When I finished changing back into my normal attire, I hurried to catch Alma, so we could leave. To my surprise, the large room was filling rather than emptying. Adelmar beckoned me toward him. Great. What now?
Adelmar took my hand and Alma’s, placing them together as he said, “And here is our champion. As I can sense no further rivals willing to face James in honorable combat, let me officially declare the engagement of James Michael Somerset III to Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V. May your coming year…”
Engagement? Adelmar continued droning on with pleasantries, but I was stuck on that one word. I knew he had said that we would be required to marry, but I had imagined us dating for a while before being engaged. I also had certain thoughts concerning a ring and a proposal. I was not prepared for this. Alma was smiling beautifully, so I did my best to appear pleased as well.
Embarrassing Alma in front of her family would anger her greatly, and I didn’t want any of them to think me unwilling. I was in love with her… I just didn’t really know if I was ready to be married. I’d have to talk with her about how soon we’d be expected to marry. I would certainly need to inform my parents. Please, let my wedding not be here and today. I needed to attend Jarod’s still, assuming I could arrive before the wedding was completely over.
I felt a wave of relief when Adelmar finished speaking, since there was not one word about a wedding today in his lengthy speech. I was even more surprise when, after guiding Alma and me out, Adelmar apologized for keeping us.
Then he went on to say, “I do know of your friend marrying into the family today, and I do not wish you to miss it entirely. Please excuse me. I need to have a chat with Hyun-woo about his recent behavior.”
Alma surprised me, jumping up to kiss me. The moment was all too brief. She pulled back and stared into my eyes as I held her.
“James, we must be off… the wedding.” she stated.
I sighed and set her down. Then I took her hand, and we ran from the Slayer estate. Just after passing the gate, we both came to a stop, shocked by our surroundings. Where were we?
“My home? How?” asked Alma.
“As the future Mrs. Somerset, you will be granted certain privileges, such as better traveling arrangements. You will, of course, need to sign this confidentiality agreement.” explained Aaliyah as she held up an electronic tablet. She looked like her typical self again, no longer appearing as Death.
Alma stared at her for several seconds before even touching the tablet. Then she took time reading through it. I was more preoccupied by my surroundings. The hallway looked very well kept but still seemed very old due to the style. The floors were stone and had elaborate, red carpet runners stretching across them. Paintings decorated many areas similar to my own home, but there were large tapestries here as well.
Dishes dropped nearby after a maid rounded the corner.
“I beg your pardon, my lady. I wasn’t aware you returned.” she stammered.
Alma smiled and looked up, saying, “Good evening, Poppy. Don’t worry about making any arrangements. I won’t be here for long.”
Poppy curtsied and then started cleaning up the mess. I used a couple spells to give her a hand. Cleaning up liquids from carpet could be tricky without magic. She smiled and curtsied again after everything settled on her platter. Then she hurried around the corner.
“Sebastian, James and I are going to visit my father.” stated Alma as a man rounded the same corner as the maid earlier.
“Very well, my lady. Might I have a word with you in private after you are finished.” he replied.
“No. My fiancée and I must attend Ai and Mai’s wedding, so we’re more than slightly pressed for time.” she informed him.
Fiancée… I felt I grew accustomed to the idea of Jarod being wed more quickly than I was acclimating to my new position.
Nodding, he said, “Very well, my lady.” Then he stood there, waiting expectantly.
Alma sighed and signed Aaliyah’s contract. Aaliyah had wandered over to Sebastian and seemed to be inspecting him.
“I’m terribly sorry, miss Aaliyah, but I do not have any sweets on me today.” he informed her.
She pouted adorably.
“Come along, James. We’re here so that you may meet my father, given our engagement.” explained Alma as I followed her through the halls at a very human pace.
“Eventually, I would like a tour of your home. This place seems magnificent.” I told her.
“I’ll arrange a tour on our next visit.” she assured me.
After passing through several halls and greeting a large number of staff, we came to a stop in a very large library. Sebastian locked the door after we entered. Alma walked over to a worn copy of Inferno by Dante and pulled it off the shelf while casting a number of spells.
“Traps?” I asked.
She smiled and winked. Then placed the book on a pedestal near the far wall. Part of the wall dropped into the ground, revealing a passage.
“Your home isn’t the only one with secret passageways guarded by spells.” she informed me.
“The only spells I recall are on the vault.” I replied.
“There are others. You probably just set them off without a care, don’t you.” she claimed with a frown.
I couldn’t deny the possibility, although there was also a chance that Alma had actually done more exploring than me.
Sebastiaan stood by the passage as if he meant to guard it.
“I’m going to stay here with Sebastian. I smell chocolate.” stated Aaliyah as I followed Alma into the passage.
Just past the first turn, the passage ended in a hole descending into the earth. There was a surprising amount of heat coming up from it. I could feel the spells in the area which cooled and purified the air.
“Your father’s in a hole?” I asked.
“My father spends all of his time guarding what we believe to be a magical focal point, or node. I’ll protect you from the heat, so don’t worry. Please try not to absorb too much energy. My father’s staff wouldn’t be able to get anything done for half a day.” she explained. “Just follow my example and descend carefully, since my spells won’t affect you.”
I nodded and created the spells as she did, following her down into the earth. I wasn’t sure how far we went, but I felt a great amount of surprise when a familiar pressure came to mind. There was a fey here? Alma hadn’t seen one before coming to my home though. I opened my mind to it.
Fire… fire everywhere! I saw a man dancing through it with tremendous joy emanating from him. He hugged me and wanted to dance. The image suddenly changed, showing me years of isolation… pain. His mouth moved when he saw Alma, but he couldn’t remember the words he wanted to speak. There was a wildness to his mind beyond that of most fey i encountered. The image changed again. The man was crying. I felt his pain, his loss. Someone had died. Left? Something was missing from him. Alma was there, but she left immediately. Over and over. There was little sense of time.
“Your father… The Duke… is a fey?” I asked, surprised by the notion.
“What?” she demanded. “He’s…” Then her face went slack… Numerous protective spells left her. Tears started flowing down her cheek.
“I am so, so sorry…” she muttered. “Tad… Yr wyf yn dod.”
I knew she wasn’t talking to me. She was telling her father that she was coming. She hadn’t known. Her father had been trying to speak with her for a while, and she never knew, always sealed away behind her spells. Alma sprinted through the inferno ahead of us the moment we landed, and I followed. The man we encountered was naked, save for the soot covering his skin. Alma quickly covered him in smoke.
No more words were spoken, but I knew everything being exchanged between them. Years of silence were finally broken. Images and feelings were flickering between their minds. I felt for them both. I didn’t know how much time passed as the two caught up with one another. The fires raging around me had no need for time.
Eventually, images of me fighting my challengers appeared. Then Adelmar’s speech was shown, seeming even longer the second time. Alma thought of herself in a wedding gown, and I wondered if that was the type of gown she’d really be choosing.
I wasn’t entirely certain the concept of a wedding got through to the Duke. He seemed so confused in his thoughts, but he was happy. When we did leave, his sadness at our departure was quite evident. Alma had tried telling him that we would return, but I wasn’t certain he understood. I wiped another tear from her cheek as we ascended back up the tunnel.
Alma stared up into my eyes and said, “I might have been able to help him, to save his mind…”
“Don’t blame yourself. You couldn’t have known.” I told her.
“Adelmar had tried communicating with him several times for me, but he said it was hopeless.” she explained. “He never got a response and said he couldn’t pull anything intelligible from my father’s mind.”
“Be thankful. You can be there for him now.” I assured her.
“Unless you want to move to England, I can’t be here often, James.” she argued.
“Why not? You just signed a confidentiality agreement that allows for swift passage anywhere. I’m rather certain that Aaliyah will take you here daily if you wish.” I insisted.
She shook her head and said, “No, you still don’t understand her.”
“I understand her far better than you do. I’ve become more and more certain of it.” I admitted. “If I’m understanding her intentions with that last agreement, we might soon be able to speak of things I haven’t revealed to you. There are reasons I put so much trust in Aaliyah. You’ll see.”
“She will! It’ll be exciting and new! Fun for everyone!” exclaimed Aaliyah, suddenly floating beside us.
Alma looked disturbed.
“Aww… come on, Alpy. You always believed I could fly.” claimed the tiny girl.
“I suspected, but I didn’t expect proof.” replied Alma.
“Stop right there. No reporting. You agreed.” stated Aaliyah.
“You can read my mind.” commented Alma in a whisper.
Aaliyah rolled her eyes and said, “Duuuh. How am I supposed to fulfill my duties as Death if I don’t know everything? I can’t misjudge folk. It’d be improper, and I know you wouldn’t want me to be improper!”
“Shh… Sebastian might be listening!” exclaimed Alma in a whisper.
Aaliyah shook her head and sighed dramatically.
“She’d know if he were.” I told her. “She’d probably prevent him from hearing one way or another if there was the possibility he might hear something she didn’t want him to hear.”
“She’s not all powerful, James. Even Death has her limits, and I do not want Sebastian murdered over something he cannot help.” argued Alma.
“Oh, Alpy… you’re so adorable.” replied Aaliyah as she gave Alma a hug.
“I am not being adorable. One of us has to at least attempt being sensible.” insisted Alma. “James, she kills people over infractions of a ridiculously complicated agreement that most people could never even hope to understand.”
“I’ve never taken anyone before their time. Some people just die younger than others.” stated Aaliyah.
“And you should get to choose when everyone dies then?” demanded Alma.
“Yep, unless you can find a better judge of it.” replied Aaliyah.
“Might we table this for now and get onto the wedding?” I suggested.
“What time is it?” asked Alma.
“After two. We’ve got plenty of time!” exclaimed Aaliyah.
Alma grimaced before saying, “We missed it… I’m so sorry, James. I didn’t realize we had been talking quite that long.”
“Oh, Carl!” exclaimed Aaliyah.
“Carl?” asked Alma.
“Yes?” inquired Carl.
“Oh. You. How did you get here?” questioned Alma as she stared at him.
He was standing at the top of the hole as we finished the ascent.
“I walked, of course. Not everyone has incredible means of transportation.” he replied.
“Carl, would you mind putting us back to the wedding?” asked Aaliyah.
“Back to the wedding?” demanded Alma. “What are you… talking about…” she asked as she stared around.
We were back at my home, obviously earlier in the day by the light.
“Welcome home, master!” exclaimed Mila. “Lady Pendreigh needs to change into her dress if she’s to help the twins. I’ll gladly help you change, master, if you need help with your tux.”
Time was still frozen. There were people already seated in the ballroom.
I gently pushed Alma’s chin up, closing her gaping mouth while saying, “Carl is also known as Chronos, if that helps. He runs the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce.”
“I knew that he ran that infernal restaurant.” she snapped.
I could tell by Alma’s expression that she was having difficulty in believing what she was seeing. I was sure she’d catch on soon enough, but she had all the time in the world.