beauty. The patterns of his spells were quickly formed and constantly varying, but I was obviously far faster than my opponent. There was plenty of time for me to analyze everything he did.
When my clothes were becoming too damaged by the bombardment of fire, lightning, ice, wind, stone, and pure force, I created clothing of mist around myself from the moisture in the air, having seen Alma do it for the fey on countless occasions. Still, my opponent attacked, but he knew the futility. I could see the change in his eyes, the growing panic.
I stood and placed my hand on his shoulder, and I could see the shock and fear on his face. He was faster than a human, I could tell. Speaking in Thao, I said, “This is enough, my friend. You have fought, but you need to surrender. I would see no harm come to you.”
The spells he was preparing dispersed as his shoulders slumped, his head dropping. I felt a tautness in his shoulder for a moment, but it vanished again. The room was silent, waiting.
Adelmar stood, clapping three times as he said, “James Michael Somerset III is the victor. Congratulations.”
Polite clapping filled the room as I bowed and walked slowly to clothe myself again. I knew I wasn’t precisely naked, but wearing only a thick mist in a crowded room was more than a little discomforting for me, especially knowing my parents were there.
“Son, that was…” started father.
“Are you okay?” asked mother. “You seemed fine, but are you really?
“He is.” stated father, placing his arm around mother.
I nodded and said, “He couldn’t hurt me.”
“What did you say to him?” inquired mother.
“I told him to surrender, since I didn’t want to hurt him. He’s an amazing person from what I know of him.” I insisted.
Father smiled and said, “We’re proud of you, son. I… I do see how this would be a little difficult to explain though.”
I smiled wryly and replied “Indeed. Who would have thought?”
“I was told not to take pictures, but do you think I would get in trouble for basing a painting off this?” asked mother. “I’ve had so much inspiration lately that I scarcely put down my brush when I’m at home.”
“I’ve ordered takeout twice this week.” stated father. He smiled when mother rolled her eyes, looked at him, and shook her head.
“Ignore him, dear. He was more than happy to eat the leftovers Marco had sent home with us. I really must ask that man to share more of his recipes.” commented mother.
“Speaking of food, we’ll be expected to eat with Adelmar tonight. I hope you don’t mind. He can be… dramatic.” I informed them.
“Why would we mind, son? He’s Alma’s relative, right?” asked father.
“Yes, but…” I started saying, stopping myself with a sigh. “You’ll see.” I was looking forward to this even less than last time, but I was not giving up on Alma. Things could be worse.