Best Friend For Hire, Entry 356

Over a week on Earth passed since Maple joined my company.  I wasn’t certain how many years I spent in business during that time, and was happier in my ignorance.  I had decided to do additional work off-planet ahead of time, so I wouldn’t be taking time away during this trip.

 

Maple was far from being a competent fighter, but I had faith the enhancement suit would keep her safe enough if trouble arose.  Her room had been furnished, she was adjusting to her new schedule, and her course work was progressing nicely enough. Her first Pathfinder game with Mila would be underway soon, and I looked forward to hearing about it.  Maple was at her liveliest when talking about role-playing games. She had gushed about her guild’s reactions to her new job as they responded that day, though she did keep the new Ancient Tribes of Earth event a secret.

 

Dani, Kayla, and Iris were making great progress with their new guild, at some cost to my guild.  The trio had Mila helping them pick out likely candidates, which gave them quite an advantage. Mila’s assessments for everyone’s capabilities and usefulness to the new guild were, unsurprisingly, extremely accurate from what I saw.  In a single week, the trio had poached over one hundred players. The advancement would likely lessen while those three were on this trip.

 

The excitement in my limo was palpable as we arrived at the airport.  The other two limousines weren’t far behind. I stepped out, offered a hand to my wife and waited.  Mila would protest if I attempted to help with luggage. Jarod, Ai, Mai, Cosette, and Aurora had ridden with us.  Jared had convinced Aurora’s parents that this trip would be a unique opportunity for her to see more of the world in a safe environment.  He, Mila, and Portentia were going to take turns chaperoning her, so I was confident things would go well.

 

“Why aren’t you hurrying?” questioned Iris as she joined us.  “We still have to make our way through security before our flight.”

 

“Don’t worry.  We’ll be heading to an exclusive wing, and security won’t bother us.” I assured her.  “My wife and I have a great deal of experience flying.”

 

Alma smiled knowingly.  Before our honeymoon, her experience flying and had vastly outstripped mine.  She still had more experience flying on Earth than I did, but Earth wasn’t the only planet with annoying security practices.  Of course, Alma never actually bothered to fly commercially even before our honeymoon, so she might not even be aware of what passing through security here was like.

 

“Daddy!  We may starve to death before we even arrive at this rate.  Traffic is sooo slow.” complained Dani.

 

Alma and I may have spoiled her a bit much, but the smile she gave me even as she complained made me not really care.

 

“Wow.  Do you two really only have one bag?” asked Brandon, eyeing the bag severely.

 

Alma laughed and said, “We’re planning on shopping.  This may surprise you, but I have been to France before.  I know of a few stores in Paris that I find entirely lovely, so we’ll just buy what we want to wear there.  Our luggage contains gifts for family. James and I will be expected to pay our respects before roaming the country.  Jarod, Ai, and Mai probably should as well.”

 

“Mind showing me some of these stores?” asked Brenna with barely contained excitement.

 

Cosette looked eager too.

 

“I probably already know them and can show you if she’s too busy.” stated Maxine.  She was wearing a wig and sunglasses at the moment.

 

“Don’t try to escape me.” warned Portentia.

 

“Of course not, cretin.  I’ll enjoy watching you suffer as we shop.” replied Maxine with a warm smile.

 

“How will you even afford anything?” demanded Portentia.

 

Maxine’s smile turned smug as she said, “I’m owed favors around the world.  Mila allowed me to call one.”

 

“James!  Did you hear that?” asked Portentia indignantly.

 

“Mila wouldn’t allow anything criminal on her watch, and Maxine’s been well behaved.  I think we can afford to trust her intent here. She knows not to cause trouble.” I assured her, glancing at Maxine as I said the last part.

 

“Fine.” stated Portentia grumpily.

 

Maple had watched the exchange warily.  She was rather shocked when she met Maxine and was informed of Maxine’s criminal history.  Her dubiousness toward Maxine’s abilities was amusing up until Portentia’s demonstration, slicing a finger off during lunch with a steak knife.  Maple, unfortunately, didn’t finish her lunch even after confirming that Portentia still had ten fingers, excluding the one that was the floor. Alma had gently chided Portentia over the timing, but only briefly.

 

With everyone gathered, Alma led us into the private wing and onto our “aircraft”.  I enjoyed watching as eyes bulged in shock. Alma and I had grown a bit attached to our spaceship, so she had a modified ramp constructed for use at this airport.  There were numerous questions, of course, but I explained that Aaliyah and Mila had modified this craft with classified components. Then I apologized for being unable to accommodate them with answers.

 

“Are you sure it’s safe?” asked Maple.

 

Jarod laughed and said, “I trust her tech more than anything else on the planet.  Just don’t try to disassemble anything.”

 

“Why isn’t she with us?  I thought she was meeting us at the airport.” commented Iris as she looked around.

 

Mila frowned and said, “She’ll meet us in France.  Mother likes taking commercial flights to annoy customs.  Her flight left hours ago. I’m on it, unfortunately. Please follow me.  We’ll have a brief tour before take off. The master has graciously allowed use of the bedrooms if you wish to nap, since he and Alma will be on the bridge.  The kitchen is out-of-service, unfortunately, but Marco came prepared with drink and snacks.”

 

The kitchen wasn’t actually out-of-service, but the technology in there was blatantly alien.  Even Dani was impressed by it when she had learned enough to understand it, and she had still found the controls odd.  Aaliyah had advised us to keep it locked. The rest of the ship could be passed off as extraordinarily advanced without any obviously alien features.  I’d have to sit and listen to Jaord theorize after this trip.
Before long, we were in the air.  Nearly half the group would be trying Pathfinder with Mila.  The rest would probably read, talk, or play Ancient Tribes of Earth.  Since Alma was keeping our craft in the atmosphere, they still had hours to kill.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 355

“Auntie! The planet!? Really!?” asked Dani, practically bouncing in her chair.

“Possibly!” replied Aaliyah excitedly. “If you look at your guild menu, you’ll find that you’re infiltrating The Garde and an officer of Hagen’s Rising. How much of the planet is conquered largely depends on your ability to recruit, but I have faith in you three.”

“I’ll join!” exclaimed Cosette. “I can probably convince many of my clan members to join as well.”

“And thus Aaliyah’s evil plot to dismantle my guild works flawlessly.” I teased.

“But I’m your daughter! You’ll never lose me!” insisted Dani. “How much of the guild are we allowed to take?”

“The game is on, my love. Best hurry before we stop your infiltration.” replied Alma.

“We’ll probably give you a couple days head start, since we learned of your infiltration outside of the game. I’m simply trying to be fair, mind you, not giving my daughter unjust leeway.” I told her. “As for the rest of you, let’s keep this secret among us and see what happens. I’m interested in seeing how this infiltration thing works.”

Aaliyah grinned and opened her mouth, but frowned when I shook my head. “Fiiine! No spoilers.”

“Raine, will you help me travel there before you get too far away?” asked Cosette.

Raine nodded.

“I feel so conflicted right now. I really want to tell my guild about this, but I missed part of the story and don’t want to lose my job.” stated Maple.

“Who are you!?” asked Dani after backflipping over her chair and turning to face Maple.

“You’re pink!” exclaimed Maple.

“You can see!” teased Dani.

“I-I love your hair.” replied Maple, looking startled as Dani stepped closer to her.

“I don’t bite.” promised Dani, stepping even closer.

“Even if she asks?” inquired Cosette from her chair.

“Maple Apple Wood, I’m James’ wife, Alma, and this is our daughter, Dani.” explained Alma as she stepped forward and wrapped an arm around Dani. Then she pointed and said, “The one with black hair who’s going to stop standing on her seat is Kayla, Jemal’s sister. Iris is the one with the ponytail over there. Mind waving Iris?” She waited as Iris stood and waved with a grin. “Thank you. Raine, mind coming over and greeting Maple instead of trying to hide in your seat?”

“Is s-she allergic to c-cats?”

“I’m not.” replied Maple, looking confused.

“No need to turn into one.” stated Alma.

“She’s a shapechanger?” asked Maple, sounding amazed

“She’s part werecat.” replied Alma.

“What’s the other part?” questioned Maple, oblivious to Raine standing nervously to her side now.

“D-Demon.” whispered Raine.

Maple jumped. “How did you…? Weren’t you over there!?” asked Maple, pointing to where Alma had looked when talking to Raine.

“I-I win r-races.”

“You’ll only ever see Raine move if she allows you to see her. She could vacation in Okinawa daily and keep up with her work here each day with ease.” I told Maple.

Raine’s mouth hung open as she stared at me. Then she said, “M-Mila… map! I c-can visit Japan!”

Alma quickly said, “Hold on! You’ll want money. The twins have some Japanese currency on hand, so you can exchange with them if you don’t want to try exchanging there. You might want to learn the language if you haven’t. The twins will also want you to deliver a gift for their family, since you’ll be in the country. If you deliver the gift, I’ll have Izumi prepare some currency for you to pick up.”

“You’re planning on running to Japan… You know it’s an island, right?” asked Maple.

“Raine can fly. She also could run on water if she felt like it. No one really wants to see what she could do to the sea if she swam there.” replied Alma.

“I c-can swim without d-disturbing the water.” insisted Raine.

“That’s not really swimming, Raine. You’re pretending to swim while flying through the water as energy.” I replied.

“R-Really!?” she exclaimed.

“Aaliyah’s done tests.” I assured her.

Aaliyah nodded with a grin.

“Will you get me a souvenir!?” exclaimed Kayla.

“Kayla! Don’t force Raine to get you stuff.” scolded Jemal.

“I d-don’t mind.” replied Raine.

“I’ll give you souvenir money too.” stated Alma.

“Th-this is okay?” questioned Raine, looking at me for approval.

I nodded and said, “I don’t dictate your free time. If you want to travel, feel free. Just don’t be late for work, and please make some time for us. You’ll be missed if you’re gone too much.”

Raine hugged me, so I patted her head.

“Did you see that? She teleported.” claimed Maple.

“She’s just fast.” replied Alma, smiling when Raine hugged her free side.

“You’ll get used to this place in no time.” called Iris. “Just expect miracles daily. My poor dad asked Best Friend For Hire to join his baseball league. Imagine the shock he’s in for.”

“Oh… will I be expected to play?” asked Maple.

“Only if you want to participate. Don’t worry. We’ll get some practice in ahead of time. I’m thinking of giving everyone who participates a bonus this year.” I assured her.

“Daddy, will I get to play? What’s baseball?” asked Dani.

“Ask Mila later.” I told her. “I’ll check with Mr. Storm about whether or not you’d be allowed to participate. Kayla seems interested as well.”

“Thank you, James!” exclaimed Kayla. “Jemal will have to bat for me if I can’t.”

Smiling at her, Jemal said, “I probably can’t bat as well as you.”

“We should add a penalty.” suggested Cosette with a wicked grin. “I get a snack for every missed swing.”

“And what if you miss?” I asked.

“I’ll drop dead from shock unless you or Alma are pitching. Raine would be nice to me.” she claimed.

“A-Always nice.” agreed Raine, hugging Cosette.

“I’ll just have to convince Raine that getting you to push yourself is good for you. I like the idea of her pitching. Her fastball will be incredible.” I teased.

“P-Pitching!?” asked Raine in alarm.

Nodding, I said, “You do fantastic with clients, but you need to grow more accustomed to the spotlight. I’m sure you can manage keeping your pitches down to a hundred miles per hour. We’ll practice.”

“My poor dad…” mumbled Iris.

“The poor league. Plenty of professionals can miss a ball that fast.” corrected Alma with a smile.

I shrugged and said, “We’ll have fun.”

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 354

When I walked into the ballroom, I found my daughter and friends still engrossed in their battle. Raine seemed to be doing well in coordinating attacks with the others. She was acting as a tank, keeping the attention of the husk of a man. His pallid flesh seemed withered from head-to-toe through the funeral wrappings he wore, but the gold of his rings and necklace glimmered in the light. I had expected this to be a vampire, but he looked more like a mummy to me.

Dani, Kayla, and Isis were each fighting multiple corpses. Though bearing an obvious resemblance in dress to the one Raine fought, these undead moved much slower and used more obvious attacks. Where Raine had to anticipate a complicated barrage of swings, kicks, and spells, the weaker ones didn’t have the speed to do more than one attack in melee before repositioning to follow their quarry.

“Daddy! They’re healing too much!” exclaimed Dani as she looked back at me.

“Look out!” I warned as two of the creatures leaped at her character.

She was too slow, and her pixie, Luxa, was dragged to the ground where another creature bit her. Nekopawpaw, Raine’s character, rolled over to Luxa and smashed the creature biting her with a frying pan, but the stun effect didn’t work.

“If you’re turned into a vampire, you will be most welcome in my clan!” exclaimed Cosette.

“J-James…” mumbled Raine. “H-help us.” She seemed to be two places at once, her body blurring by her keyboard and next to me with folded hands. “C-can’t save th-them.” Even as she pleaded, she was fighting her opponent and trying to free my daughter’s character from the deadly bite of the creatures grappling her. Raine was incredible.

“Pull an actual weapon out, and I’ll see what I can do. I realize that Nekopawpaw lacks weapon skills, but the quality of the ones you make should help you do some damage.” I assured her. “Do you have your traveling stone?” I asked.

She nodded, still blurring between two places.

“Excellent.” I stated. After the fight Raine had with the Demon Lord, I entrusted her with one of the guild’s traveling stones, knowing it would be safe with her. She primarily used the stone to summon help gathering when she was out looking for materials to use in crafting.

“I’m coming too!” exclaimed Cosette.

“Me too.” agreed Jemal.

“Mila, will you see if my wife can join us as well?” I asked.

“Of course, master.”

“Hurry, hurry! They got me too! Help!” exclaimed Kayla.

“Your pleas will go unanswered.” stated a gravelly voice. “I have risen, so the world shall be mine.”

“I think it heard you, Kayla! Thanks for warning the monster.” teased Iris as she dodged around, throwing lightning at the enemies.

“Hey! Vampires aren’t monsters.” insisted Cosette. “The whole global domination thing is probably just a misunderstanding.”

Alma came rushing into the room, looked around, and said, “Now this does look like a thrilling party.” Then she took the seat next to me as Mila logged her into the game.

“Daddy! Mom! Luxa died!” exclaimed Dani.

“Your parents can’t save you now little one. Even in death, you hear my voice. Answer my call, and I’ll give you powers beyond your imagination.” claimed the gravelly voice.

I looked over to Dani’s screen and saw that she had a quest box open to her.

“My parents have conquered worlds, battled gods, and dined with Death herself. Run or stay, you’ll die someday.” she replied. Then she hopped out of her seat, came over to me, and asked “Daddy, what should I do!? I could become a vampire!”

“Do it!” exclaimed Cosette. “Old vampires can grant stronger boons to the ones they turn. Plus, you might get a unique quest out of this.”

“Sounds fun to me.” I added.

“I’m certainly not opposed.” replied Alma as she guided her character to meet mine in the guild hall.

“Iris? Kayla?” asked Dani.

“Fiiine.” replied Kayla, stopping her struggles.

Iris sighed and said, “Just in the game. No biting me in real life, Cosette.”

“Foiled again!” exclaimed Cosette.

“You’re s-sure?” inquired Raine.

Dani quickly told her “You can join us too!”

“No, th-thank you.” she replied. Nekopawpaw suddenly leaped her opponent and sprinted away.

“So we’re not needed?” asked Jemal.

“No, but you can become a vampire too!” offered Kayla. “Let me bite you after I turn, so you can be my minion.”

“Ummmm… no.”

The gravelly voice sounded confused by the conversation, but continued its talk of future power. No longer needed, I stood and watched with some of the others as Luxa, Trixie, and Dreamdust accepted their new fate.

“There’s a cure for this, right?” asked Iris. “I’m not sure if I’ll handle the no sunlight thing well.”

“No clue. You’re probably a different strain than I am, and each type seems to have a different quest for curing it. Not all of the quests have been found yet, assuming they exist.” explained Cosette as she smirked. “Relax! It’s fun!”

As she spoke, a cutscene began. The graphical format gave a dreamlike quality to the video, showing the story of a man who rose to be a defender of his people. After several years of battle, they made him their first king. Years passed peacefully until a dark force rose.

The king left to do battle with this creature who had killed many of his warriors and fed upon his people. Tracking the monster to its lair, he did battle with it, finding victory and defeat in his killing blow. As his spear pierced the creature’s heart, a dark force lashed out from the wound and struck, transforming him.

He knew not how long he lay there, waiting to die. His pain eventually ceased, and he found the strength to stand. When he went to the entrance of the cave, the light of day scorned him, burning his flesh.

By night, a fierce hunger had consumed him, driving him to attack the first animal he found, the very steed upon which he had arrived. Driven by a new, primal instinct he consumed the blood of his horse and found that strength returned to him. No, his strength was greater than before.

Time passed as he learned the new ways of his body, exploring what he could do. When at last he returned to his people to tell of his victory, he found another in his place. The shaman who had long acted as his guide now ruled, claiming him to be a demon who stole their king’s body. The shaman ordered the night watch to attack, but they would not. Neither would they grant him entry yet.

The people remained dubious of the shaman’s claim until the sun started to rise. Realizing he was out of time, the king fled, burdened by this twisted fate. He managed to bury himself in a hollow not far from the city, waited out the day, and returned the next night.

This time the night watch attacked him on sight by order of the shaman, not giving ear to their king’s demands. The king fled again, confused why they would spurn him after his continued loyalty to them.

Years passed as he stayed as an outcast, damned to walk the nights alone, defending his people from the true terrors that ventured too close. Eventually, he happened upon a monster devouring a man. He killed it with ease, but was too late to save the man from a mortal wound.

The man’s sweet blood called to the once king, begging to be devoured. When the blood was drank, the king found a new urge within him. Guided by instincts, the dying man drank in turn from the king and was reborn as a new servant, a new follower.

In time, the king had a new people, a new army. He guided them to empower the lands, granting the gift of immortality to all that would join them. Some proved not only strangely resistant to the idea of being elevated, but capable in fighting back. A war came, but the king was winning.

Strangers from a distant land changed the tide with magics of their people. The king was tricked, trapped, and once again denied his right to rule. Risen again, he grants you his gift, so you may join his army and take back his lost world.

During the cutscene Aaliyah and Maple had entered and quietly watched with the rest of us.

Smiling after the scene finished, Aaliyah said, “Well, there goes the planet.”

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 353

“Run, run, run!” exclaimed Kayla from the ballroom.

“N-not that way. Sp-split up and circle around in opposite d-directions.

“What about me!?” asked Dani.

“Dr-drink this and attack on m-my mark.” ordered Raine.

Maple, Jemal, Cosette, and I had left Dejon in the library and continued on with Maple’s tour. Hearing the conversation in the ballroom as we walked, I knew that there was a battle happening in Ancient Tribes of Earth, but managed to resist the urge to run ahead and check it out. Raine was actually being a leader for the group from what I heard, and I wouldn’t want to interrupt such a development even if I wasn’t giving a tour.

“Boss-man, sir!” exclaimed Aaliyah after rounding the corner. “I have paperwork for tonight’s job!” Waving a tablet in her hand, she bumped her secretary glasses, knocking them askew. Then she pushed her glasses back up and grinned as if she was delivering the best news in the world.

“She does work here! This is your mother, Mila!?” exclaimed Maple in a loud whisper.

“Of course.” replied Mila.

“Play Ancient Tribes of Earth?” inquired Jemal.

“Yep. Willow Wood, Elven Druid.” replied Maple proudly.

“The game doesn’t have classes.” he informed her.

Cosette grinned mischievously, so I shook my head at her, not wanting Maple to get picked on more for her tree names. Cosette’s pout made me wonder if she spends too much time with Aaliyah.

Maple shrugged and said, “I’m in an RPG guild. We also do online Pathfinder RPG here and there, though that’s been slow lately.”

“I bet we could set up a game here if you want to play.” suggested Jemal. “I mean… a Pathfinder game thing, if you’re interested.”

Maple sounded amused as she asked “Have you ever played?”

“Yep!” exclaimed Aaliyah, who had walked up to us. “My baby girl is a great Gamemaster. You should see the software we have for it!”

“You wrote Pathfinder software!?” asked Maple, seeming to be geeking out over the idea.

“Nope! Mila did.” replied Aaliyah.

“Mother did offer suggestions.” insisted Mila. “My original software lacked the virtual reality integration for prototype hardware in the lowest gaming room. She also suggested a number of tweaks to my interface options for the non-VR version.”

“Will you really be willing to play with me?” inquired Maple excitedly.

Cosette grinned and said, “I’ve been playing with you since we met, silly.”

“I’ll gladly give it a try. My sister will probably want to join us too.” replied Jemal.

“I’ll gladly GM.” stated Mila.

“Is this a unique enough job interview for you, Maple?” I asked with a grin.

“Considering that I usually know more about others than they know about me, this started as a most unique experience. I wasn’t expecting to be hired with barely any questions. Now we’re just having fun, which I wouldn’t have expected from a job interview. So yes, this is the most interesting job interview I have had.”

“After we have your current availability, I’ll send out invitations to see who is interested in joining us.” announced Mila. “Maple, I emailed you the itinerary for our trip to France. Please look over the information and decide on whether or not you wish to go as soon as possible.”

Maple quickly told her “My schedule is fairly open. Is there a cost estimate for the trip?”

“Free.” I replied. “We’ll be taking my aircraft. The hotel and concert tickets are covered by the company. Marco is taking care of general dining, since he knows some people there. You only need to worry about personal expenses.”

Then Aaliyah informed her “As a matter of safety, you’ll be required to wear an enhancement suit, so we’ll need to schedule some training for you soon. Mila’s great at helping to coordinate outfits with it!”

“What is it?” asked Maple.

“This thing.” replied Cosette as she pulled back her sleeve.

“I’m wearing one too.” stated Jemal as he pulled down his collar. “I can lift hundreds of pounds while wearing it.”

“While wearing mine, I can lift him while he’s lifting hundreds of pounds.” teased Cosette.

“I can lift a fork to eat cake without one, when we have cake at least.” added Aaliyah, looking clearly dejected about her current lack of cake.

“Don’t worry, mother. Marco has a cheesecake in the fridge.” replied Mila.

Looking nervously at Aaliyah, Maple said, “Umm… Aaliyah, can I have some time to talk with you eventually? No hurry or anything, since we’re both working here. Really, I just want to thank you. The game you made makes so many people happy, and I… my guild, we sorta put something together for you. They sent me some stuff in case I ever caught you somewhere. I’ve been hauling it my car. I was honestly going to try catching you at the convention this year, but I thought maybe if you have a few minutes before then…”

“Don’t worry. Best Friend For Hire is already scheduled to attend and promote Global Princess Entertainment! Catching me then will be easy for you!” exclaimed Aaliyah with a grin.

Sounding exasperated, Mila said, “Mother means to say that you have plenty of time to run out to your car right now. She’s free enough to sit and talk with you for a few minutes while the master checks in on his daughter. We can continue the tour from the ballroom after you’re finished. I’ll show you out.”

Maple looked to me questioningly. When I smiled and nodded, she said, “Thank you, thank you! I’ll try to be fast.” Then she hurried down the hall behind Mila.

Jemal’s obvious disappointment as he watched them leave was endearing.

“Does someone have a thing for trees?” asked Cosette.

“Huh? What do you mean?” he asked nervously.

Cosette stared him down.

“I wasn’t going to bring it up, but I went to high school with her. Well, we didn’t have any classes together. She was a couple years behind me, but… I-I don’t know if she remembers me. She kinda seems to, right?”

Smirking, Cosette asked “Ever actually talk with her?”

“Well, no, not till today. She was always with her clique, ya know.” he told her.

“Not really. I’ve never been to high school.” she replied, angling to keep him nervous. Her body language seemed predatory, as if she were toying with her food.

“O-oh. Yeah.” he replied, chuckling nervously. “Seeing her again, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to speak with her.”

I pulled Cosette away by the shoulders. When she looked up at me, I told her “Be nice, or he might really try hiding.”

“Aaliyah…” pouted Cosette. “James acts as if I’m being mean.”

“Boss-man, sir, you wouldn’t pick on my friend, would you?” asked Aaliyah.

“Shouldn’t you be heading to speak with Maple?” I questioned.

“Shouldn’t you be checking on Dani? I hear she’s helped release an ancient undead from its tomb, maybe a vampire.” she replied.

“Really!? I want to see this!” exclaimed Cosette just before sprinting down the hall.

“Might as well join us, Jemal. Maple will be back when she’s done with Aaliyah.” I told him.

“Unless I’m done with her first.” teased Aaliyah.

“Please be nice. She’s a good person.” he insisted.

“I will be. Why would I be mean to someone bringing me gifts!?” she questioned.

I walked down the hall, listening to Aaliyah continue teasing him as they followed and the ongoing sounds of battle ahead. I was confident that Jemal would loosen up eventually.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 352

“This way.” I stated as I started walking. Jemal was almost to us.

“James! Maple! Sorry to keep you waiting.” he apologized as he jogged over to us, now wearing nice slacks and a polo.

“James was just telling me that I might be fired if I ever take so long getting to a job.” replied Maple with a serious tone and impish grin.

Jemal stared between us, looking shocked, not catching her grin as he walked behind us. His eyes suddenly locked on me as he said, “You did!?”

Maple, Mila, and I laughed.

“You worry too much, my friend.” I assured him. I gently patted Maple’s shoulder and told him “You might have to watch out for this one.”

“Sorry. You looked so serious, I just couldn’t help myself.” insisted Maple as she looked back at him. “I really didn’t mean anything by it.”

Jemal brushed away her concern and told her “Don’t worry about it. Nice joke.” He still looked nervous, fidgeting a little.

My little fairy friend left her perch on my shoulder and started flying around Jemal’s head. She seem to be trying to comfort him, showing him images of the peaceful forest.

As we reached the main building, I said, “All of the rooms on the first floor are for employee use. Feel free to use them as you wish. Mila can inform you if someone else has already booked one. The theater isn’t easy to find, but we do have one. The ballroom has become a bit of a hangout area, since it happens to host an elaborate computer system, utilizing the large mirrors of the ballroom as screens for gaming.”

Nodding, Maple replied “That’s where your daughter, Danni, is.”

“How do you know that?” asked Jemal. “Oh, right. You were there when I asked about my sister. Sorry. Your umm… ability… It’s a little unnerving to think about. I’ve really only seen psychics in horror movies.”

Maple laughed and asked “Think I’m an omen of death?”

Cosette, who had been sneaking up behind Jemal, snarled, growing a foot and elongating her fangs. Jemal jumped into the wall behind him with enough force to crack the wood. Maple looked behind her, let out a short scream and started to run. I gently grabbed her before she got too far.

Cosette, resuming her normal form, laughed and said, “You two should have seen your faces. Mila, can we get a replay!?”

“Of course.” replied Mila, showing a recording on the nearest mirror. She had obviously edited the footage already, zooming in on faces.

“H-how did you do that!?” exclaimed Maple, still catching her breath.

Still laughing, Cosette rapidly stepped closer and said, “I’m a vampire!”

“She’s actually not joking this time.” I explained, feeling Maple wasn’t likely to believe her.

Surprisingly, Maple simply nodded. “I may have seen your kind before.”

“Neat! What happened?” inquired Cosette, still grinning.

“Nothing really. I touched a railing one night, and I saw someone leap off it impossibly far.” she explained.

Cosette frowned, looking disappointed. “That could have been a number of things. Whatever it was, it shouldn’t have done that in front of you.”

“It didn’t. I was seeing the past.”

“Really?” asked Cosette. “I didn’t know that was possible.”

“Maple has uncommon magic, allowing her to see what transpired around anything she touches.” I explained.

“Even people?” questioned Cosette as she eyed Maple.

Maple nodded. “Even people.”

“Remind me not to hug you after taking a bath.” stated Cosette.

“I thought vampires didn’t like water.” stated Jemal.

“If one was low enough on energy and tried transforming in turbulent water, the vampire might fall apart. My father told me to always eat within one hour of swimming, but I enjoy a good swim.” explained Cosette with a smile.

“As much as your hard work is appreciated, maybe you should spend a little more time.socializing.” I suggested. Turning to Maple, I said, “If he keeps up as he has been, you’ll never know when he’s around.”

Maple frowned and said, “That’d be a shame. I’d like to get to know everyone. You all seem so happy and genuine.”

“Does that mean I can snack on you?” inquired Cosette, looking perfectly serious.

“Is it dangerous?” asked Maple with a look of concern.

“Very.” insisted Cosette as she nodded. “If you taste too good, I might gobble you up.”

“Portentia provides Cosette with her meals, so you really don’t have to worry about Cosette getting hungry.” I informed Maple.

“James!” complained Cosette, pouting at me.

“Do you really not need much? Stories always talk about a vampire draining a person dry.” stated Maple.

“Portentia’s blood is special, and she never runs out.” replied Cosette with a grin that would leave anyone in doubt.

Not wanting Maple to feel confused, I quickly said, “She’s being serious again. Portentia is one of the immortals I told you about. She’s been injured in more ways than anyone else I know and still regenerates perfectly.”

“Do people typically get injured around you often?” asked Maple with a hint of concern.

“No, but I’ve been unfortunate enough to see a great number of injuries.” I replied frankly. Over the course of my honeymoon, I saw far, far too many injuries. “Just from what I’ve heard, Portentia has been stabbed, shot, blown up, and poisoned multiple times each. I once even witnessed her head being blasted away by a spell. I can’t say Portentia even looked annoyed by it. Her head and hair were back instantaneously.”

“Okay, I’m really getting the idea why no one is shocked by my ability.” stated Maple.

“Yeah. I didn’t know about Portentia losing her head. That’s just crazy.” stated Jemal.

Cosette lifted her head from her body and used her hands to make it nod. Jemal stared at her wide-eyed. Maple wasn’t faring any better.

After reattaching her head, Cosette calmly looked at them and asked “What?” She grinned when she caught my smirk. “James gets it! It’s funny!”

“Just don’t do that around Kayla. She’ll either freak out or want to try it.” insisted Jemal.

“Kayla and I get along splendidly! You’re the one who avoids everyone.”

Jemal nervously replied “I don’t avoid anyone. I just stay busy.”

“She knows.” I assured him. “Dejon is the one who often avoids people. Where is he, by the way?”

“Two doors down on the left, master.” replied Mila as she started walking that way.

“Come along.” I ordered. “Might as well introduce you while he’s nearby.”

The door to the library opened at our approach, and Dejon looked up front his book. He quickly stood and said, “Hi. Is something wrong?”

“No. I simply wanted to introduce you to Maple.” I assured him. Then, motioning to Maple, I said, “Maple Apple Wood, this is Dejon Christopher Powers. He can affect the mind of most anyone who meets his gaze. Maple here can learn the history of anyone or anything she touches.”

“Wow. That’d be useful.” insisted Dejon.

“So is mental manipulation.” agreed Maple.

I felt Jemal’s magic as he made a book float over to him.

“My magic isn’t bad for day-to-day stuff.” he asserted, flipping through a couple of pages before sending the book back to the shelf.

Dejon nodded and said, “True.”

“Glad to see you’ve been practicing.” I added with a smile.

“He discourages me from practicing.” flatly announced Dejon.

Surprisingly, he was making a joke.

Still, I said, “Well, you affect others a bit much with yours.”

“Are none of you going to say anything about Maple Apple Wood? Emma will make a forest out of her!” exclaimed Cosette with a grin.

“No one made any jokes about a Bourbon with a great thirst when you arrived, so I imagine not.” I teased.

“That’s not bad.” replied Cosette with an amused nod.

I smiled and winked, glad everyone was getting along.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 351

“This is the employee wing.” I stated, guiding Maple inside. One of the nearby doors to an unused room opened, so I gestured inside and said, “Mila is integrated throughout the house. She provides security, information, and company as you want it. The mirrors on the walls are actually very advanced computer screens with various sensors built into them.”

“They track movement?” asked Maple.

“They give Mila a large amount of information, such as variations in air pressure, light, sound, and heat. They also allow her to act as a computer for you, connecting you to the rest of the world.”

Maple looked a little nervous as she inquired “They don’t record video, do they?”

“They can record and play video. Mila decides what is recorded and when to ignore what you’re doing. If you decide to stay here and feel uncomfortable with Mila’s surveillance, you can ask her to shut off the mirror in your room.” I assured her.

“Who is Mila?”

“Me.” stated Mila as she walked towards us.

“You’re a maid!?”

“Yes.” replied Mila. The mirrors around us illuminated, displaying her on there as well. Then from the nearest speakers, she said, “I’m also what you’d consider an artificial lifeform.”

“Huh?” asked Maple, looking between the mirrors and Mila’s body.

Mila stepped forward and held out her hand expectantly. Maple hesitantly reached out and touched her. As time passed, I pulled out my phone and started looking through tonight’s schedule. I’d be gone for several months again. I would be inspecting one of the new Best Friend For Hire branch offices in the second week, so that was something to which I could look forward. Meeting new employees had grown fun over the years.

“Where do you get technology like that?” inquired Maple as she stared up at me.

“The lab under the garage. Jarod’s a genius. Mila might as well be a set of geniuses. Maxine is a genius. Then there’s Aaliyah, with whom none of them can keep up.” I explained.

“Mila can’t keep up with someone?” asked Maple incredulously.

“Aaliyah is my mother. She made me.”

“Well… I mean… I know you were made, but…” started Maple as she pointed around. “There’s so much of you.”

“Is this a fat joke? Mother warned me about those.” replied Mila, looking perfectly serious.

Smiling, I informed Maple “She gets her sense of humor from her mother. Mila probably knows every joke on the planet.”

“Master, you could have let her worry a little.” insisted Mila with an amused grin.

“My apologies.”

“Apology accepted.” she told me. Then she faced Maple and said, “In all seriousness, I don’t even anticipate Jarod and Maxine’s ideas consistently. They both are quite creative and prone to very large mental leaps when searching for solutions. I’m far more methodical in my search. Mother, on the other hand, seems to know everything. She’ll have a solution and an elaborately planned package for it before I know a problem exists.”

Motioning through the door, I said, “As for the rooms, they come like this with no extraordinary features save for Mila’s assistance. If you want specific furnishings, Emma and Mila are adept at fabricating furniture in house, so you can have practically anything you might want.”

Maple nodded, still a bit wide-eyed, as she entered the room and looked around. I then took her upstairs and knocked on Jemal’s door.

“Boss!” exclaimed Jemal the moment he opened the door. “Where’s Kayla? Is she alright!?”

“She’s in the ballroom, playing Ancient Tribes of Earth with Dani, Isis, and Raine.” replied Mila.

“Jemal, this is our newest friend, Maple.” I told him, motioning to her.

I was amused at how awkward Jemal became as he looked at her, realized he was staring, and quickly presented his hand to shake.

“Jemal Castello.” he told her.

Maple reached out, stopping short of touching his hand, and then pulled back. Looking to me, she asked “Should I warn everyone here?”

I nodded.

“W-what’s wrong? Are you sick?” questioned Jemal, looking overly concerned.

“I have psychometry, so if I touch your hand, I’ll know what you’ve been doing for the past several minutes.”

“Girl, you don’t gotta worry about that. I’ve just been working.” insisted Jemal, brushing away her concerns with his hand before holding it out again.

I considered casting something to help him relax, but I knew there was no need. Aaliyah had already told me of these two. She just hadn’t warned me how awkward Jemal would be.

“Maple Apple Wood.” replied Maple as she took his hand.

“Your parents must love trees.” he stated, still shaking her hand.

“They just love terrible names.” she teased.

“At least they didn’t name you ‘Maple Syrup Wood’. That’d just be ridiculous.” he replied. Realizing he was still shaking her hand, he suddenly released it and leaned awkwardly against his doorway.

Maple laughed and said, “Yeah, that would have been terrible.”

“Care to join us, Jemal? I don’t want to interrupt your studies, but I thought you might like to join us in checking on everyone in the ballroom.”

“S-sure, boss! Whatever you say!” he replied. He glanced down, looking at his battered t-shirt and sweatpants. “Umm… can I get a moment?”

“We’ll be down saying hello to Brenna.” I replied.

He nodded and slipped back into his room, shutting the door.

“Is he always so…” started Maple after a few steps down the hall.

“Jemal’s been responsible for his little sister ever since their father died. He’s had a bit of a fight managing all of his new responsibilities up till he came here. Now he works three times as hard as needed, fearing something will go wrong.” I explained.

She nodded and said, “This place does seem surreal. Is he studying to be an electrician?”

“He’s a best friend for hire, so he studies a bit of everything to help wherever he can.” I explained.

Mila then added “What you saw was the wiring for a car. His next job today will have him switching out a fuse box for a client who’s trying to modify his car, but Jemal wants to be able to explain what’s wrong and understand why there’s a short without relying on me.”

“Did I mention auto services as a perk here? Jarod and Mila are excellent at switching cars to electric too.” I stated.

“No, you hadn’t, but I’ll keep that in mind.” she told me.

When we arrived at Brenna’s door, she nearly bumped into me, watching her phone as she stepped out of her room.

“James! I’m sorry.” she told me. Noticing Maple she quickly said, “Hi! I’m Brenna Underhill.”

“Maple Apple Wood. Nice to meet you.” she replied.

“Applewood? Haven’t heard that last name before.” commented Brenna. “Are you from around here?”

“I’m from…” started Maple, visibly wincing as she said, “The Grove. My last name’s ‘Wood’. Apple is my middle name.”

Brenna looked at me as if asking if Maple was being serious. Then she said, “Sorry. Are you starting here today?”

“Yes? Maybe? I was just hired.” she replied, glancing at me for confirmation.

“Welcome to the family!” exclaimed Brenna. Then she whispered “Beware my brother, Brandon. He’s dating Deyanira, but he comes across as flirtatious. He means well most of the time. His sense of humor just sucks.”

“Oh. Umm… okay. I love your dress.” stated Maple.

“Think it’s too much? I was given it for a party tonight for this modeling agency which occasionally hires me, but I have a meeting just before the party with this film producer who’s shooting a short downtown. I figured I might as well use the dress for both instead of trying to switch between.” she explained, speaking rapidly. “So what do you do?”

“Pardon?” asked Maple.

“What sort of magic do you have? Mine’s lame. I just can alter my skin tone. Brandon can change his whole body. Watch out for him pretending to be a girl, by the way.”

“I can see the past of anything I touch, as in a small area around it.” replied Maple.

“So if I shook your hand right now, you’d see me changing?”

“Well, I suppose.”

“I’m so glad you’re not a guy.” declared Brenna. “No offense, James. I know you’d be safe, but I can unfortunately imagine what Brandon would do.”

“None taken.” I assured her.

“I really must be off. Nice meeting you, Maple. Bye, James! Bye, Mila!” exclaimed Brenna as she hurried down the hall toward the employee parking garage.

“Mila, would you tell Jemal that…” I stopped, mentally examining the magic in use nearby. “Strike that. Mind guiding my little friend our way?”

“Little friend?” asked Maple.

“There are fey in the woods I pointed out to you earlier, which is why no one is allowed in there without me present. One of them is particularly small.” I told her.

She opened her mouth to speak and left it open once the little fairy flew between us. My little friend seemed quite excited over a particularly exquisite, red acorn she discovered today. I’d have to ask Aaliyah about it later. A single red acorn seemed peculiar. Given how Maple was still gaping, she obviously needed a moment. I hoped Jemal wouldn’t be long.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 350

“Hi, Maple! Glad to have you here. I’m James Michael Somerset III.” I told her, reaching out to shake her hand.

She looked from my face to my hand and then quickly shook it, saying, “Pleased to… meet you.”
She stared at my hand as she gripped it, obviously shocked and forgetting to release it. She didn’t understand why her ability wasn’t working.

“Mind touring the yard as we talk?” I inquired.

“Uh… no. Not at all.” she told me, quickly releasing my hand.

Since she was wearing heels with her suit, I decided to stick to the sidewalk, taking her around past the garage and then by the gardens between the kitchen and Dani’s wing.

“What about my company attracted your interest?” I inquired as we walked.

She thought for a few steps and then said, “I first heard about your company through a friend of my mother, Melissa Robertson. She hired someone named… Emma, I think.” Maple looked at me questioningly, relieved when I nodded. “Emma really impressed her and mentioned the business has a wonderful educational program as well.”

“Yes, we have a deal with the Institute of Autodidacticism to provide a fine education in whatever fields interest you.” I replied. Then I pointed to the kitchen’s gardens and said, “We also employ an incredible chef for those who reside here. Marco’s cooking is absolutely incredible. Emma insures that he receives the best produce all year round. In addition to being an active best friend, she’s the groundskeeper.”

“Wow. Is everyone that busy?” inquired Maple, looking worried.

I smiled and said, “Emma makes keeping the grounds in order look easy, but no one is busier than they want, despite how Brandon might complain. Iris Storm, for example, works part-time and still lives with her parents. Everyone else just submits what hours they’d like to work, and the schedule is made based off their availability and the availability of work suited to them that week.”

“That sounds amazing. How do the benefits work then?” she asked.

“If you work here, your medical needs are fully covered. There are also paid vacations, such as an upcoming trip to France. You’ll be quite welcome if you join us. I’ll make sure you can get a passport in time if one’s needed.” I informed her, knowing she had one from her trip to Italy last year.

“What!? Really!?” she questioned, stopping and staring at me.

I nodded and said, “Of course. Retirement packages are based off what you earn over your time with us, but I assure you they’re quite lucrative. You also will have access to all training utilities here. Past the bend and far off to the left is an employee gym. There is also a large pond we like to use for swimming if you prefer swimming outdoors. If you enjoy video games, you’ll have access to all games from Global Princess Entertainment.”

“Sorry, but can we go back a minute? The medical benefits. Were you saying you cover insurance entirely?” she inquired.

“No. We provide complete medical services that are better than you’ll find in general hospitals.” I explained, not wanting to say too much just yet.

Her eyes widened as she listened. “But… how does that even work? I mean… say I was on a job, got injured, and was rushed to a hospital… how would I get help?”

“We’d cover any medical fees and get our own people involved as soon as possible.” I assured her. Stepping forward again, I warned “Everything is spelled out in the employee contract, but teams of lawyers can get lost in that thing.”

“Got any of those on hand for employees?” teased Maple.

“Yes, actually. My secretary covers most legal matters and might as well be a team.” I replied, amused as she stopped again.

“Sorry.” she muttered, walking again. “My dad’s not going to believe this.”

“Both of your parents will be welcome to see the place if you do decide to join us. We just like a little forewarning is all. Marco is rather particular about having food prepared just right for everyone. How do you feel about magic?” I inquired.

“What?” she asked, stumbling just after.

I carefully caught her and waited for her to get her balance. Then I said, “Some might say that looking into the past of whatever one touches is magical. How do you feel about it?”

“I… umm…” she mumbled, obviously startled.

“Watch.” I told her as I pointed ahead. The spells I created made mist form, spelling the words “Magic is real,” Fire burst through the mist and wrote “and you have it.” Water sizzled, forming around the fire and extinguishing it. The water froze after shaping into the words “How do you feel about magic?”

Maple’s eyes were bulging and her mouth hung open. I waited and watched as she took in what she just saw. Residual energy slowly accumulated on her as she watched the history of something she wore. She wasn’t touching anything else, and she had to be in contact to see the history.

“You know what I can do?” she asked, a quaver in her voice showing her nervousness as much as the other tells.

“Yes.” I stated.

“How?” she inquired.

I smiled and told her “The background checks we run are far more detailed than most. I know how crazy that sounds, but it’s true. You’ll find many things are different here, such as most of us using magic. Some of your potential coworkers can transform their bodies. One needs the blood of others to survive. Two people living here are impossible for most to kill. Work for me, and your world will seem to change as you learn more about others who, like you, possess superhuman abilities.”

“But…” she whispered as she stared down at her own hands.

“Here. Touch this.” I told her, taking off my watch and handing it to her. By this planet’s reckoning, the watch was only a week old. I had been very careful where I wore it, so Maple would only glean what I wanted her to know. She’d see around the house, my friends, my wife, and my daughter, but she wouldn’t see anything about clients or other planets.

She gingerly took the watch and rubbed it between her fingers. More energy poured off her. “Your friends love being around you.” she stated several minutes later. A smile slowly spread across her face. “I want to work here.”

“Excellent. You’re hired.” I told her. “I’ll show you the rest of the grounds, and then we can head inside to introduce you to everyone who’s home. Welcome to Best Friend For Hire!”