Watching Jarod and Alma fight was incredible. Following their movements was quite easy, given that Jarod was human, but his skill was all the more obvious due to it. I wondered if Izumi was keeping up as well. Some of the counters Jarod performed were very subtle.
Alma, of course, was going to win. He couldn’t injure her, and she had ample time to plan graceful landings when he would have knocked her to the ground. They had been exchanging blows for at least five minutes, and Jarod was sweating profusely. On the other hand, I would have hated to see the mess Alma would be if she were human. Every hit against Jarod had a consequence that would leave most people with a broken bone or worse, and even Alma hadn’t found a real weakness in his defense.
I glanced toward the door when a rattling sound jarred me from my concentration. “Raine!? Are you alright?” I asked.
“J-James… i-is…- is s-she r-really… d-did she… c-come to t-take… the t-twins?” she asked.
Her eyes seemed narrower than normal, and there was an edge to her voice that worried me. She seemed tense. I glanced back at Izumi, surprised to see Ai and Mai standing in front of her. They were scared. Izumi seemed even more surprised.
“Ah. Raine. Thank you for delivering us our tea. Was Marco busy?” asked Alma as she walked over to us.
“W-we can’t… c-can’t let I-Izu-m-mi… A-Alma… t-the wedding…” complained Raine.
“Why don’t I take these for you?” stated Alma as she used a spell to set the tray Raine carried on the table. “Word does travel fast around here, doesn’t it. Lady Izumi, how do you feel about your daughters’ engagement?”
“To whom am I speaking?” she inquired.
“Oh. My apologies. Allow me to introduce Raine Vance, possibly the most timid werecat on the planet. Raine, this is the mother of Ai and Mai, Lady Izumi.” explained Alma.
“I think I better have a word with Raine in private. Please feel free to continue in my absence.” I stated, tentatively stepping toward Raine. I reached to place a hand on her shoulder, despite seeing residual energy pouring off her, but I might well have attempted to grab a shadow.
I looked around, trying to spot her. The smooth facade was gone from Alma’s face, replaced by wariness. Everyone looked concerned as they searched the room with their eyes as well.
I did a double take at the far corner. I didn’t really see Raine exactly, but there were glowing feline eyes in the shadows. Wait, there shouldn’t even be shadows there. The way the room seemed to be twisting around that area made me certain. I took a step toward her, saying, “Raine! Please, just calm down! I know you don’t want to hurt anyone. I promise you that things will work out.”
She was suddenly next to me, staring up at me. I hated to see her so distraught. Even covered in needle-like fur, I could tell she was scared.
“Y-you p-promise?” she asked, her voice sounding distorted.
I slowly reached out to her, saying, “I promise.” My hand touched a very human shoulder, and I relaxed.
There were tears in her eyes as she continued staring up at me for a moment. Then she looked to the floor and said, “I-I w-was… I-I’m sorry.”
I gave her a hug and told her “Don’t be sorry.” Then I tilted her chin up and told her “Just go find something to distract you for a bit. I seem to recall you being behind on your orders for the guild in Ancient Tribes of Earth.”
“I-I was w-working… l-last n-night. W-well, I-I f-felt… I… n-napped. S-sorry. I-I’ll get… f-finish t-them.” she muttered before running out of the room.
I turned to apologize again to Izumi, but was somewhat surprised to find her mouth silently working. She still looked scared.
“Sorry about the interruption, but Raine can be rather forceful in a way. “ I admitted.
“F-forceful? You’re harboring a d-demon.” she replied, speaking in Japanese now.
“She’s only half-demon. She really is half-werecat. Don’t worry. Adelmar keeps himself apprised of my staff.” I informed her in English.
“He is well aware that I am a vampire and still offered me France.” stated Cosette with a smile. “He can be quite generous, don’t you think?”
Izumi seemed to unconsciously step away from Cosette as she turned toward Alma and asked in English “Adelmar is aware of this?”
“Of course. Are you insinuating that I would keep things from my cousin?” asked Alma.
“N-no.” she blurted. Turning to me, she said, “You have interesting companions, Mr. Somerset.”
I nodded, but told her “Call me James, please. I still think of my father as ‘Mr. Somerset.’” Then I smiled and asked “What did you think of Jarod’s performance before the interruption?”
“He is a remarkable man, and I would be quite happy to accept him as the husband of one of my daughters.” she stated.
I sighed, not wanting to believe I just heard what I did.
“Okaasama, careful!” urged Ai.
“She’ll hear you.” warned Mai.
Alma used a spell to serve everyone tea as she said, “Your daughters are trying to keep you alive. I am quite certain that Raine has better hearing than James and me.”
The blood that had been returning to Izumi’s face seemed to depart again, and I refrained from informing her that Raine probably wouldn’t kill her over the matter, being a gentle person at heart.
“Even knowing your daughters as you do, how can you insist on marrying separate people?” I asked.
“They are two people, and polygamy is illegal.” she replied.
Alma sighed dramatically and then said, “Adelmar has just granted James permission to challenge you over the matter with me presiding over the challenge. James, please leave some life in her. A light flick will probably be enough.”
“But… James isn’t one of us, not yet.” she muttered before closing her eyes. She quite visibly winced.
“My cousin is having a little talk with Izumi. Her stubbornness failed to amuse him in this matter.” explained Alma with a wry smile.
Quickly handing her tea to Mai, Izumi dropped to her knees, placing her palms and head on the floor in dogeza style as she said, “I concede and ask your forgiveness.”
“Please rise. I’m happy that we could reach peaceful settlement on the matter.” I told her.
Izumi rose and nodded, but she seemed fatigued now, as if all her energy were spent.
“If you’ll excuse me, I want to check on Raine. Mila will inform you when dinner is ready if you’ll dine with us.” I stated before walking toward the door. I had enough with Slayer business for today, though I was relieved that I didn’t have to press the issue further.
Raine was curled up in her chair, looking almost as if she were napping with the game running, but one of her hands deftly moved around the keyboard. Her character was hammering away at a sword, each stroke under her command. She apparently had crafted enough to memorize every position on the screen. If she peeked to find the bucket when she doused the blade, I didn’t notice.
I told her “Izumi has conceded on the matter of her daughters’ engagement. Hopefully, there won’t be any other opposing parties.”
Without looking up or even opening her eyes, she said, “T-thank you. I-I’m s-sorry… about…”
“Don’t worry about anything, Raine. Just talk with me if you have a problem. We’re friends, right?” I insisted.
She smiled as she looked at me, and I found myself hoping that I really would be able to help her.
“Everything will be fine.” I assured us both.