“Boss-man, sir, how are you feeling?” asked Aaliyah as she stepped into my office.
“Excited and a bit nervous. Alma won’t be too forgiving if I make any mistakes.” I told her.
“You’d be surprised at how forgiving she can be where you’re concerned.” insisted Aaliyah.
“Perhaps. What brings you here this early in the morning?” I inquired, noticing the time.
Nodding happily, she said, “Your first guests will be arriving shortly, and there are still some last minute preparations to make.”
I almost asked who would be arriving before dawn, but I could easily imagine the vampire envoy wanting to miss the sun. How were we going to keep them in the shade?
“That’s part of the preparations you must make, boss-man, sir. You need to prepare the magic to protect your guests.” she told me, obviously reading my mind again.
I shrugged and said, “Oh. Sure. Mind showing me which spell or spells?”
Aaliyah smiled, flipped over my desk, and landed seated on my lap. Then she pointed to a spell on the screen that hadn’t been there a moment before.
I zoomed in, hoping to get a better idea of what needed to be done, but zooming in several times still left the image looking like some incandescent, crystalline structure. When I was finally close enough to make out the individual parts, the spell seemed enormous in the way skyscrapers felt from the ground, but stretching multiple directions.
“I can’t do this.” I told her, thinking of how much energy I’d be utilizing at once.
“There’s plenty in the forest.” she replied.
“Fair enough, but I still couldn’t control all of it precisely enough. This too big. Isn’t there a simpler way?” I asked, looking through more and more of the spell.
“Sure, if you want to spend a day casting and maintaining spells, but you were too busy for doing that sort of prep, even if Alma had helped.” she told me.
“I like when you call her ‘Alma’ instead of ‘Alpy’.” I admitted. “You must have some sort of plan. What is it?”
“You know.” she told me.
“No. I’m not using that thing again.” I replied instantly when I realized to what she was referring.
“You are, boss-man, sir, because you don’t want to ruin the wedding. This is necessary, and you aren’t the type to shirk your responsibilities, especially not to your guests on your wedding day.” she told me.
“Why don’t you do this for me? I’m actually fairly certain that you could.” I told her.
She grinned at me and said, “Easily. Effortlessly, but I will not. Unless you’re commanding me…?” She looked at me with wide-eyed curiosity and a small smile as her mouth hung partly open.
I frowned. She always seemed too happy about the idea of me giving her orders, and her giddiness made me nervous. She spoke about rending time and rewriting the world with childlike innocence that only made the malevolence of the deed more prevalent in my mind. I didn’t understand the ramifications of having Death cast the spell herself and thus could not command her to do it, even if she’d listen.
“I always listen, boss-man, sir.” she told me, hugging me.
I shuddered, thinking about what I was to do. I needed to control myself better than last time, not let my mind wander. I needed to keep from seeing Aaliyah again and really focus on the task at hand.
“You’ll manage.” she assured me, still hugging me.
I scooped her up with one arm as I stood and walked to the stairs. I descended and continued down the hall, stopping when a shadow detached itself from the entrance to Alma’s wing. I felt Alma’s magic and realized that was her.
“What?” she asked. “Seeing the bride on her wedding day is bad luck.”
I nodded. “Need something?” I inquired.
“Just you. You’re not running off, are you?” she questioned, a bit of worry creeping into her voice.
“No. Of course not.” I told her, sounding more terse than I intended. “Sorry. I need to do a very difficult enchantment, so our guests won’t take issue with one another.”
The disapproval in her voice was obvious as she said, “Adelmar will want to know the full extent of what you do, since he’ll be attending.”
I hesitated as I considered what I was doing again. Aaliyah had warned me of the side effect of using that room. Hoping that she might get Carl to alter time again, I looked to her, only to find her shaking her head.
“If you don’t mind standing in the wedding area, you can easily watch and report.” stated Aaliyah with a smile for Alma.
“Really? James, is that true?” she asked. “You’ll let me see?”
Nodding, I said, “Sorry in advance. I’ll be using a great deal of energy, so your protections will be taxed.”
“Yes, I suppose I should gather the household to protect them as well.” she commented.
“There’s no need to wake them. You’ll see.” I told her glumly. As I considered her words again, I found myself smiling. Protecting the household from my gifts would probably seem easy to me while using that room, even while performing such a difficult enchantment. On the other hand, I’d be using the room for longer than necessary that way and might affect them more than if I just took care of the enchantment and stopped.
“James, what’s bothering you?” she asked.
I wanted to tell her, but was I allowed? We weren’t married quite yet.
“Don’t worry! James is just going to do something marvelous, but he’s struggling with his Jamesness again.” stated Aaliyah.
I sighed. Then I told Alma “You’ll see what’s bothering me shortly. Try not to worry. I’m certain this will help our wedding go smoothly.”
“James, what are you doing, really? I’ve never seen you like this, especially not regarding a spell.” she stated.
I laughed wryly, thinking of how this must seem to her. “The spell isn’t what bothers me, being mostly illusion. What bothers me is how I need to cast it.” I told her. “Hurry outside. I want to get this over with.”
She hesitated for a moment before running off. I didn’t want her to wait long, but I couldn’t help walking at a slower, more human speed. I really didn’t want to do this. My step quickened as I thought of Alma waiting out there expectantly. I was taking too long. She could be patient, but she shouldn’t need to be, not today. Aaliyah hopped out from my arm just before I was inside the room.
“How will I know the spell?” I asked her.
“You’ll know.” she replied.
I stared at her, hesitating again. She looked so tiny, so fragile. Things could be so different than what they seemed. What was the greater purpose in having me do this? I forced myself to look at the wall and push thoughts of Aaliyah out of my head as I connected. I found the spell instantly, still shown on the screen in my room. Casting it was equally fast, and I forced myself to disconnect, trying to ignore my senses as I felt the world at beyond once more.
I took a deep breath simply for the feel of the air in my lungs, the feel of being more human once more. As briefly as I had used the room this time, I knew I had done other things beyond my intended goal, even though I wasn’t precisely sure what.
“Well, people will be ‘inexplicably’ happier today all over the world, so that’s a good thing, right?” she asked.
“Is it?” I questioned, wondering if some negative effect could come from it.
“You better go see Alma. She’s entirely flabbergasted and wouldn’t even appreciate how fun that word is right now.” stated Aaliyah, vanishing before the last word was even spoken.
I hurried out to my fiancée and easily found the deeper shadow in the night.
“James? Did you feel that!?” she exclaimed, embracing me as she asked.
“Sorry. I didn’t really know what to say to warn you properly.” I admitted.
“That was you?” she asked, holding my arms as she looked up at me.
I looked away as I said, “You just cancelled out your spell.”
“Enough with superstitions for now. Was that really you? There was a surge of energy, and then…” she stopped speaking as she hugged me again.
“And then what?” I asked her.
“I felt suddenly alone, very alone.” she told me.
“Sorry.” I replied.
“Don’t be. I feel happy, honestly. I see why you didn’t want me to bother the others. I couldn’t have protected them from that. The loneliness was just odd, as if something beautiful vanished from this world. I’m fine. How did you do… whatever you did?” she asked.
I kissed her head and said, “I’ll explain after the wedding.”
“What am I supposed to tell Adelmar about this?” she asked.
“Just tell him that we put in place an enchantment which will keep guests from seeing one another as what they really are, so everyone will feel more comfortable.” I explained.
She nodded, but then said, “He’ll probably have felt that, you know.”
“Yes. Everyone with magical potential on the planet just felt it.” I told her, hating the thought.
“Then how did you…” she started, stopping before finishing.
“Yes, time was…” I stopped and moved Alma behind me as I accelerated my body and mind. Something was coming. I relaxed, smiling as I saw Vito, Papak, and Zachary come into view.
Vito stopped at the edge of my yard, staring around cautiously, but his brothers rushed to me.
“James! Did you feel that?” asked Zachary after he stopped a few feet from me.
Papak’s enormous nose sniffed the air as he said, “What are you two doing out here on your wedding day? Getting a head start?”
I felt Alma’s magic pulse within her and hoped she’d stay calm. Though I was certain to be in for a long day, I wanted this to be a pleasant one as well.