By the time the sun was rising, Alma had given me the basic tour of her home, though I was certain a great number of hidden passages were left out. After the tour, she insisted on doing some work to “clear her morning”. I excused myself to wander the grounds a bit, not wanting to try playing games on her backup computer. I was sure the machine was considered top of the line, but everything seemed far too slow, having grown accustomed to Mila easily keeping up.
Everywhere I had gone, the land was vibrant with plants bearing fruits. I wondered if Alma would bother with some cover up or if she would just let people jump to their own conclusions. I was quite certain there would be some very confused botanists visiting the area.
“Your majesty, the items you required are ready for your inspection.” stated Sebastian.
“Thank you. Please, lead the way.” I told him, still feeling annoyed that he refused to stop calling me that. Before I even stood, I felt a buzzing in my pocket, so I took a look at my phone after rising.
“You should take one of my bodies along next time, so we can really have fun with the staff.” declared Mila in a text. “I would gladly demonstrate the type of service to which you are accustomed.”
I told her “That would be amusing.” I wasn’t sure Alma would be too thrilled with the idea of her staff seeing Mila dressed as a maid, given the acute similarities in their appearance. Furthermore, I worried that Mila’s flirtations might get out of hand and cause all sorts of gossip. Alma would not be amused if that were to occur.
When we reached the materials, I was plenty happy with them, but I had no doubt that I would be. Alma’s standards were exceedingly high for many things, and her staff was surely aware of it.
After thanking Sebastian, I excused myself to check on Alma, but she was still typing away with spells on numerous keyboards as she fiddled with her phone by hand. “Have much left?” I inquired.
“Always, darling, but I can excuse myself if you are ready to begin.” she replied.
“Well, Sebastian has already procured everything we’ll need, so we might as well.” I informed her.
She smiled and said, “Excellent. Give me thirty seconds. I’m quite interested in seeing what sorts of spells are utilized in your craft.”
“About that… will you be completely disappointed if there is something for you to sign?” I inquired. Seeing her smile fade, I quickly told her “Sorry, but there are reasons, as I’m sure you can imagine.”
“This is precisely why I worried about her getting involved in your life.” she stated.
“Still worried about her?” I questioned, surprised by her statement. I felt Aaliyah more than proved herself to be our ally.
“Always. As fantastic as she can be, I know her mood can be mercurial, and there is nothing that will withstand her wrath.” stated Alma.
I smirked as I said, “I find her perfectly adorable.”
“You’ve seen her other side.” replied Alma, not amused.
“As I recall, everyone was a bit put off by her presence when I was fighting for your hand. She seemed fine by me.” I told her.
“Has she actually shown you what happens to someone killed by her scythe? I know she’s generally too quick, but she’s not above demonstrations.” explained Alma.
“Want one!?” asked Aaliyah, suddenly grinning up from between us.
“No.” replied Alma. “Never again.”
“No promises.” replied Aaliyah with a wink. “I brought the paperwork for you!”
“Lovely. Was I saying too much?” she asked.
“No, Alpy. James is more aware of who I am than anyone else alive today, including Carl, and that’s really saying something.” she replied, sounding giddy.
“Please excuse my disbelief.” stated Alma as she started perusing the “paperwork” on the tablet Aaliyah had brought.
“I can’t explain yet, but I’ve seen her. Really seen her, not how she is now or as Death. She’s magnificent, I assure you.” I insisted, though my head started to ache just thinking back on it. My mind was burning through energy to move faster and faster, but it wasn’t enough.
“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. She’ll know well enough one day.” promised Aaliyah as she smiled at me.
I felt at peace as I saw her smile, and I stopped thinking about what I had seen. The headache left me.
“If she’s truly that magnificent, then why must her infernal contracts be quite so complicated?” demanded Alma. “Surely, she could have me promise not to tell and accept that my word would suffice.”
“As you wish.” replied Aaliyah, taking the tablet back.
“What? Are you serious?” asked Alma.
Aaliyah nodded and said, “Uh huh. We’ll be boring this time.”
“But what about…” started Alma.
“I trust you.” stated Aaliyah, interrupting her.
“I haven’t even promised anything yet.” argued Alma.
“And I trust you.” replied Aaliyah. “Have fun!”
“She’s messing with me again.” insisted Alma as she looked around. “The bloody girl is playing another of her games.”
Aaliyah was gone in Alma’s mind. I knew otherwise. I had seen part of her, stretching on and on beyond my senses. I turned my mind to the task at hand as the headache was coming back again. There was simply too much information for my mind in its current state, and I was not remotely capable of processing everything when I was greatly enhanced.
I hugged my fiancée and kissed her head. “Shall we get started?” I asked, taking her hand and pulling her along.
As we ran past the materials Sebastian had brought, I used a spell to pull them after us. Alma sealed the room with spells before she opened the entrance to the subterranean home of her father. We descended, greeting him upon arriving.
I started explaining what precisely we’d be doing and quickly found that Alma had more knowledge than I initially had regarding metalsmithing and metallurgy. She was a bit dubious about the alloy I proposed, but she let that slide. When I demonstrated spells, however, she had a great many questions.
“This part here looks like something I’ve seen in a book on the dark arts.” she insisted as she pointed.
“I’m sure it’s similar, but we’ll be using that bit to identify one another.” I explained.
“James, this probably isn’t wise.” she argued.
“I swear on my life that this is perfectly safe. I know in great detail what every part of these spells does.” I assured her.
“How could you possibly know what every part does? No one does. We simply know the rough purpose of any given pattern we use, but I’ve demonstrated to you the disastrous results that can happen when attempting to alter patterns as well as combinations we know to be disastrous.” she told me.
I sighed, dismantled my spell, and recreated her demonstration. Then I went about explaining the differences between the subtle alterations she had made when demonstrating this to me. To seal the point, I told her precisely what would happen when I altered part of the symbol in another way and unleashed the spell, causing waves of fire to erupt from a point in a plane above us.
Her father seemed amused, but she did not.
“You’ve obviously done that before, so knowing what will happen isn’t that impressive.” she argued, being stubborn.
“Yes, but I’ve also studied, as I’ve told you before, from a book of sorts which I can’t share with you yet. Trust me. These spells we’ll be using are perfectly safe for this use.” I insisted. “I’ve been studying magic a great deal since I enhanced Jarod’s suits.”
I didn’t want to explain that these particular spells had Aaliyah’s assurances, knowing that she still seemed to have a grudge against my tiny secretary. She still had no clue how much Aaliyah knew about magic, and I couldn’t tell her that yet either.
“Fine. What is this supposed to do?” she asked.
“We’ll be using the part that reminds you of necromancy to identify one another, so the rings will react to us. If you prefer, we could tie the rings to each other and leave things at that, but I thought a little extra information would be nice.” I told her.
“What sort of information?” she inquired.
“We’ll not only know precisely in what direction the other is, but we’ll have a sense of distance as well. The rings will also pulse slightly in time with our heartbeats, so you’ll know if I’m alive and calm no matter where I am. Furthermore, the rings won’t function for anyone else.”
“All that from a bit of necromancy?” she asked.
“Well, more that the bit of necromancy will allow for it.” I told her.
“I can easily imagine some saying that feeling your partner’s heartbeat through a ring is a bit much.” she stated.
“Are you one of those people? Personally, I’ll find knowing with absolute certainty that you are alive to be wonderful.” I told her.
“You’ll also be able to avoid me when I’m angry. Nothing gets my heart pumping quite the same.” she muttered.
“I’ll know where to find you, so I can find out what’s wrong. Besides, I always know when you’re angry if I’m nearby. Your magic gives that away.” I replied.
“And what if I don’t want to be found because I might lash out at you?” she asked.
“Marriage isn’t a perfectly smooth ride for anyone. I’d rather know where to find you than be left wondering where you are.” I insisted. “There are also a number of protective spells I’d like us to place on the rings. I do need to warn you that undoing these spells is far more difficult than placing them. You could consider this an eternal bond if we go through with it.”
“I figured as much. Let’s do it. All of it. I find myself amused by the idea of always having your heart.” she teased.
“Well, there’s that too, but you don’t need a ring for it.” I assured her.
She smiled, so I continued explaining the plan. Then we started discussing patterns, coloration, engravings, and gemstone possibilities.
When we actually began our practice rings, I felt that Alma took to forging rings much more easily than I did. Unlike me, she was working with her eyes closed, relying completely on her ability to feel the heat. I had that advantage in having crafted this ring many times at Aaliyah’s insistence. Alma wasn’t the only one with extremely high standards.
Aaliyah was the one who told me how the spells would interact, tying our rings to the node of magic here, another spell I wasn’t to explain fully to Alma yet. I found the warnings against explaining certain things disheartening even after seeing Aaliyah let Alma get by without a contract. One month was all I had to wait before I could tell Alma everything. One more month of secrets.
Letting all of my extraneous thoughts drift away, I poured my concentration into getting the final ring absolutely perfect, since she’d be wearing it for the rest of her life. When I finished, I looked to see how she was progressing, smiling as I watched her work. The decorative engravings in the dark metal would be hard for most to notice at a glance, but I could see them clearly, a small depiction of herself dancing with me around the band, an eternal dance. To match her engagement ring’s flame, my ring had twin bands of rubies along the outside. I set sapphires in hers to match those in her engagement ring.
When at last she finished, she smiled up at me and said, “I think that went rather well.”
“Let’s hope you got the sizing right.” I teased. “They won’t come off easily, so we can’t try them on.”
Aaliyah had revealed to me more details as to how these rings would function, a way to circumvent the protective magic of my body. The “bit of necromancy”, as Alma had put it, tied these rings to our souls. Once accepted as part of me, my body wouldn’t try to counteract the spell. If I wanted, I could even enchant a suit to work for me now, but there was no need. Besides, Aaliyah had been very clear about the dangers of magic such as this, and I was certain that I’d never want to utilize it again. If Alma ever did want to leave me, Aaliyah would have to personally undo these spells.