My parents visited again each of the days following the latest challenge, each time bringing more questions about Adelmar Slayer. They seemed equally worried about me being connected with such an individual and me severing connections at this point. Alma seemed to find their worries amusing, but I was growing exasperated.
“James..?” asked Alma.
I looked up to find her impassively watching me from the doorway of my office.
“Sorry to disturb your thoughts, but we’re going to have a visitor today.” she told me.
“Whom should I be expecting?” I asked, wishing I could read her better.
“Izumi Drache, mother of Ai and Mai.” she told me.
“Wouldn’t she be Ai and Mai’s visitor?” I inquired.
“I’m not entirely certain we’ll be able to convince her to speak with them. She happens to be quite opposed to their marriage.” replied Alma.
I stared at Alma’s face for a moment, trying to discern what my involvement here was, but those violet eyes still distracted me as much as ever. Giving up, I said, “She can’t possibly be in the dark about Ai and Mai’s connection, so on what grounds would she oppose?”
Nodding, Alma informed me “Oh, she is quite aware that Ai and Mai might as well be a single person, but she insists that they should endure separation for the sake of their family. She also doesn’t seem to realize how valuable Jarod is.”
“Valuable?” I stated, sighing afterward. “You know I find treating people as commodities depressing at best, so I hope you’re not thinking of my best friend as one.”
“Of course not, but people are not equal, no matter how idealistic you wish to be. Jarod has extraordinary abilities and training far beyond his years. I simply wish for you not to argue as I help Izumi see this.” she explained.
“What are you planning?” I asked, feeling more anxious now.
“I’m going to fight him.” she stated. “Oh, don’t look at me in such a manner. I would never hurt Jarod. I merely want to help demonstrate his skills. I know Izumi. She’ll challenge the marriage personally if I don’t do something, and Jarod would injure her severely, being forced to accept. Ai and Mai are in my family and would obey our laws. If we settle this neatly, no one will be hurt.”
I sighed again. Slayer politics were intolerable, but I needed to tolerate them to some extent. Izumi would probably forgo using magic in a fight against Jarod just as Duncan had. Wait. Alma was after something else… This was too straightforward for her.
“Yes?” she asked me, her expression barely changing enough to warrant a question.
I stood and walked over to her before asking “What else are you planning?”
“I plan on Ai, Mai, and Jarod getting married, so they don’t end up miserable.” she insisted, turning her head as if to look at something.
I gently brushed the hair away from her face. “Alma, I know you’re planning something more.” I admitted.
“Oh! Looks like she’s here. We should go meet her.” she told me with a smile.
I grabbed her hand as she moved to pass me, pulling her over to me and kissing her.
“Master, there is a limo pulling up the drive. I can confirm Izumi is inside.” stated Mila.
“Aren’t you supposed to me on my side?” I asked.
“Always, master.” replied Mila. “I’m at the door to greet Izumi if you two find yourselves too busy to meet her immediately. Also, I am always available if you wish to practice your kissing techniques with me instead while Lady Pendreigh greets our guest.”
“Mila! That is quite enough of those offers!” exclaimed Alma, looking shocked. “James, you don’t really…”
I quickly kissed her again before saying, “Again, no.”
“If I fail to remind the master that the offer’s open, he might forget.” insisted Mila, her avatar was smiling sweetly at us from the wall.
I could feel Alma’s power burning within her, though no heat could be felt. This level of annoyance was too common for me to worry. “Shall we go?” I suggested.
Alma’s face became impassive again as she took my hand, following at my side as I dashed through the halls and stairwell.
I was surprised when we entered the entrance hall and found everyone who should be home present. What was I in the dark about this time?
When the four doors opened, Izumi seemed taken aback for a moment. Perhaps she thought Alma was the one wearing a maid outfit and curtsying? The surprise disappeared in an instant as she stepped into my home, wearing a kimono.
I hadn’t expected her to look quite so young. She could pass for Ai and Mai’s older sister with ease. I had seen her somewhere before. Oh. She attended my fight against Walis Shiqatafatu. Bowing slightly, I said, “Welcome to my home. I am James Michael Somerset III.”
I hoped that was acceptable enough. Alma hadn’t frowned at least. Izumi seemed to be considerably lower ranked among the Slayers than Alma, so I wasn’t supposed to be too deferential to her.
Bowing back, Izumi said, “I am honored to make your acquaintance.”
Like Duncan, her English was good but not passable as a native speaker as the twins were.
“Okaasama.” stated the twins in unison after they bowed to her.
I couldn’t follow the conversation, as they were speaking in Japanese. Aaliyah, I really needed to study more languages.
“You do, boss-man, sir. You really do. I told daddy that you were brilliant at Chinese! He was sooo impressed!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she hugged my leg.
The world was frozen again.
“Here to teach me Japanese?” I asked.
“You could have just asked me, master. There was no need to bother mother.” stated Mila as she walked over to us.
Given her stillness, I had thought she was as frozen as the rest of them. “Sorry, but I didn’t know that I would be needing to learn it until just now.” I admitted.
“But master… Ai and Mai have lived here for months already. Surely you considered it.” she insisted.
“Well, yes, the thought did cross my mind when Duncan had visited, but like learning sign language for Portentia, learning Japanese never made it to my schedule. Oh, would you mind scheduling for me to learn sign language?” I asked.
Mila rolled her eyes and Aaliyah grinned.
“Yay! We get more time with James!” exclaimed Aaliyah.
“Mother, you know you’ll just be teaching him both during this break.” claimed Mila.
“You mean you’re not helping?” asked Aaliyah.
“Oh mother…” replied Mila. “You already know that I’ll insist on helping. Shall we get started?”
Grinning, Aaliyah nodded enthusiastically.
Learning like this still seemed to be cheating, in a way, but who wouldn’t accept such an offer? I couldn’t even guess how much time had passed by the time I finished my lessons in Japanese as well as five types of sign language. Apparently, there were a great many types of sign language to learn, but Aaliyah felt I only needed to learn those five for now. I would be happy as long as I could understand those I met. Communication was important.