Best Friend For Hire, Entry 326

“Finally found time for me?” asked Maxine after stepping into my office in front of Mila.

I found out last night that Maxine shared her birthday with Alma and Portentia. Though I considered the shared date with Alma to be a coincidence, I wondered if being born on the exact same day as Portentia showed another connection between the two. Mila was searching through old records for me, but many documents from that time were still kept on paper, slowing things down considerably.

“Depends on how you want me to take the question.” I replied as I perused through some documents on a purchase Aaliyah wanted to make for my company.

“Your tenant agreement is outlandish and nearly incomprehensible. I doubt I’d fully understand it even if I were to study law for several years before returning to it.” she stated.

“Given your intellect, that really is saying something, but what is your point?” I inquired.

“Signing a document under duress invalidates it, so you can’t possibly expect me to abide by it, especially with how convoluted the thing is. I could violate it without ever knowing.” she insisted.

“Though you could make a wonderful argument in court if you were allowed to open the case, you will be expected to uphold your end of the agreement while staying here. Alma was confident that she covered what you are and are not allowed to do while staying here in enough detail for you to understand. Certain violations, as you were informed, are punishable by death, which I’m confident can be carried out. Please don’t put that contract to the test.” I replied, frowning as I realized what I was to be purchasing.

“You are aware that I heal just as quickly as Portentia?” she inquired.

I nodded out of habit as I said, “Yes, but I believe someone I know is capable of killing you both. Trust me when I say that you do not want an introduction.”

“And you’d be willing to kill me?” she asked, sounding doubtful.

“My staff is very efficient, but you’d probably be dead before I even heard of the violation. On a more pressing note, my company will be acquiring a large part of your holdings soon, and I wish to assure you that I’ll return things to you if ever I feel you are rehabilitated.”

“That is not amusing. None of my assets are for sale.” she stated.

“Mila, am I correct in assuming that Alma is already pressuring for a quick transition?” I asked.

“Yes, master. Maxine’s position as CEO of her family’s corporation is already under scrutiny. Evidence will be found, showing criminal activity through the company. Her shares will then be sold off, since Maxine won’t be available to make an innocent owner claim to the courts after the asset forfeiture. Within two months, you or Lady Pendreigh will have control of her estate, since proceedings are being pushed forward.” explained Mila.

“My lawyers will…” started Maxine.

Interrupting her, Mila said, “not do a thing, given that Lady Pendreigh is purchasing their firms. You are willfully ignoring Lady Pendreigh’s influence in all branches of the government as well as her ability to purchase what’s in her way. Mother put a word in with the vampires on James’ behalf to influence other sections. This will happen.”

“Sorry. I assure you that your company will stay afloat. Before you make any more angry remarks, do understand that I’ll have to give my fiancée news she won’t like, since I’ll be intervening on your behalf. You know as well as I do that she would not be so kind.” I stated, hoping to deflect Maxine’s anger.

She stood still enough that she might as well have been a statue. I had moved onto other documents when I caught motion in my peripheral vision. She was smiling.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yes, James. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. Sorry to intrude.” she told me, turning around and stepping toward the door. Her voice sounded flat… controlled.

“Did you ever play Ancient Tribes of Earth or did you merely try to crack it?” I asked.

“Yes, I played. The programming behind it is truly extraordinary.” she replied without turning to face me again.

“I’ll hire Jarod and Mila to recreate your visual apparatus if you wish to play again. You could pass some time and possibly ingratiate yourself with some of my friends here.” I suggested.

“Thank you. I’ll consider your offer.” she truthfully assured me.

A while after she left, I asked “What’s Maxine doing?”

“Thinking, I assume. Since we returned to her room, she’s been standing completely still.” explained Mila.

“Didn’t you order some furniture for her?” I inquired.

“No, master. She refused to assist in the choices, claiming that her cell might as well feel like one.” replied Mila.

I sighed, curbing my impulse to try reasoning with Maxine. As far as I knew, she might be plotting her escape. Given her abilities, she had little reason to take my warning about the risk of death seriously.

“Is Iris here?” I asked.

“Master, five in the morning is a bit early to expect her arrival.” replied Mila.

“Oh. True. I was just considering a break and thought I might convince her to do a bit of gaming again. She rarely logs on from home, despite having a laptop now.” I commented.

“I know, master. She really does prefer being outside. Don’t forget that your parents will be visiting today.” insisted Mila.

“I know. How’s Dejon acclimating?” I inquired.

“There have been no complaints from his clients, he is dutifully completing coursework, and I have seen no signs of him attempting to control others.” she reported.

Nodding, I said, “Thank you, Mila. Are Jemal and Kayla still doing well?”

“Of course, master. Though Kayla is not as diligent as her brother in her coursework, she is a very gifted girl, getting well ahead for her age. Jemal has a one hundred percent return rate from his current clients.” she explained.

“Wow. He has me beat in that regard.” I admitted, knowing I was just resisting the urge to pester Alma.

Our wedding day was steadily growing closer, and I felt a sense of excitement for it. I knew I was probably being naive to some extent, but my own parents made marriage seem so wonderful. Jarod’s relationship with the twins certainly benefited from it. For me, I’d finally be able to relieve myself of a seemingly endless stream of secrets. Keeping as much from her as I did didn’t feel right, despite knowing she kept things from me as well. I wanted to be open and honest with her even though I’d never get to be so open with others I care about. There were only ten more days to wait.


Best Friend For Hire, Entry 325

As the doors to my home opened, party favors exploded, sending confetti and streamers everywhere. Jarod was using his custom party gun again. The “welcome home” died partly after “welcome” though as people realized we had an extra guest.

“Maxine?” asked Jarod.

“You brought her here?” inquired Mai.

“Do we get to keep her?” asked Ai with a wicked grin.

“Have you and Portentia been hanging out, Ai? That’s precisely what she had asked.” I stated.

“You’re Ai? You said you were Mai!” complained Deyanira, who apparently had shown up for the party.

“Never trust the twins.” muttered Brandon.

“She obviously just had me confused with my sister.” replied Ai.

Grabbing her sister’s hand, Mai then pouted and said, “I can’t believe you were hanging out with Portentia and not telling me.”

“Who’s Maxine?” asked Kayla.

“Her, obviously.” stated Jemal as he nodded toward Maxine.

“Yes, but who is she!?” exclaimed Kayla with a grin.

“What does she… like to eat?” inquired Marco.

“Who’s she?” asked Portentia, pointing to Iris.

“Hi! I’m Iris.” replied Iris with a wave. “I started part-time here while you were away.”

I raised my hands and motioned for everyone to be quiet. “Due to unfortunate circumstances, Maxine will be staying with us indefinitely, so there will be plenty of time for questions later. Let’s just get on with the party for now.” I suggested.

Aaliyah was smiling at me excitedly. Breaking the momentary quiet, she said, “Boss-man, sir, we should have Maxine sign her tenant’s agreement before the party.”

“I don’t sign anything without my lawyer.” stated Maxine warily.

Placing her hand on Maxine’s shoulder, Alma said, “I’ll go over the terms with you if you wish, but I can already assure you that there won’t be room for debate.”

“Fine, but I want to go through every detail.” insisted Maxine.

Seeing Aaliyah’s grin widen, I said, “No, you really don’t. That would probably take years.” I almost stopped mid-sentence when I felt magic off to my left, but my little fairy friend simply removed the spell concealing her.

I heard Maxine gasp as my little friend started showing us what I had missed in her day. What was this like for her? I doubted her tech had allowed her vision to match that of my little friend, and now she got to see a vibrant world with all the wonder of a fairy. I managed to cut my little friend off at the point she entered the house, uncertain of how much I wanted Maxine to see.

“Boss-man, sir! She hadn’t gotten to finding the cake yet!” complained Aaliyah.

“Yes, well, we don’t need spoilers.” I argued.

“But it’d be like eating cake without the calories.” insisted Aaliyah.

“I like the sound of that.” agreed Brenna.

Nodding, Deyanira said, “Me too. Marco, your cooking’s too good. I had to start working out more since I started dating Brandon.”

“Brandon has a girlfriend?” asked Maxine incredulously.

“You know me?” he inquired. “Wait. Were you interested?”

“Hey now!” exclaimed Deyanira as she grabbed his arm.

I sighed as Emma started encouraging my little fairy friend to relay what she was seeing to Maxine.

“Maxine does not need help.” I stated.

Maxine sounded curious as she said, “I’m not opposed. There was something different in the image that time. How are you doing this? What is it I’m seeing?”

You don’t know?” teased Portentia.

“I wanted to see if you could have a seeing-eye fairy!” exclaimed Emma.

“A what?” she asked.

Emma projected what she was seeing into all of our heads as she watched the little fairy. Then she said, “I’m getting better, but I can’t keep this up for too long.”

“Sight through magic? Camila would be most interested in learning that as well.” commented Maxine.

“I love your hair. It’s so fluffy!” exclaimed Kayla, who had wondered closer to Maxine.

I was trying to decide how to warn Jemal that Kayla probably shouldn’t spend time with Maxine when Kayla was suddenly repositioned back by her brother.

“Sh-she’s… d-dangerous.” warned Raine, who was standing by them now.

“Wow!” exclaimed Kayla. “Can we do that again?”

“Dangerous!?” exclaimed Jemal, eyeing Maxine as he hugged Kayla. “How so?”

“I’m not surprised. Everyone here is dangerous.” stated Dejon.

“But when has Raine ever called someone dangerous?” argued Jemal.

“Fair point.” he agreed.

I quickly told them “Maxine has a nefarious background, so you should be wary of her motives, but I doubt she’d try to harm anyone here. She’s like Portentia in that she heals instantly, but she can’t utilize any sort of magic.” Looking to Portentia, I then asked “Can she fight?”

Portentia grinned and said, “Not really. She needs her gizmos.”

“Do I get extra meals?” teased Cosette, who had been quietly observing everyone.

“No!” exclaimed Portentia. “There’s something weird about how she heals.”

“No. You’re the weird one.” argued Maxine. “Don’t think I missed the strange shadows that follow you.”

“Sh-she’s like… l-like… Ariadne’s m-magic.” muttered Raine. “I feel it.”

“Really?” inquired Alma. “What do you feel from Portentia then?”

“M-myself.” replied Raine.

“Oh!” I exclaimed as realization hit me. “Raine, would you mind doing a few hundred laps around the city for me?”

She shrugged as Mila opened the doors behind me. Raine was gone too quick for even my eyes, and I confirmed my suspicions. For a while now, I had felt something from Portentia, not just when she healed. I never knew what I was feeling till now. When Raine moved, some sort of energy inside Portentia moved as well. Perhaps, the energy just moved more than normal. The difference was very faint, but I could tell if I was focusing on it.

“B-back.” stated Raine, stopping by me.

Sighing, Maxine said, “Ha ha. Trying to prank the blind girl?”

“No. Raine is that fast.” stated Alma. “Let’s be off and take care of your tenant agreement before I’m late for the party.”

“If we must.” replied Maxine.

“Oh, we must! I’m not missing the cake twice in one day!” insisted Aaliyah.

Seeming to sense Aaliyah’s plight, the little fairy projected her experience when stealing some cake earlier. The taste was exquisite as expected when Marco was involved.

“James, can we talk for a bit?” asked Jarod.

I nodded and followed him out, down a hall, and into one of the side rooms. “What’s up?” I asked when we arrived.

“Are you sure having Maxine here is a good idea?” he inquired.

Shrugging, I said, “No, but I don’t want to cover her in iron and bury her somewhere either. I doubt a jail would survive her even if they tried keeping her in solitary confinement. Here, Mila will keep tabs on her, and plenty of us can easily overpower her physically if necessary, though I very much doubt she could get around Mila.”

“I understand that, but… I suppose you’re right.” he admitted, obviously thinking things through.

“You might even enjoy chatting with her, given her expertise.” I suggested.

“Yes, I’m sure Ai and Mai will love that idea. I will admit that Maxine’s brilliant. I’m surprised you’re okay with this.” he told me.

Shrugging, I said, “I assure you that I’ll be considering other options and will gladly take any from you as well. Portentia didn’t give us warning before bringing Maxine home, but I can understand why when she didn’t feel comfortable leaving Maxine to the police.”

“James, there’s a supervillain in your home.” stated Jarod with a straight face that quickly became an ear-to-ear grin.

I nodded. “Crazy to think how much has changed in a year. I keep thinking about it and still find myself amazed.” I admitted.

“I know. Dude, I’m married already! You’re going to be married soon. We haven’t even been out of high school for a year. We could have kids in another year. Ever think about that? Some little baby with superhuman powers wanting your attention. How do you even go out with kids like we could have? Imagine one throwing a tantrum in public. Did you know they might not have their parents’ abilities?” he asked, rambling away.

“Hold on. What’s that about their abilities?” I asked.

“So the Slayer family has some crazy lore, but Duncan can control air while Ai and Mai control water. That’s not because of their parents, it’s apparently random. The twins showed me some books discussing the abilities from different lines of the family.” he explained.

“I wonder what the limits are. Alma seemed interested in Jamal, Kayla, and Dejon’s abilities.” I commented.

“Yeah, but those are from fey magic. People descended from the Slayer family and fey typically get one or the other for magic, not both, but having that fey ancestry gives a high probability for the magic to reoccur.” he replied.

“Lovely. I wonder if my magic can be passed along.” I pondered, hoping for my children to be protected.

“No idea, but having a kid who’s impervious to magic might be a bit of a pain if he or she also has Alma’s knack for magic.” warned Jarod as if he was reading my mind.

“I can’t imagine that I’ll have kids for quite some time yet, so I’ll worry more about it after I see yours.” I told him.

“Ever talk with Alma about it?” he questioned.

“Well, no, but I don’t really think we need to yet.” I replied.

“If you start thinking about something, you probably should start discussing it. Seriously, man. Better to find out if they’re ready to discuss something than to make assumptions and have it bite you.” he insisted, rubbing his arm.

I nodded and smiled, wondering what Jarod had gotten himself into this time. Things with Alma would probably progress more slowly on the kid front, but we would get there eventually. What if she already had started planning baby names? There was only one sure way to find out.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 324

Alma’s birthday was a success, though remarkably low-key. I knew the party would be low-key, but I thought low-key for her would involve a much larger number of guests, considering the piles of gifts that were sent throughout the day. Even with all of our friends gathered, the room she had picked seemed spacious ― she had insisted on having the party in her wing, probably to keep us from going overboard with the decorations.

Today, the other birthday girl was returning home. I had caught a little of Portentia’s exploits on the news. Mila was being rather tight-lipped about what all happened, claiming that Portentia insisted on telling me everything herself, which I couldn’t doubt. Portentia loved talking about her adventures when she felt safe to do so. When we returned home, we were going to have a welcome home slash belated birthday party for her, mainly as an excuse to give her the presents from everyone.

For Alma, I had handcrafted a large necklace out of platinum and gems that Aaliyah had procured for me. She seemed to like it well enough. Alma and I ended up designing a new backpack for Portentia with concealed compartments for her superhero costume. When inserted properly, the costume would just seem like padding. To be honest, Alma had done most of the design work. I merely made an enchantment on the backpack to help protect it and improve the concealment aspects.

Well, there was also a little spell that helped people ignore the backpack existed. I had tested it on Brandon, who tripped over the backpack repeatedly without realizing why he was tripping. I did explain to him what was happening afterward. He playfully hit me. I probably deserved worse for putting him through the ordeal, but I was happy the enchantment worked properly. With his enhancement suit worn, he was able to notice the backpack just fine, so the suit’s enchantment was working as well.

Noticing Alma frowning, I asked “What’s wrong?”

She pursed her lips before stating “I don’t know that you’ll approve of Portentia’s souvenir.”

“Souvenir?” I inquired. Did Portentia bring back part of Maxine’s armor again? “Oh. I see.” I stated when Portentia rounded the corner with Maxine in tow. She was wearing one of Portentia’s hoodies with the hood up and white-rimmed sunglasses, but that was obviously her. I stepped out of the limousine to greet them.

“James!” exclaimed Portentia, running over to me and giving me a hug.

Maxine, who had been holding onto Portentia’s arm, stayed where she was. “Hello again, James.” she told me.

“Why isn’t she in prison awaiting trial?” I asked, mouthing the words.

Mila had stepped out and taken their luggage cart to the limousine’s trunk.

“Can I keep her?” asked Portentia in a whisper.

“What!?” I replied, not expecting Portentia to say that of all things.

“James, let’s discuss this in the car.” called Alma.

She was right. There had already been enough people periodically watching for who’d step out of the limousine. I didn’t want anyone to realize Maxine was with us, though no one should be looking for her here.

“Lady Pendreigh, I should have known you’d be here as well.” stated Maxine.

I stepped back into the vehicle to sit by Alma and waited as Portentia guided Maxine into the other side. What had happened to Maxine’s glasses or even her cane?

Once they were situated, I asked “What’s this about?”, pointing to Maxine.

“I don’t believe I can age, so prison would raise numerous questions.” stated Maxine.

Oh, yes. She was apparently like Portentia.

“You’re colder than normal.” observed Alma.

“Portentia confiscated all of my tech. I assured her that some of it was perfectly harmless, but she doesn’t trust me.” explained Maxine.

“No one trusts you.” argued Portentia.

“Camila does. You know they don’t really have enough evidence against her to keep her very long. My lawyers will see to it.” stated Maxine.

“Even a year apart will do you two some good. Besides, you only have one lawyer left practicing in that area. We did our research.” insisted Portentia.

“Oh, yes. The mysterious ‘we’ again. I can’t imagine that James supplies your intel.” commented Maxine.

Grinning at the blind girl, Portentia said, “No, he’s my sidekick at times.”

As the two continued to bicker, I considered what to do. They were right about Maxine being in prison if she bothered staying very long. If she truly shared Portentia’s abilities, I had no doubt that she’d break out long before people could notice her lack of aging. Even if she didn’t, Maxine was intelligent enough to earn Jarod’s grudging respect, and guards would probably underestimate a blind girl even after hearing about her criminal career. Mila, however, could watch Maxine’s every move continuously.

“You could seal her away in your vault, James.” suggested Alma. “Even I couldn’t escape it for a very long time if I ever did manage to figure out those bloody enchantments.”

“Coarse as ever.” muttered Maxine with a small smile.

“I wouldn’t want any of my collection damaged when Maxine grew bored.” I replied.

“Maybe I should keep her under my personal supervision.” teased Alma.

At least, I was hoping she was teasing.

“Oh, yes. That would be marvelous. I’m sure neither of us would grow bored, even when you’re old and gray.” replied Maxine.

“Funny, but I don’t seem to age either. We’ll have a very long relationship.” stated Alma.

Maxine scowled as she said, “This is the most insufferable run of bad luck in all of history.”

“Maxine’s used to being lucky. Very lucky. I think… we may be opposites in that regard.” commented Portentia.

“Do things really go wrong for Portentia all the time?” asked Maxine. “Some of the stories she told me seem highly improbable.”

“No. Portentia’s learned to be meticulous in many areas to avoid problems in advance.” I argued, thinking of how careful she’s grown with her gear.

“I help too, master.” stated Mila.

Maxine tilted her head, facing her ear toward Mila as she said, “That voice… you’re the mysterious informant.”

“I’m the one who crippled your communication throughout the city and performed the DDoS attacks against you.” happily replied Mila. “You are a skilled techie for a near-human. Mother found your attempts to fight me adorable.”

“And who’s your mother?” she asked.

“Aaliyah T. Sypher.” stated Mila.

“What? That child!?” exclaimed Maxine.

“I’m an artificial intelligence designed by Aaliyah to assist James in all his needs. The master allows me enough free time to aid in other endeavors as well.” explained Mila.

“What? You’re a machine?” inquired Maxine, sounding mystified by the notion.

“You’re hearing my voice from an android body that was a joint project between mother, Jarod, and me. The upgraded versions will be deployed in the near future. When we arrive, you should thank Jarod for his part in your machines.” teased Mila.

“I suspected he was the one after I saw some of his car designs. He’s very gifted.” replied Maxine.

“He also designed the physical part of Calamity’s enhancement suit. The master handled the magical end.” explained Mila.

Smiling, Maxine said, “Camila would love to learn from you, James. She was quite confused by how Portentia seemed to ignore her spells.”

“I’ve seen Camila’s attempt at spells. She lacks the capacity to even understand James’ enchantment, much less cast it.” argued Alma.

“Disappointing, but understandable. The little escape trick James pulled on me was extraordinary by itself.” she insisted.

I didn’t bother telling her how simple that was. As well-meaning as I felt Maxine was, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of her staying in my home. I was half-tempted to see if Aaliyah would take her off planet, but I worried what mischief she’d cause unobserved. Using sign language, I informed Mila that I wanted Maxine’s quarters to be as far removed as possible from the others. Whether or not she’d be confined to them would depend on how well Maxine behaved. Mila would need to be physically with her at all times, just in case.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 323

“What’s all this?” I asked, finding a number of people standing in my entryway. I heard them well before I saw them, but I hadn’t been expecting anyone this morning.

Thankfully, my little fairy friend had sensed them and turned invisible.

Mila curtsied and said, “Courtesy callers with gifts for Lady Pendreigh, master.”

The assembled group stopped what they were doing and bowed to me after seeing Mila curtsey.

I wanted to tell them that was hardly necessary, but I knew Alma wouldn’t approve. If they were here with gifts for her birthday, they were probably part of her family.

“Am I supposed to bow to you?” asked Iris.

“Please don’t.” I told her. “You are very welcome to attend the party tonight if you wish. My fiancée’s celebrating her birthday today with a surprisingly small party. Apparently, she’s accustomed to only celebrating once every four years, but I’m not letting her get away with that here.”

“What? Why so rarely?” inquired Iris.

“She was born on the twenty-ninth and had a most peculiar mother.” I explained, hoping my voice was soft enough not to be heard by those assembled in the hall. “Unfortunately, the other birthday girl is currently out of town on a job, or we’d be celebrating with her as well.”

“I’ll be relaying everything to her tonight.” stated Mila with a smile.

Nodding, I said, “Still won’t quite be the same, but I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.”

Walking into the ballroom behind me, Iris asked “Do people normally work on their birthday here? I can if needed. I just usually celebrate with my family.”

“Everyone’s free to take their birthday off. Most do. Portentia’s current assignment is like a gift to herself, really. You’ll never meet someone more motivated than she is. She’ll quite literally work ceaselessly, never stopping for food or rest, until she’s accomplished a goal if she really wants something done.” I replied.

“That’s not healthy.” insisted Iris, looking concerned.

“Portentia’s incapable of sleeping and doesn’t need sustenance, so she’s very different in that regard.” I assured her.

“Iris’ father is interested in having Best Friend For Hire join in his company’s baseball league, so Iris may be feeling concerned over us competing.” stated Mila.

“What? How did you know about that?” asked Iris.

“Your father sent an email to us a few minutes ago.” she replied.

“Please tell him that we’ll accept. We’ll get some practice in restraint. That’ll be for this summer, correct?” I asked.

“Yes, master.” replied Mila.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Dad’s really competitive, and um… you… this place… Isn’t that unfair?” suggested Iris.

“Incredibly. They probably won’t ask us again next year, but we’ll happily oblige this year. Making new friends is part of what we do here, but I assure you that all of us have practice at holding back. I’m not honestly sure what would even happen if I hit a ball with all I’ve got.” I told her.

“Neither the ball nor the bat would survive impact, master.” insisted Mila.

“Ha. Imagine Raine going all out.” I teased.

“That would be quite catastrophic for the surroundings.” agreed Mila.

“Going to warn your father?” I asked Iris.

She shook her head and said, “He wouldn’t believe me even if I tried. I still can’t believe what I saw just this morning.”

“I do hope you enjoy working for us, even if there’s an adjustment period. Oh, I should mention that the party tonight will be informal, so there’s no need to dress up for it.” I told her.

Nodding as she looked around, she asked “You use this for video games?”

“Yes. Ancient Tribes of Earth, mostly. Ready to give it a try?” I asked.

“I guess.” she replied, not all that enthusiastic.

“We could do something else if you’d prefer.” I suggested. “Emma told me that you seemed to like the zoomies. Kayla was going to join you, but her brother made her get back to work before you were finished with the paperwork. Whatever the case, you’ll be paid for your time today no matter how we spend it.”

“Well, shouldn’t I be studying or something. Mila had said there was a great deal to learn.” she replied.

“There is.” insisted Mila.

“No doubt, but I can’t believe you haven’t tried this. Mila’s mother made it.” I explained.

“Her mother?” inquired Iris.

“Aaliyah Sypher, my secretary, is also the president of Global Princess Entertainment, the company which made this game.” I explained.

“She’ll be thirteen this year.” stated Mila, though there was a faint hint of mirth in her voice.

“Your secretary is thirteen!?” asked Iris in disbelief.

“She looks far younger. You’ll see.” I replied, amused by her continued incredulity.

When two of the large mirrors lit up with the game’s loading screen, Iris’ expression changed again, looking more surprised than anything.

“A thirteen-year-old made this?” she inquired.

“I believe she was twelve at release. She might have been eleven when she started working on it. Hard to say.” I told her.

“Very.” agreed Mila. “Mother enjoys confusing people with her age. If you don’t mind, I can import your information for account creation directly from our company database.”

“Uh… sure.” stated Iris.

Smiling and motioning toward one of the screens, Mila said, “There you are. Simply input your account name and password.”

“What about payment?” she asked, scrolling up to the greyed-out fields.

“Free subscription is one of the perks you have as an employee of Best Friend For Hire.” explained Mila.

“So it’s not taken out of my pay?” inquired Iris.

“Of course not. The master would be devastated if mother secretly charged employees.” insisted Mila.

Iris nodded and confirmed her information. Then she started the character creation process with Mila’s help. Mila demonstrated the incredible amount of detail allowed through the plethora of sliders in character customization by creating an avatar that looked like herself and then one that looked like Iris.

“Make me taller!” exclaimed Iris with a grin.

Mila obliged, and then said, “You can also be any of these other species.” She went through the benefits of each for Iris and listed off what everyone in the company played as well as other options.

“So what do you actually do in the game?” asked Iris.

“Socialize, adventure, and try to save the world from evil.” I told her.

“Other than saving the world, can’t you do that stuff in real life instead?” she asked.

“The master is quite capable of saving the world in real life.” insisted Mila.

Iris looked incredulous again as she said, “Then that’s even less reason to do it in a game.”

“But in the game, you don’t have to worry about the ramifications of your actions as much. If someone dies here, they can be resurrected. In the real world, consequences are far more permanent.” I explained.

Mila seemed amused as she looked at me with a smile. I really didn’t want to consider what she might be thinking.

“Fine, I’ll try it.” stated Iris. After some more time spent with Mila on character creation, she asked “What should I name her?”

“Have a favorite name?” I questioned.

“Trixie.” she stated as she typed the name. “These keyboards are so strange.”

“Mother will be disappointed that you didn’t go through the chair tutorial, but no one does the entire thing.” replied Mila. “Mother is, however, flattered by your name choice. Her middle name is Trixibelle.”

“Oh. That’s cool.” stated Iris. Catching on to what was said, she looked up and asked “Did you already tell her?”

“Of course. We talk continuously most days.” replied Mila with a smile.

I invited Iris to my guild immediately and showed her some of the basics with Mila’s help as I took care of guild business. She seemed to be enjoying the game well enough, especially after some of the others came to join us. We only played a couple hours before she took a break to start the introductory tutorials for my company, but I couldn’t well argue against her inclination to work. I just hoped she was starting to feel comfortable here.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 322

“Iris, this is Dejon and Jemal. This one who bumped into you yesterday is Kayla. They’re going to be learning some basics with you while the others are practicing some more advanced techniques.” I announced once everyone was gathered for the morning exercises. “I realize that you won’t always be able to attend these classes every morning, since you’re not staying here, but I hope you can at least make your way here four times a week.”

“Sorry, but… I mean… Is martial arts really necessary for the job?” she asked.

Nodding, I said, “We actually have had several clients request sparring partners a few times now, and we’ve also had clients request guest instructors at dojos in the city. Cosette and Dejon were able to demonstrate some of their abilities at a LARP recently.”

Dejon fidgeted, but I pressed onward.

“However, the primary purpose is for you to be able to defend yourself while out on jobs. There may be a time when you feel comfortable defending a client as well, but you are never under any obligation to do so.” I explained.

“Which one’s Cosette?” inquired Iris.

“The one playing with the short blonde with the poofy hair.” I explained.

“P-poofy?” asked Raine, suddenly in front of me.

“You like to tease your hair.” I replied. “Sorry if poofy is not the proper adjective. Your hair is marvelous.”

“Poofy.” she murmured, smiling to herself before running back to Emma.

“Wh-what?” asked Iris.

“Raine’s quite quick.” I informed her.

“Kayla’s quick, incredibly quick.” argued Iris as she pointed at Kayla. Then, pointing to Raine, she exclaimed “She teleported!”

“No, actually. Raine’s heritage is a bit unique, and she’s the last person in this room with whom any sane person would want to pick a fight. She comes here to spar more as an exercise in controlling her gifts than a need to learn how to protect herself. We don’t actually have the faintest idea what Raine’s limits are.” I explained.

“This place is really different. I think of it as a different reality than the rest of the world.” offered Dejon.

Laughing, Jemal said, “He’s kinda right. Kayla and I have been here a month, and this still seems like some sort of dream.”

“Jemal’s all dreamy.” sang Kayla with a grin.

“You know you agree with me.” he stated defensively.

She just kept grinning.

Dejon had seemed annoyed the first couple times Kayla was at practice with him, but he’s loosened up a bit already. Kayla reflexively throwing him with her magic had really caught him off guard a few days ago.

I was about to start the lesson when Iris’ mouth dropped open and was quickly covered by her hand, so I glanced back to see what was happening. I laughed, seeing Cosette act like she was about to bite Raine’s neck with enormous fangs. The technique behind her hold was quite well executed, even though Raine could escape practically effortlessly.

Turning back to Iris, I said, “Yes, there is a vampire living and working here. You’re not racist, are you?”

“Racist?” she questioned, looking like she was too dumbfounded to fully work out how I came to that word.

“You’ll find that most of us here have at least one nonhuman ancestor, including you. Quite likely, your magic stems from a fey some time ago. You’re about to see what I mean. Our little friend will be joining us.” I informed her. “Sorry in advance. This will feel a bit odd.”

“Wh…” she started, not even finishing the word as we suddenly felt what dodging through the leaves of a tree after a bird was like.

My little friend had caught up and rode the bird similar to how she had rode Pufflewink before. The relationship between the fey and the animals was still odd to me. The fey tended to the animals in a fashion, helping the injured and ill, but they would just as quickly kill and eat one with animalistic ferocity. Feeling what she did, no one could question whether or not my little friend enjoyed food of many types.

“That is so cool!” exclaimed Iris before she suddenly went stiff at my little friend’s approach.

“Though you might not always understand their motives, you’ll never doubt how the fey feel. They can also feel surface thoughts of those around them, so something you were thinking about caught our little friend’s attention.” I informed her.

“How could I possibly be descended from her? She’s so tiny.” inquired Iris.

“Don’t be silly. She controls lights.” I teased before telling her “You’re probably descended from a more human-sized fey that manipulates electricity.”

“How many types are there?” asked Dejon. He hadn’t been in the forest yet.

“No clue. Alma would be far more capable of discussing the variety of fey, since she continually updates her catalogue on them for her family’s interests and has read her family’s tales about them.” I replied.

“You should take them into the forest sometime. Kayla and I can’t be the only new people who experienced that.” insisted Jemal.

“Does that mean I can start working here!?” asked Kayla excitedly.

“What? No.” he told her. “You’re too young.”

“But Jemal…” she complained.

“No buts. There are laws and stuff dealing with kids working. Maybe when you’re sixteen if you learn to behave.” he told her.

“James, Jemal’s being mean.” she insisted.

“His word’s the law where you’re concerned.” I informed her.

She sighed and hugged her brother while still pouting.

“Think you can focus while our little friend’s chattering away?” I asked.

Iris shook her head negatively, Dejon gave me a little shrug, and Jemal nodded.

“Let’s try before Alma catches wind of someone slacking. She doesn’t approve of slacking.” I stated.

“Alma’s your fiancée, right? Does she run this place with you?” inquired Iris.

“Yes, she’s my fiancée, but she doesn’t work for Best Friend For Hire, though she did attend a convention with us.

“So why…” she started.

Interrupting her, I said, “Alma is still teaching me martial arts. She’s studied her entire life and has mastered an impressive number of styles. She also assists me in teaching at times, so you might well get her as your instructor one of these mornings. Sorry in advance. She’s a bit strict.”

Kayla laughed and asked “A bit?”

Jemal quickly covered her mouth and said, “She just wants us to do things correctly.”

“Properly.” stated Dejon with a small smile.

“Did Dejon just make a joke!?” exclaimed Emma as she ran over to us.

“Was it painful?” asked Brenna on Emma’s heels.

“Are you feeling okay? We can get you a cot if you want to take a nap.” offered Brandon.

“I knew he could do it!” called Cosette.

“We’re training, so should you be.” I stated, which was enough that they let us be, jogging swiftly back across the room.

“How did they even hear that!?” wondered Iris.

“They’re each wearing suits that enhance their bodies in numerous ways. Kayla was wearing one yesterday, which is why she seemed so fast to you. We’ll make you one if you ever become full time here or even remain part time for an extended period.” I told her.

“Are you making one for me?” asked Dejon.

“Yes, sorry. The suit’s made, but I need to enchant it, which will require Alma’s help. I need some time when we’re both free for an extended period.” I explained.

“Oh. Thank you.” he told me, looking surprised.

“They’re soooo fun, and you can get soooo much more done when wearing them.” insisted Kayla.

Rubbing her head, Jemal told her “Now if you’d commit yourself to your studies more while wearing one, you’d be flying through classes.”

“In her defense, she is actually ahead for her year already.” I replied.

Nodding, he said, “I know, but she’s got so much potential. She could finish college and have a degree by the time her friends finish high school.”

I laughed and said, “I’m sure she will. Not everyone can be as dedicated to studying as you though.”

“I guess. I just want the best for her.” he told me.

“As I keep telling you, everything will be fine. No matter what profession Kayla decides to pursue, we have the resources to help her get there.” I insisted.

“I can be a wizard!?” she exclaimed.

“Not if you don’t study spells with more enthusiasm.” I replied.

“But it’s haaard.” she whined.

“You really aren’t messing with me about magic?” asked Iris.

“Well, here’s a fairy. How much more magical do you want?” I asked, pointing to my little friend. “Perhaps this.” I suggested, using a spell to darken the room, another to create a somewhat strong breeze, and others to write a decree in the air using flaming characters, stating that we should all focus on our training.

As I ended the spell, Iris just nodded, still staring at the air where the decree had been. I was certain that she’d catch on soon enough.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 321

After realizing that the silver Altima wasn’t going to stop, I stepped in front of it, perfectly willing to pay for the damages if I happened to get hit.

“What are you doing!? That’s dangerous!” exclaimed Iris as she jumped out of the car. Her light brown hair was in a loose ponytail. She was wearing a loose, black sweatshirt under a jacket and loose blue jeans, a unique choice for an interview. Judging by the widening of her eyes as she stared up at me, she probably recognized me now.

“Sorry. I didn’t want you to miss the house. You’re Iris Storm, correct?” I asked.

She nodded but said nothing as her mouth worked open and close a few times.

“I’m James Michael Somerset III. Ready for the interview?” I asked.

“Well I… I guess?” she asked, looking back at her car.

“If you need a minute, we can step inside out of the cold.” I assured her.

“Would that be weird? I mean if I change clothes. I didn’t expect you to be standing out here.” she blurted. Then, looking around, she asked “Is this really even the business? Looks more like a mansion. I didn’t see any pictures of it on your website. I shouldn’t even have applied. I’m sorry. I’ll go.”

“Nonsense. We’re both here, let’s get inside and start this interview. I’m sure whatever you brought to wear would have been marvelous, but there’s no need to change. I half-expect some of my friends to still be in their pajamas.” I admitted.

“Pajamas? You have friends living with you?” she asked.

I gently touched her upper back and guided her toward the door as I said, “We at Best Friend For Hire are all friends, though not everyone who lives here works for me. I understand that you graduated early and wanted to get working to save for college.”

“Huh? Yeah. How did you know?” she inquired.

“I do read applications that make their way to me. There has also been a background check already, so any information that wasn’t in your application is from that, such as your tendency to literally shock your brothers.” I told her.

“Wh-what!?” she asked.

“I would advise you and Mick to be more careful out in public, but that quality will help you fit in here.” I insisted.

“Who are you!?” she asked, coming to a stop.

“As I told you, my name is James. I’m the owner and chief executive of Best Friend For Hire. You do understand what we do here, correct?” I asked

“Umm… You act as people’s friends.” she guessed.

“Working here, your job will be to take on whatever role is necessary to be the best possible friend for whoever hires you. You’ll be required to do some studying here specifically for your job, but you can also study on your own toward degrees instead of attending the university as you had planned.” I explained. “If you ever intend to step up from part time to full time, you do have that option. A room is already set aside for your use if you ever decide to move in or simply stay the night. We also have a company truck that we use to help clients and employees move.”

Shaking her head, Iris said, “I’m confused. Am I already hired?”

“Sorry. I’m completely terrible at giving interviews. Simply stated, my company needs more people, and I didn’t see any red flags in your profile. If you’re interested, Mila will show you to where you can complete the paperwork, not that we really use paper for much.” I explained. Hearing Emma running toward us, I sighed.

“James! Who is she?” she asked.

“Iris, this is Emma. Emma, Iris. Please be warned that Emma will quite likely try to hit on you. If you need to file a complaint, Mila will assist you.” I stated.

“Hey!” exclaimed Emma, punching my arm. “Don’t listen to the man-slave. He’s just jealous that I stopped flirting with him after he got engaged.”

“Have you?” I asked.

“Obviously!” she insisted without a hint of honesty behind the word.

“Can I give her the tour?” she asked, ignoring Iris’ bemused expression.

“I’m taking Iris to fill out some forms, but I can notify you when she’s finished.” stated Mila as she stepped up to us.

“Iris, this is Mila. She runs the house and numerous other things. You’ll quite likely get her confused with my fiancée at some point, since they look nearly identical. The maid outfit should help you tell them apart, since Alma wouldn’t ever wear one.” I explained.

“She might if you ask nicely.” teased Mila. Turning to Iris, she said, “This way please.”

I started walking to the ballroom, but Emma grabbed my arm.

“Can I keep her?” she asked.

“No. Sorry, but she’s straight. My secretary’s background checks are incredibly detailed.” I told her.

I felt her grip loosen, so I hugged her shoulders. “I’m sure we’ll find you someone eventually, assuming you don’t find someone yourself first.” I assured her. “That being said, please let people get hired before you hit on them.”

“I’m not that bad. This was just a special case. I bet she skates.” insisted Emma, nearly bouncing.

“If not, you can probably get her to try. Maybe you could teach her how to use the zoomies.” I suggested.

“That’d be fun!” exclaimed Emma.

“I imagine you’ll get along just fine. She’s very much the outdoors type, so I doubt even Ancient Tribes of Earth will keep her inside for long. Just don’t scare her off. We actually have been turning away a fair number of potential clients lately.” I explained, unable to tell Emma how many times Aaliyah let me cheat this past week to help multiple clients simultaneously.

“Jaaaaaaaaames!” exclaimed Kayla, running up to me.

“Yes?” I asked.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” she told me.

“Didn’t mean to…?” I encouraged.

“I was going to the kitchen, and I scared some girl that was here. Mila told me to slow down, but I didn’t listen. I’m sorry. I didn’t know someone was here! Are you going to make her forget now?” she asked, staring up at me with wide-eyed excitement.

“Mila will give a perfectly satisfactory explanation, won’t you, Mila?” I asked.

“I didn’t explain a thing, master.” she replied.

“You’re taking after Aaliylah.” I stated.

I heard a smile in her voice as she said, “Thank you, master.”

Looking back down to Kayla, I said, “Please mind Mila’s instructions in the future, but there’s no harm done. Iris will be working here.”

“Oh! I’ll go apologize then!” she exclaimed.

I quickly lifted her off the ground before she ran off. Handing her to Emma, I said, “Why don’t you wait to give the tour with Emma a bit later? Iris has forms to fill out.”

“Okay!” she exclaimed with a grin.

“And make sure to get back to studying afterward. I’ll know if you don’t.” I warned her.

“Yes, sir.” she replied glumly.

“While we’re waiting, want to come with me to get a few zoomies?” offered Emma as she set her down. “James said we can show them to Iris.”

“Sure!” exclaimed Kayla, running with Emma toward the garage.

I hadn’t actually meant for them to show her those today, but I was confident Emma would handle things well. Changing my mind about logging into Ancient Tribes of Earth, I went instead to Alma’s wing, wanting to enjoy a bit more of her company before I needed to head out. She’d probably chide me for not giving a proper interview, since she’d surely ask how it went. I doubted I would have even seen the application if Iris wouldn’t work out, so I wasn’t too concerned. Things would work out just fine.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 320

“Are you sure about this? You really don’t have to go.” I assured Portentia.

She took her bag from my hand, laughing as she said, “I’ve been hired, James. I accepted the job, and I’m going. Don’t worry so much! This won’t take long.”

I held back a sigh. Alma had hired Portentia to chase after Maxine and dismantle her criminal network. I didn’t doubt Portentia would’ve gone for free, but Alma was probably paying her a hefty sum. Personally, I was against it. Yes, Maxine was problematic. I didn’t agree with her outlook or her methods, but I did feel her intentions were decent. If good intentions was no longer enough to let someone live peacefully, then I should be at war with my own fiancée. We certainly didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything.

As misguided as Maxine’s attempt to save me from the Slayers was, she did have a point about their behavior. The family was influential and powerful in a very lethal way. Their infighting was disruptive to the global economy as holdings could shift based on fighting prowess rather than business merit.

Alma took my hand and said, “Don’t worry, my love. I’m confident Portentia will be finished in time for our wedding.”

I nodded. She was passively watching as Portentia stepped into the limo. A short ride, a relatively quick flight in Alma’s private jet, and Portentia would be causing trouble for Maxine. I hoped the criminals around here didn’t get word of the city’s superhero being away.

“If they do, you can be a good sidekick and tell them to behave.” commented Aaliyah as she stepped out from behind Alma.

“If who does what?” inquired Alma, looking down at her.

“Aaliyah’s suggesting that I do a bit of crime fighting on Portentia’s behalf while she’s gone.” I explained.

She rolled her eyes as she gazed up at me, but she was smiling. “You worry too much. With Jarod’s suit and her weapon, Portentia is more than a match for Maxine. She’ll finish promptly and return.” she insisted.

“Don’t forget my daughter’s help!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Mila will surely be invaluable.” agreed Alma.

“You’ll have to get used to this, boss-man, sir. Employees will need to fly away at times if you’re going to expand, and you simply must expand.” stated Aaliyah.

“Why?” I asked. “Aren’t I doing well enough?”

She grinned at me and said, “I’ve already made some arrangements on your behalf. I can cancel them if you want, but Best Friend For Hire isn’t really about you, is it? I thought you wanted a job where you could make a difference in the lives of others.”

I nodded. “Yes, I do want to make a difference.” I agreed.

“James, I understand that you trust her, but shouldn’t you look into these arrangements of hers before deciding?” inquired Alma.

I shrugged and said, “If she wants me to know, she’ll tell me. If she doesn’t, I wouldn’t be able to understand the paperwork even with Mila’s aid. I’ve told you before that she’s the one with actual power.”

“You’re still the boss, boss-man, sir.” insisted Aaliyah with a giggle. “Just tell me what you want, and I’ll start the arrangements!”

Looking to Alma, I said, “There’s another side of my argument. She already knows what I want, so the arrangements are made to get me there. I don’t have the knowledge or the wisdom to question her judgement on what is best.”

“I do hope you know marriage will change us. I don’t plan to be separated more often than not as is normal for my family, so we’ll both have to grow accustomed to proper discussion over big decisions.” she replied, staring into my eyes.

“Planning on us merging businesses as well?” I asked.

“Well, no.” she replied.

“Then you really don’t need to worry over how mine is run. I’m confident things will continue to go well.” I told her.

Aaliyah giggled as she said, “You have no idea how well.”

Alma’s gaze shifted to her, and I wondered what was going through her mind. She had seen a glimpse of what Aaliyah could do. I wondered if Aaliyah would ever let her see more. I rubbed my aching head, pushing the thought of what I had seen back again. There was just too much of Aaliyah for my poor, little mind.

Hearing the door open, I turned to find Mila standing there in one of her maid outfits. There were subtle differences between them.

“Master, your appointment is nearly here. Do you intend to greet her personally?” she asked.

I shrugged and said, “Might as well.”

She gave a small nod, curtsied, and went back inside.

“What appointment?” inquired Alma.

“Another applicant. A fair number are getting through Aaliyah and Mila’s combined scrutiny lately.” I explained.

“How do you feel Dejon is doing?” she questioned.

I shrugged and told her “Cosette was happy with his performance the other day, and Mila has told me that he is studying with almost as much fervor as Jemal. I think he’ll work out.”

She nodded.

“You were hoping he’d fail, so you could poach him.” I inferred.

Her lip twitched just before she said, “Maybe. You must admit that his magic is useful.”

“No, darling. I refuse to ever admit such a thing.” I half-teased. I still didn’t like the idea of him using his gift very often.

“You two are soooo mushy that you might as well get married.” stated Aaliyah with a sigh.

“Ha. You’re not going to take credit for this too?” replied Alma wryly.

“I can if you want!” exclaimed the tiny girl. “You know I’ve given James advice about you, right? I mean, I have been helping you both out.”

Sighing, Alma looked down at her and said, “I do at times realize why James doesn’t bother questioning you more thoroughly. I don’t actually want to know to what you are referring.”

Grinning back, Aaliyah told her “You have a number of ideas in your head, so you know well enough without me.”

“Behave, you two. My potential new hire has arrived.” I playfully chided as I watched the distant gate open.

“She left. Have you ever tried working through the significance of her actions? Everything she says and does has a purpose.” insisted Alma.

“I know. I’ve considered some of her actions from time-to-time, but I don’t believe…” I started.

Interrupting me, Alma said, “Another girl? Should I start worrying about your fondness for beautiful women?”

I leaned down, kissed her head, and assured her “You know better.”

“James, not in front of the new hire.” she rebuked.

“Yes, dear.” I told her as dryly as I could manage.

Smiling up at me, she lightly punched my arm before saying, “I’ll leave you to it then.”

Her hand left mine, and I found myself instantly missing her. Since our engagement became official, we spent far more time together than we had before, despite my lessons in magic from her coming to an end. My intense studies of magic through the virtual grimoire had boosted my skill enough that Alma no longer seemed inclined to attempt showing me anything new there, though we did spar almost nightly still. Despite our closeness, I still felt we had too little time to ourselves. Our honeymoon after the wedding would lend us some quality alone time, but I was already certain our honeymoon would feel too short.