“10… 9… 8…” counted Aaliyah.
I looked around, finding that we were back in my yard with time still frozen. Raine was in mid-leap toward Alma.
“7… 6.. 5…” she continued.
I had topped off on energy before coming back, so I quickly positioned myself near them.
“3… 2… 1…” she stated.
When time lurched forward, I was suddenly back to the position I had been in prior to her freezing time. Aaliyah was gone. I focused on my speed, rushing to Alma. I still wasn’t anywhere near as fast as Raine, but I saw her look over at me in surprise before darting back in mid-air. She could fly!? Alma was so slow, attempting to react to my approach, so I scooped her up despite feeling her magic preparing an attack.
By the time she fully turned her head to me, we were in my forest, and I was absorbing more energy while slowing my pace.
“James!?” she asked so slowly.
I could guess that she was talking at a normal human pace, but my timing felt off now. I slowed down more as I left the forest, taking a long route around my yard.
“How? You’re not even wearing a suit!” exclaimed Alma.
“Turns out I don’t need one.” I replied.
“That is completely unfair.” she stated, though she was smiling at me.
“No more unfair than creating a wonderful enchantment only to find that I cannot benefit from it.” I argued.
“Touché.” she agreed, still smiling. “How magnificent you are, my love.” she told me as she brushed her fingertips along my hair.
I still wasn’t accustomed to her blatantly showing such affection and found myself kissing her as I stopped.
“Go, manslave! Can I go next!?” exclaimed Emma.
“Eeeeee!” shouted Raine, suddenly falling to the ground.
Alma pulled back and whispered, “Not in front of everyone, James.” Turning toward Emma, she said, “No. We’re not in that sort of relationship.”
“Aww… but sharing is caring where James is involved.” claimed Emma with a grin. Then she looked to where Raine had landed and asked “What happened to you?”
“I-I…” she started, only to shrug a half second later and fall to back onto the ground. She stretched out by some catnip, smiling.
“She was flying.” stated Alma in a somewhat bewildered tone.
“What!? That’s amazing!” exclaimed Emma.
“When am I going to discover some awesome latent talent?” complained Brandon.
“Probably right after I discover mine.” teased Brenna in a pouting voice.
Cosette sighed and said, “Just be glad that any such abilities won’t take a thousand years to develop. Mine will.”
“Emma, might you regress the catnip for now?” suggested Alma. “I think Raine’s had enough.”
Emma feigned a pout as the plants retreated into the ground. Then she said, “I like drugged-out Raine. She’s so cuddly!”
“I… see.” stated Alma, looking down suddenly.
Raine had turned into a cat and was rubbing against her leg.
“Nooo! She can’t like you better!” whined Emma.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure she likes me best.” teased Cosette before oozing out of her suit and becoming a black panther. “Ugh. That will take some adjustment.”
“What will?” I asked. “Other than watching a panther talking.”
“Removing the suit does funny things to my head, save for the laugh of humor in them.” she explained.
“Ah. I know what you mean.” replied Alma with a nod. “That is an odd sensation with everything suddenly seeming slower.”
“I’m never taking mine off. You guys can just clean me with magic if I start to stink.” proclaimed Brandon.
“So forget about making a suit that can expand with you?” I jokingly asked.
“What!? NO! That’d be incredible!” he insisted.
“Even with clever engineering, there would have to be considerably more material involved without a reduction of thickness. I doubt even Jarod can make the suits that much more streamlined, though I’m certain he’ll be able to reduce the bulk some.” suggested Alma.
“Actually, I was going to adjust my enchantment to create a metamorphic suit.” I explained.
“What? James, magic such as you’d need doesn’t exist.” stated Alma.
“Neither did an enchantment such as I created.” I teased.
“Fair point, but I’ve seen the results of attempting to alter form with magic. The results aren’t pleasant.” she insisted.
“I beg to differ, but Cosette makes quite a nice panther.” I told her.
Cosette’s toothy grin looked a bit ferocious.
“That is an entirely different case. I do realize that certain types of creatures can alter their forms, but you’re talking about causing such an effect with residual energy. We simply don’t know enough about it to manage such a feat.” she argued.
“I realize the Slayers are thought to be experts on magic, but I have access to other, much older experts.” I explained while watching Brandon, Brenna, Emma, and Portentia go back to playing around.
“The vampires…” she whispered. “We long have wondered how they managed to create Poenari Island, but you surely aren’t suggesting they’d teach you on a whim.”
I listened as she talked about various disagreements the Slayers and vampires had over the years. I also watched my friends play. Portentia was far too fast for Brandon, Brenna, and Emma. Cosette could keep up if she were pried away from Raine, but she didn’t have Portentia’s skill yet.
Holding up my hand to cut Alma off, I said, “Hold on. I thought you said the Slayers knew about the spell that created the island.”
“We knew of it, not specifically how the spell was performed. The one I would be able to discuss with you is of an entirely different nature.” she informed me.
“Oh. Well, Vito already gave me an explanation on turning lead to gold, so I do believe he’ll gladly assist me in other endeavors if I ask.” I told her, avoiding an explanation of the true source I intended to use.
She looked at me in disbelief before saying, “Really? James, the potential for such spells is virtually limitless! I urge you to fly there this night if you really think he’ll show you.”
“I don’t really need to fly anywhere to learn.” I stated.
“I… suppose not. Still, you should learn all you can from them.” she insisted.
“I won’t be able to show you yet. Sorry, but I made a promise in that regard.” I explained.
Frowning, she said, “I see.”
I took her cheek in hand as I gazed into her eyes and said, “Try not to worry so much. I assure you things will work out.”
Alma looked dubious, but she really did not understand Aaliyah as well as I did. She hadn’t seen Aaliyah the way I had. My mind shied away from the enormity of my tiny secretary. Even thinking back to how I had perceived her greeting the fey was still overwhelming. Such an entity could do what she wanted no matter who argued, and I was certain that she was always looking out for us. Things really would work out.
“Master, might I engage Portentia in a fight more on her level?” asked Mila after approaching us. She had changed out of her maid outfit and into a spandex one similar to what Emma often wore.
“Surely you can fight in something less revealing.” stated Alma. “Besides, even you won’t keep up with her in that suit.”
“Lady Pendreigh, everyone here is quite well aware that I am not you, despite how similar we look. Given such admirable proportions, should I be so reluctant about having them admired? I think not.” she retorted. “Furthermore, the master granted me enchantments that might well surpass the suits, so I feel plenty confident in this endeavor.”
I felt a surge of magic in Alma as Mila spoke, but she simply sighed as Mila rushed Portentia, throwing her backward a moment later. Portentia gracefully caught herself with one hand and flipped backward. As the two continued to fight, Mila’s greater skill was quite evident. Her mind vastly outstripped her body’s speed, giving her far more time to respond, and she had full access to every last course on fighting.
Watching the two fight was unique in that pressure points were being completely ignored. I understood why, given who was fighting, but I was still amused by the difference in style. Though far more skilled in the use of her staff than unarmed, Portentia still had a fair understanding of how to fight now.
“I’m surprised Portentia hasn’t pulled out her staff yet. She really has learned restraint and might well study unarmed combat with greater enthusiasm after this. She’ll become even more of a nightmare to criminals in this city.” stated Alma as we watched.
“I’m a little worried that there isn’t enough energy back here to keep things going at this rate. Would you mind helping things along?” I asked.
There was an intense surge of magic from Alma, causing her to glow as residual energy covered her. I hastened the dispersal throughout the air and thanked Alma when she finished.
“Shouldn’t you two practice some as well?” she asked, looking down at Cosette and Raine. “Even Brandon and Brenna are putting up a fair fight against Emma.”
Brenna had started using magic as well as hand-to-hand fighting, but Emma was quick to respond with her own.
“Fiiiine.” replied Cosette before sauntering back to her suit.
Raine, who had been curled up against Cosette, merely rolled onto her back and stretched before curling up once more.
“Brandon has to feel restrained without being able to change size.” I commented.
“I do look forward to seeing how you’ll fix the problem.” replied Alma. Then she leaned down and petted Raine while saying, “I do understand that you avoid fighting, but look at them. They’re having fun. Even Mila is out playing today. James and I will gladly be your partners.”
One of Raine’s eyes opened slightly, and I suddenly found myself on the ground next to Alma, staring up at Raine who was back in her human form wearing her typical cute hoodie.
“I-I win.” she stated.
Alma laughed and said, “I will never grow accustomed to that, but let’s try things a bit slower.”
“Just think of this as a game. You’re limited by rules and attempting to outmaneuver us without moving faster than us.” I suggested. “Everyone knows you love a good game.”
She nodded as she stepped back. I stayed in pace with Alma as both of us attacked. Many of Raine’s blocks shouldn’t have been effective, but she was incredibly strong, often shifting forms and back at the instant of impact. Luckily, she always blocked with her palm when she shifted, so neither of us took needles through our arms.
I wondered at how fast her mind must race. There were plenty of times when Raine failed to react quickly enough, given the restrained movement, but the same attack never worked twice. She adjusted and adapted incredibly quickly.
Alma backed off and said “Though I’m grateful you don’t fly when you fight, I must ask… Were you aware that you can fly?”
“N-no.” stated Raine.
“I’d like to see you practice if you don’t mind.” admitted Alma.
Raine shook her head negatively.
“Why not?” Alma asked with a sigh.
Raine glanced over to where the others were practicing and said, “I… They… N-no. P-please, no.”
Seeing Alma look annoyed by the response, I quickly said, “We all have our own issues, but you’re doing well, Raine. I’m still quite thankful to have you here.”
She smiled at me with such earnest joy that I felt like hugging her, but I resisted, not wanting to risk making Alma jealous. Life was much easier with peace at home.